This season, Utah State has outscored opponents by more than 12 points per game, on average. With an upcoming matchup against Washington, the Aggies hope to capture their first tournament win since 2001. The good news? Utah State enters the NCAA Tournament on a 10-game winning streak.
Two players to watch:
On a young team, junior guard Sam Merrill has been the Aggies leading scorer (21.2 points per game). The 6-foot-5-inch Mountain West Player of the Year also leads the team in 3-pointers made, assists and minutes played, and will be at the center of any success it sees in March.
First-year center Neemias Queta has also stood out for the Aggies this season, setting a new single-season school record with 82 blocks — more than 80 whole teams this season.
In a matchup against the much-smaller Tar Heels, the 6-foot-11-inch Portugal native could also wreak havoc, much like Texas A&M big men did in the Round of 32 last season. As the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, Queta commands the low block and leads the team in rebounding (8.9 per game).
Strengths and weaknesses
Utah State ranks among the top 20 teams in the nation in 10 categories, including sixth in rebound margin, eighth in defensive rebounds per game and ninth in field goal percentage defense. The balanced approach makes the Aggies consistent across the board, but their offensive firepower is top heavy.
With Merrill and Queta as the only players averaging double-digit points this season, offensive production drops off quickly — and the other three starters and bench players defer to their teammates for most of the production.
If UNC can limit the effectiveness of Merrill and Queta, Utah State will have a massive problem on its hands for making up the gap on the offensive end.
No. 9 seed Washington (26-8, 15-3 Pac-12)
This season, Washington was the best team in what was a weakened Pac-12 conference.
The Huskies — led by second-year head coach Mike Hopkins — will be making their first appearance in the tournament since the 2010-11 season this year, after losing just one game at home all year.
Away from home, though, at neutral site or away games, the team had a mediocre 11-7 record. As the team will be playing on the road from now on, a big challenge awaits the Huskies in the Midwest Region to represent the top of the Pac-12.
Two players to watch
Sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell has a dependable skillset that makes him a threat every time he steps on the court. As the Huskies leading scorer this season at 16.2 points per game, the Pac-12 Player of the Year has had 10 20-point performances this season while scoring in double-figures in 19 of the team’s last 21 games.
Nowell, who has now scored 10 or more points in 60 of his 68 collegiate games, leads the team in assists and 3-point percentage. He also boasts one of the most efficient stat lines in the country with 16 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, along with a 50 percent field goal percentage and a 43.8 percent mark from 3-point land.
Senior guard Matisse Thybulle is just as lethal for the Huskies, but on the other end of the floor. As a lockdown defender, Thybulle is a two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He has 117 steals and 77 blocks this season and poses a threat to UNC shooters getting in a rhythm out on the perimeter.
Strengths and weaknesses
Washington hasn’t had many blowout wins this season, and likely won’t advance in the tournament that way either. While outscoring opponents by more than five points per game, on average, the Huskies are far from the most explosive offensive team still playing.
While the Huskies are also consistently out-rebounded by opponents, their wheelhouse is in limiting opportunities on the offensive end. Washington forces 16.2 turnovers per game, on average, while limiting opponents to a collective 41.4 field goal percentage in 2019.
If Washington faces the Tar Heels, it’ll try to get back on track by slowing down the UNC offense with its zone defense after finishing on a 4-3 skid in the final games headed into the tournament.
@DTHSports | firstname.lastname@example.org