It’s been nearly three decades since the Aggie men’s basketball team began league play with three straight road games.
That’s where Utah State finds itself. With two home games being postponed because of opposing teams having COVID protocol issues, the Aggies will play their third straight Mountain West Conference contest away from the friendly confines of the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The last time USU opened a conference season with three road contests was the 1992-93 campaign.
The Aggies left Cache Valley for Fort Collins, Colorado, Tuesday afternoon. Utah State takes on previously ranked and undefeated Colorado State Wednesday evening in Moby Arena. Tipoff is set for 6 o’clock, and the game will be televised on CBSSN.
“We are excited about the challenge to play a really good team on the road,” said USU head coach Ryan Odom Tuesday after the team practiced.
The Rams (11-1, 1-1 MW) were ranked No. 20 last week. They tasted defeat for the first time this season last Saturday at San Diego State, 79-49. Colorado State has played two games since Dec. 11, having had four games either canceled or postponed. The Rams MW win came against Air Force, 67-59, on Jan. 4.
“They (Rams) have gotten off to a tremendous start this season,” Odom said. “They had a rough second half against San Diego State. We know that they will be ready. ... It’s a big opportunity for both teams. Conference play is tough. Both of our conference games have been nail bitters, right down to the end. A lot of times it comes down to one or two possessions at the end. You’ve got to learn how to turn it in your favor.”
The Aggies (10-5, 1-1) also have dealt with some uncertainty, having had two conference games postponed and not playing in 10 days. They are coming off a 90-87 overtime win at New Mexico last Saturday. USU trailed by 17 in the second half of that contest.
“It hammers home the fact you can’t have any regrets,” Odom said. “You want to make the most of the moments that you have. We need to be disciplined and consistent and really go for it all together.”
Starting point guard Rylan Jones was shaken up in Saturday’s game and did not finish. The Aggie junior practiced Tuesday and should be good to go at Colorado State.
“We are better physically than we thought we would be,” Odom said. “All in all, our guys are doing well. Rylan is fine and will be able to go.”
USU guard Brock Miller has not practiced and will most likely miss another game because of back issues. He did not play at New Mexico. Sean Bairstow took his place in the starting lineup and responded with a season-high 12 points.
The Aggies have won seven of the last eight meetings with the Rams. There have been some pretty wild games when these two get together. USU has won two in a row in Fort Collins.
“There is a familiarity there amongst both teams,” Odom said. “They played three times last year. That is a factor, but at the same time there are new guys involved on both sides, probably more on our side. It should be an entertaining match up.”
The game features two of the top-three scoring offenses in the MW as Colorado State is second with 79.2 points per game, while USU is third with 78.1 points per game. The Aggies have scored 80 or more points in more than half of their games this season and are a perfect 9-0 when scoring 80 or more points in a game.
The game also features the top-two shooting teams in the MW as CSU leads the league by shooting 50.3 percent from the floor, while USU is second, connecting on 48.7 percent of its shots from the field. The success continues beyond the arc, where the Rams are ranked second by shooting 39.9 percent from behind the 3-point line, while the Aggies are third, connecting on 36.7 percent.
“They (Rams) play a good brand of basketball,” Odom said.
USU and CSU are the best at moving and protecting the ball in the MW as the Rams lead the league with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.52, while the Aggies are second with a mark of 1.48.
“They are a veteran squad that has had a ton of success,” Odom said. “They are led by (David) Roddy, who is a tough match up for any team. (Isaiah) Stevens is excellent. I really like their balance of inside and out. They are just a really impressive team.”
Both teams also have solid forwards they rely a lot on. For USU, it’s Justin Bean, who averages 20.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 steals a game. Roddy leads CSU with 19.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks a game.
“They are both really good players and mean a lot to their teams,” Odom said. “That’s certainly a match up everybody will look at, but that’s not the way we view it. It’s a five-on-five game. It’s Colorado State versus Utah State.”
Bean is the only player in the MW averaging a double-double this season and leads the league in scoring, total points, rebounding, total rebounds, field goal percentage (.644), total field goals made (116), double-doubles (10) and defensive rebounds per game (7.47).
Brandon Horvath joins Bean in double-figure scoring, averaging 12.9 a game. Bairstow and RJ Eytle-Rock add 7.9 ppg, while Jones is averaging 7.7. Steven Ashworth is coming off the bench to average 8.1 ppg.
Roddy is joined in double-figure scoring by Stevens (14.6) and John Tonje (11.4) off the bench. Dischon Thomas nets 7.7 ppg, while Kendle Moore is averaging 5.5, but can get hot.
“He is a really good player,” Odom said of Tonje. “He is an aggressive scorer. The big kid who is starting (Dischon Thomas) is doing really well. He stretches the court.”