For two Aggies, making the NCAA Tournament couldn’t have come at a better time.
Seniors Quinn Taylor and Dwayne Brown Jr. didn’t have another chance to go dancing with the Aggie men’s basketball team. Both forwards took a few minutes after practice Tuesday to reflect on the season and look ahead to playing on Friday in Columbus, Ohio, against Washington in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“This was our last one and you don’t want your season to end too early, but you don’t want your season to end at all; you want to win as much as possible,” Brown said. “Punching our ticket was amazing.”
Utah State, which is now ranked No. 25, beat San Diego State in the Mountain West Tournament last Saturday, 64-57, to get the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. While many had the Aggies already in the Big Dance, they did not want to leave it in the committee’s hands to decide.
“It was good to leave no doubt on Saturday,” Taylor said. “Even watching the show on Sunday, knowing you were in, was still gut wrenching. A couple of us on the team were talking, and we were just glad we won (the MW tournament). Even if we would have been in as an at-large, it’s just good to know you are in.
“Then to go and get an eight seed and be playing in white jerseys in the Big Dance is crazy. We’re excited.”
The Aggies (28-6) are the eighth seed in the Midwest Regional, while the Huskies (26-8) are the ninth seed. The winner will get top-seeded North Carolina or 16th-seeded Iona. Not only did USU get some love in seeding, but are favored to beat the Pac-12 regular season champs.
“That’s really exciting being an eight seed over a lot of teams that are really good,” Brown said. “There are a lot of talented teams in the bracket. We are looking forward to playing the teams that we do play.”
“From here on out, it’s going to be a battle every single night,” Taylor said. “Any team that’s in this and you end up facing deserves to be there. We know the coaches will prepare us the best we can, and we will have a chance in any game we are playing. Most important is the first game against Washington. Then hopefully, get rolling and roll on momentum from there.”
The Aggie seniors would like nothing more than to extend their final season another week or more.
“For me being a senior, this is being able to end on a high note,” Taylor said. “Hopefully, I still have some games that will be my most memorable as a Utah State athlete. It’s been a great ride.”
“As a little kid growing up and watching the NCAA Tournament, you already know it is crazy and exciting and fun,” Brown said.
“To be one of those teams to play in the NCAA Tournament is great.”
During a press conference on Sunday Aggie guard Sam Merrill was asked about Taylor, who has been at USU with three head coaches. This is the third season Merrill has played with Taylor.
“I can only imagine how happy he (Taylor) is about this moment,” Merrill said. “He’s been so important in our rebuild and our reboot. He’s been through the program for five years now. He’s the same guy every day. He brings it every day. Through those rough patches of our first two years, he just helped me along. We’ve helped each other out. For a guy like him as a senior, and Dwayne as well who’s also a senior, it’s a special moment for all of us, but I imagine it’s pretty cool for them, as well.”
What do the seniors know about Washington?
“I don’t really know too much about them, but I do know they are decent program basically every year,” Brown said. “They have some very good players on their team, very athletic.”
“We’ve watched a little bit of film on them,” Taylor said. “I know they play zone exclusively on defense. That will be interesting because not a lot of teams have played zone against us. … For me, it’s exciting because you get used to playing the same teams over and over. It’s weird looking at a scouting report and having no idea who someone is or what their offense is. It’s been fun. Our team is smart, and we’ve been able to pick up on schemes and plays pretty quick.”
The national spotlight is about to be on the Aggies. The team left Logan Wednesday for the Buckeye State. On Thursday they will meet the media in Columbus and then have a 40-minute practice in front of fans and the media. Both seniors didn’t seem concerned how this Aggie team will react to all the attention.
“I want to stay as composed as possible, because at the end of the day, it’s another basketball game,” Brown said. “At the same time, I don’t want to go into it like, ‘oh man, I’m at the NCAA Tournament.’ I want to go into it as a basketball player that is playing a basketball game.”
“I can’t speak from experience and no one on the team has been there yet,” Taylor said. “It just goes back to our maturity level overall as a team. Me being 25 and others being older and not a bunch of 18-year-olds helps in that aspect. What we have been doing all year is focusing on each other and the team. Anything else is extra noise. We will focus on the task at hand. It’s another game. We’re going to approach it like that and go out and try to execute what the coaches have for us.”