The Utah State Aggies aim to return to the Big Dance this season for the first time since falling to Texas Tech in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2021. Currently sitting in the fourth spot in the Mountain West Conference, the Aggies are just a couple of games back of the top-seeded San Diegao State Aztecs.
Should the Aggies be successful in punching a ticket to the big dance, it would be the twenty-third time that they have qualified for the season-ending tournament (they would have officially qualified for the 2020 tournament based on capturing the Mountain West title).
As March Madness started and your favorite teams are taking part in it, don’t forget to read more about March Madness betting strategy and increase your chance of winning. Keeping that in mind, we’re going to take a closer look at Utah State coach Ryan Odom.
At the helm of the Aggies’ recent success is head coach Ryan Odom who is in his second year at Utah State after coming over from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) Retrievers. Odom would replace Craig Smith, who after three seasons at Utah State would move two hours away to take over as head coach of the Utah Utes.
In his short time at Utah State, Smith would guide his team to three straight NCAA Tournament invitations, although the Aggies would twice be knocked out in the first round.
Prior to being hired at Utah State, Odom would start his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the South Florida Bulls before making brief stops in Furman, UNC Ashville, and American. Odom’s longest tenure would come as one of Seth Greenburg’s assistant coaches at Virginia for seven years.
Odom’s final role as an assistant coach would come as part of the Charlotte 49ers staff. It was here that he could receive his first opportunity to act as head coach, albeit in an interim role. After leaving Charlotte, Odom accepted the head coaching role for the NCAA Division II Lenoir-Rhyne Bears for one season.
Most college basketball fans would likely recognize Odom’s name as the 2017-18 Retrievers were the first sixteen-seed team in NCAA Tournament history to knock off a number-one seed. Matched up with the Virginia Cavaliers in Odom’s second season at UMBC, the Retrievers shocked the hoops world with a convincing 74-54 victory.
Change of Direction
Upon being hired by Athletic Director John Hartwell, Odom stated, “We are going to be a top 25 team year in and year out. We want to advance in the NCAA Tournament. We have the support here to be able to do that. It is on us to get it done.”
Known for his up-tempo, three-point shooting offense, the remaining Aggies quickly bought into Odom’s player-friendly style. However, the loss of seven players from the previous season, including three graduate transfers, four transfers, and Neemias Queta, an NBA draftee, certainly impacted Odom’s first season with the Aggies as the team had to figure out who each other was.
With a handful of underclassmen and a pair of portal transfers, the 2021-22 Aggies had little in the cupboard in the way of go-to players other than grad senior Justin Bean and UMBC transfer Brandon Horvath, the only two players to average double digits in scoring.
After losing their first non-conference game, the Aggies would win six straight before losing four of their last seven games of 2021. A five-game winning streak would be sandwiched between a pair of four-game losses, essentially squashing all hope of Odom receiving an invite to the NCAA Tournament in his first season at Utah State. Instead, the Aggies would have to settle for a spot in the NIT, where they would lose to the Oregon Ducks in the first round.
While Bean would go on to sign a free agent deal with the LA Clippers after going undrafted, Odom would replace his stats with a pair of proven transfer players.
This year an experienced senior and junior class pace Utah State in all major stat categories. In fact, the Aggies feature just one true freshman, Mason Falslev, a walk-on guard. Led by the quintet of Steven Ashworth (Jr), Taylor Funk (Grad S), Dan Akin (Grad S), Max Shulga (Jr), and Sean Bairstow (Sr), the Aggies started the season on a nine-game winning streak.
It wouldn’t be until the second week of February that Odom’s team would lose back-to-back games, a sign of a team able to bounce back from adversity.
Currently, the only Mountain West team locked into the NCAA Tournament is the San Diego State Aztecs, but with a little bit of help, the Aggies could be part of one or two more teams hearing their name called on Selection Sunday. For example, suppose Utah State can follow up its dominant victory over UNLV with another solid win over Boise State to close out its regular season schedule. In that case, it could convince the selection committee enough to earn a bid.
Rather than put all of their hopes on a pair of regular season games, the Aggies could put a lot of pressure on the selection committee and the rest of the tournament field with a stellar showing in the Mountain West Conference Tournament. Should the Aggies be able to pull off a victory against the Aztecs, the Broncos, or the Nevada Wolfpack in the conference tournament, they will almost certainly find their way off of the tournament bubble.
As the selection committee (and fans) read more into the Aggies NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool), they most certainly will take notice that Odom’s team is among the top twenty-five, despite having an 0-4 record against Quad 1 teams.
While they may have struggled against the top-tier teams, the Aggies have been nearly flawless against Quad 2 teams with an 8-1 record, which will undoubtedly play in their favor as they look to make the field of 68.
Being a mid-major program, the Aggies will also have to lean on hopes that power five conference teams such as North Carolina, Michigan, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech will continue to struggle in their regular season finale and conference tournament play.