Utah State Smith's Accent Basketball

Utah State head coach Craig Smith reacts to a basket during last week’s Mountain West tournament semifinal against Colorado State.

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It’s been an interesting few days for the Aggies.

After finding out Sunday afternoon they were headed to the NCAA Tournament, they quickly packed their bags and headed to the Las Vegas airport. A charter plane was waiting to take the Utah State men’s basketball team to Indianapolis. However, they did have a nearly two hour wait on the plane before it took off for the Crossroads of America.

The Aggies stayed in Las Vegas after the Mountain West Conference Tournament concluded due to COVID-19 protocols set forth by the league and the NCAA as they were a potential team to get a berth to the Big Dance. They watched the Selection Show in their meeting room at the hotel.

Once USU arrived in Indianapolis, they split up into three groups to board three buses and went straight to the hotel where they were tested for COVID and then went to bed. The Aggies spent all of Monday in their hotel in downtown Indianapolis — they have a compete floor to themselves and each member of the traveling party has their own room. They were tested again Monday morning. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack were left outside their hotel room doors.

“Monday was, ‘thou shall not leave your room ever’ day,” said Kyle Cottam, the assistant athletic director for communications for men’s basketball at USU. “And we didn’t. ... It’s very, very regimented.”

On Tuesday, another COVID test was given. The Aggies have had all negative tests. Once the results were in, they were allowed to practice next door to the hotel. They also had a team meal together that evening.

On Wednesday after another round of negative tests, they were allowed to go outside for the first time. But it was just to board a bus and travel to Bloomington, Indiana, where they practiced at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on the campus of Indiana University in the morning and returned straight to their hotel in Indianapolis. After a team film session, the Aggies were allowed some gym time Wednesday evening.

“We honestly have not been outside,” Cottam said. “Today when we went down to Bloomington, that’s the first time we have been outside since Sunday.”

The 11th-seeded Aggies will face sixth-seeded Texas Tech in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday at Assembly Hall. Tipoff is 11:45 a.m. and will be televised on TNT.

Should the Aggies win, the next game will not be in Bloomington. There are six sites in the vicinity of Indianapolis hosting games. However, Assembly Hall is only being used for First Four games on Thursday and then First Round games on Friday and Saturday.

Obviously, COVID has prevented the normal fanfare associated with the NCAA Tournament.

“The experience we had at Columbus (Ohio in 2019), this is completely different,” Cottam said. “But, the only guys that know any different are Neemi (as Queta), Marco (Anthony), Brock (Miller) and (Justin) Bean. The other guys don’t feel they are missing out on stuff, because they just don’t know any better.”

When the Aggies do take the court on Friday, there will be very few fans in the arena that seats 17,222. Only 500 are being allowed at Assembly Hall, unlike the other five arenas that will be allowing 25 percent of capacity.

“That arena is gigantic and steep on both sides,” Cottam said. “They are blocking off an entire side.”

Athletes from each team are being allowed to have four tickets each for family.

Shawn Harrison is the sports editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at sharrison@hjnews.com or 435-792-7233.

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