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Utah State is now expected to win the Mountain West

Utah State guard Darius Brown II (10) drives past San Diego State guard Darrion Trammell (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, in San Diego. With three games left in the regular season, the Aggies are now the favorites to win the Mountain West Conference.
Utah State guard Darius Brown II (10) drives past San Diego State guard Darrion Trammell (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, in San Diego. With three games left in the regular season, the Aggies are now the favorites to win the Mountain West Conference. | AP

Three games are all that remains for No. 22 Utah State before the end of the regular season.

A home game against Air Force on March 1, a trip to San Jose State on March 6 and a final game within the friendly confines of the Spectrum on March 9 against New Mexico.

At 23-5 overall, 11-4 in Mountain West Conference play, the Aggies are the top team in their conference — USU is tied with Boise State but the Aggies hold the tiebreaker with a 2-0 record against the Broncos this season — and are projected to nab anywhere from a No. 5 to a No. 7 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

They are also now expected to be MW regular season champs.

The latest projections have the Aggies as the clear favorites to claim the regular season conference crown, ahead of Boise State (20-8, 11-4), San Diego State (22-7, 11-5) and Nevada (23-6, 10-5).

It is fairly easy to understand why.

Boise State plays both SDSU and Nevada to end the season, along with New Mexico (21-7, 9-6), while the Aztecs and Wolf Pack also each play UNLV (17-10, 10-5).

USU, meanwhile, plays the two worst teams in the conference in the Falcons and Spartans and hosts a Lobos team that inexplicably lost to Air Force last Friday.

Anything can happen of course — the Aggies narrowly escaped Fresno State with a win Tuesday and the Bulldogs are the third-worst team in the league — but no team is better positioned to come away with the MW title than USU.

A regular season conference title would be Utah State’s first since 2019, when the Sam Merrill-led Aggies finished 28-6 overall and tied for first in the MW.

That was the program’s one and only regular season conference championship while members of the MW, though the Aggies have won two MW tournament championships — in 2019 and again in 2020.

Few will forget the 2020 title, when Merrill hit the game-winner in dramatic fashion.

And the 2019 season stands as arguably the third-best campaign for Aggie men’s basketball in the last 20 years, behind only the 2010-11 season and the 2008-09 campaign.

A regular season conference title this year would stand out from those aforementioned titles though.

As has been well reported, the Aggies were projected to finish No. 9 in the MW during the preseason, after an offseason of upheaval that saw head coach Ryan Odom leave, along with every player who scored a point for USU during an NCAA Tournament season.

Moreover, then-interim athletic director Jerry Bovee hired now-head coach Danny Sprinkle while the university also dealt with a search for a new president.

The sheer amount of unknowns surrounding the program left little room for real expectations. And the Aggies have since shattered every one.

National pundits roundly expect Sprinkle to be in the running for national Coach of the Year, with Jeff Goodman considering Sprinkle the favorite as recently as Feb. 21.

Ahead of the likes of T.J. Otzelberger (Iowa State), Dan Hurley (UConn), Lamont Paris (South Carolina), Nate Oats (Alabama), Amir Abdur-Rahim (USF), Kyle Smith (Washington State), Hubert Davis (North Carolina), Grant McCasland (Texas Tech) and Mark Pope (BYU).

Forward Great Osober and guard Darius Brown, formerly Big Sky players, each are garnering consideration as Mountain West Player of the Year, with a pair of Boise State writers — BJ Rains and Jay Tust — recently singing the praises of both.

Guard Mason Falslev has had one of the best — i.e., most impactful — freshmen (redshirt) seasons in program history and, well, the list of things that have gone right for Utah State this year could go on and on and on.

Whether or not the 2023-24 season goes down as the greatest in USU men’s basketball history depends a lot on whether or not the Aggies find success in the NCAA Tournament. Utah State has advanced past the first round only once in program history, in 2000-01, failing to win a game in the Big Dance 14 other times.

Win the regular season conference title, though, and all else considered this season will go down in Aggie history. It has too.

And after holding at least a share of first place in league play all season long, the Aggies are now expected to come out with the title.