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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

A move to the Mountain West would create new opportunities for Utah State hoops

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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A move to the Mountain West will benefit Utah State (AP)

Had Utah State been left behind among the dying embers of the WAC after Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii all bolted, the school would have been one of the nation's biggest losers in realignment.

Instead the Aggies will now apparently have a more stable permanent home that will test its newfound football mettle and provide its basketball program the chance to achieve further national relevance.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah State will announce in the next week or two that it will accept a long-coveted invitation to join the Mountain West Conference. San Jose State will also reportedly trade the WAC for the Mountain West, giving the league 10 football members once again.

What the move means for Utah State basketball is an opportunity to compete in a league that should annually place multiple teams in the NCAA tournament.

Stew Morrill has found a way to frequently remain in the fringes of the at-large picture from the Big West and the WAC, but Utah State's margin for error was miniscule and its ceiling remained low. The Aggies have a 1-9 NCAA tournament record under Morrill and have seldom earned anything but double-digit seeds because a suspect strength of schedule outweighed gaudy regular season records.

That will change instantly in the Mountain West, which promises to still be a nationally relevant hoops conference despite the departure of BYU and Utah and the impending loss of emerging power San Diego State. UNLV and New Mexico have become annual NCAA tournament fixtures, Colorado State is poised to remain competitive under Larry Eustachy, Nevada has long been a solid program and rebuilding Fresno State is starting to stockpile talent.

Utah State can thrive among that group, especially if Morrill and his staff parlay the upgrade in leagues into a slight uptick in recruiting.

Morrill already had plenty to sell as a result of Utah State's winning pedigree and nationally renowned student section. Now he can also point to a league that top in-state athletes will be very familiar with since both Utah and BYU competed in it until 2011.

It'a no mystery just how badly Utah State wanted to escape the WAC, but athletic director Scott Barnes let his true feelings show at a press conference unveiling the Aggies' new logo on Saturday. As he referenced a picture of Utah State's new basketball court, he admitted only half-jokingly that he hoped to replace the WAC logos on both ends in the near future.

Nothing is guaranteed until pen hits paper in the topsy-turvy world of conference realignment, but it certainly looks like Barnes will get his wish sooner than later.

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