No. 11 Utah State Aggies (30-4, 14-2 WAC) vs. No. 6 Marquette Golden Eagles (24-9, 12-6 Big East)
NCAA Tournament First Round—West Region
Friday, March 20—12:30 PM EST on CBS
After winning 30 games this season, the Aggies are headed back to the Big Dance for the first time since the 2006 tournament after winning both the WAC regular season and tournament titles. They defeated second seed Nevada by 10 in the finals to secure their automatic bid.
Marquette had a slightly different path to the NCAA Tournament this season—after starting out 20-2, the Golden Eagles stumbled a little bit and have since gone 5-7.
This can be attributed to a couple of things—first, their incredibly tough schedule down the stretch (they faced all three Big East No. 1 seeds in a row, in addition to two three seeds—UConn, at Louisville, at Pitt, Syracuse, vs. Villanova). Then during their first game of that stretch, they lost their senior guard Dominic James, who was averaging 11.4 PPG and 5.1 APG.
In their most recent game, the Golden Eagles faced Villanova in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. After being down by 16 at the half (and 17 at one point), it looked like they were going to be able to pull off the biggest comeback of the tournament (and why not? A bunch of other records were about to be broken as well).
They led by one with 10 seconds left in the game. But the Wildcats pulled a last-second backdoor cut to move into the semifinals and avoid being on the wrong side of a record.
Despite their shortcomings down the stretch, the Golden Eagles are still in the Top 25. They are currently ranked 23rd in the AP Poll and 24th in the Coaches. Marquette hasn't fared the best against the Top 25 this season—they are 5-7—although something can be said for having only two non-Top 25 losses (Dayton and South Florida).
The Aggies, on the other hand, are yet to face a team in the Top 25, although they are 1-2 against RPI Top 50 teams and 4-3 against the RPI Top 100. Their biggest game came in their annual competition against Utah, where they won 66-64 and extended the home team win streak to seven years in that rivalry.
Despite this and their 11th seed, the Golden Eagles should not take the Aggies lightly. Senior forward Gary Wilkinson led Utah State in points and rebounds, which was enough to secure him the WAC Player of the Year award and honors to the All-WAC First Team. Junior Jared Quayle landed on the All-WAC Second Team, and Stew Morrill grabbed the WAC Coach of the Year Award.
Marquette grabbed some of their own awards in the Big East as well—senior guards Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews were named to the All-Big East First and Second Teams, respectively.
This should be a great game between two quality programs. Both teams have the ability to go deep into the tournament, so it's a shame that one of them has to get knocked out in the first round.
By The Numbers
|FG%||D. FG%||3P%||D. 3P%||FT%||RPG||SPG||APG||TPG||BPG|
|PPG||G. Wilkinson - 17.1||J. McNeal - 19.7|
|J. Quayle - 12.9||W. Matthews - 18.4|
|T. Wesley - 11.9||L. Hayward - 16.1|
|RPG||G. Wilkinson - 6.9||L. Hayward - 8.6|
|APG||J. Quayle - 3.7||J. McNeal - 4.0|
|SPG||J. Quayle - 1.4||J. McNeal - 2.1|
|BPG||T. Wesley - 0.8||J. McNeal - 0.6|