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NCAA Tournament Preview Southeast Region - First Round (12) Utah State vs. (5) Kansas State

Thursday, March 17 - Approximately 9:57 PM ET

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What an up-and-down weekend of emotions for the Utah State Aggies. The class of the Western Athletic Conference punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament by way of winning its conference tournament title. Having been in the top 25 all season long, carrying a strong RPI indicator, and having compiled 30 wins, Utah State was preparing for a good draw in the NCAA Tournament.

Enter Selection Sunday. The Aggies were dealt a punishing blow, a 12-seed, and were pitted against a dangerous Kansas State squad in the first round. How will the Aggies react? Will Utah State feel sorry for itself and come out flat? Or, will the Aggies use this slight as motivation?

Kansas State is certainly not going to give the Aggies any quarter. Fresh off an Elite Eight appearance last season, head coach Frank Martin’s club knows how to win in March. With the play of star guard Jacob Pullen in the backcourt, and a frontline as athletic as any in college basketball with Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels, the Wildcats can certainly be a dangerous tournament team. Questions about the Wildcats this season have never centered around talent but consistency.

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This 5-12 contest just might be the most intriguing matchup of the entire first round. In years past, senior leadership, solid coaching, and an offensively efficient approach have been beneficial to low seeds seeking an upset. Utah State owns hold of each and every one of those characteristics. During last year’s tournament, Murray State and Northern Iowa advanced in the tournament though under-seeded and off the radar. Utah State fits that mold as well. WAC Player of the Year Tai Wesley has an opportunity to introduce himself to the nation with an upset win on Thursday. Wesley, a dynamic low post presence, and Brockeith Pane, the tremendous Utah State point guard, are capable of taking over a ballgame.

Kansas State’s roster type and style of play make this game a bad matchup for the USU crew. Teams with Kansas State’s package of attributes have given Utah State fits over the years. In the Aggies’ two losses this season, to Georgetown and BYU, their opponents were able to dominate the glass and get out in transition. Jacob Pullen has the ability to break a defense down with dribble penetration, and Kelly and Samuels will dominate the painted area. On the other hand, Utah State’s ability to shoot the ball effectively can cause difficulties for the Wildcats, who can be inconsistent on the defensive end. This is an instance in which the final outcome won’t be a surprise to anyone, because the teams are each other’s matchup nightmare.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer
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