This week will be a fairly unique test in conference play for Utah State as the team will be outside the Beehive State for most of the week as it takes on Wyoming on Wednesday and then Colorado State on Saturday. The Aggies will stay on the road after this evening’s game, heading straight for Fort Collins after the matchup with the Cowboys.

It’s not the first time USU has spent a long time away from home to play basketball, but it hasn’t happened since November when the team was still trying to mold itself an identity at the Cayman Islands Classic.

The Aggies’ first matchup is an underrated one. Wyoming is not a top team in the conference, currently sitting at eight in the standings. It’s also a team USU saw a very favorable result against back on Jan. 9 when the Aggies downed the Cowboys 83-59 in the Spectrum. And yet, Wyoming is a potentially dangerous foe, particularly when playing in Arena-Auditorium

“They play tremendous at home,” USU head coach Danny Sprinkle said of the Cowboys. “They shoot the ball at an extremely high level at home, or on the road. But especially at home. They play with a little different energy, like most teams.”

Wyoming is 8-2 in home games, including wins over Stephen F. Austin, and more notably Nevada and Colorado State. The only teams to win in Laramie so far this year are Weber State and New Mexico. Both teams did so in dominant fashion (Weber State winning 84-71 and New Mexico 91-73) but both teams are also top teams in their respective conferences.

Despite boasting one of the Mountain West’s leading scorers in Sam Griffin (17.7 points per game), Wyoming’s fortunes have hung largely on the performance of its second-leading scorer, Akuel Kot (15.0 per contest). In games where Kot scores at least 18 points, the Cowboys are 7-1. It’s not so much a magic number as it is a representation of when Wyoming is able to rally its full offensive might (you could even use the same line of logic for Brendan Wenzel’s scoring as the Cowboys are 4-1 when he scores at least 13). Griffin, Kot, Wenzel and even Mason Walters are all talented scorers so putting it all together on one night can make Wyoming as dangerous as any team in the Mountain West.

“Their two guards are as dangerous as anybody in the league. They can both go for 25 points,” Sprinkle said.

Sprinkle described the Cowboys’ offense as a fairly simple one, at least that’s the way it ends up looking on film.

“It’s pretty simple, but they’re great at making all the reads out of it. They make it look simple,” Sprinkle said. “It’s a little more complicated [than it looks], but they’re so good at it, they make it look simple. And it seems like they’re always making the right reads.”

Those reads lead the Cowboys to get the ball to any one of its top scorers, be it Griffin, Kot, Wenzel or Walters. But last time out, Utah State clamped down on nearly all of them. Griffin’s mere seven points in the Spectrum back in January, held to that by the effective work of Darius Brown, was at the time a season low in scoring. Wenzel and Kot were both held one point shy of their current averages in points. Walters was the one breakout, scoring a team-high 17 points on an efficient 6 of 10 shooting.

The Aggies’ ability to shut down the Cowboys, and hold an offense that averages 73 points per game to just 59, came from having great matchups almost across the board. USU’s best defenders, Brown and Ian Martinez, both possess the right size and speed to blanket Griffin and Kot. Osobor also easily counters Walters in the post (although the Cowboys will aim to isolate Walters on other Aggies to create better post-ups, which is part of how he had 17 points in the previous matchup).

That leaves Wenzel as a bit of an X-factor in this game. As a wing, he’ll match up against the likes of Mason Falslev, Josh Uduje and sometimes Martinez, but Wenzel has a lot more height than all three, standing 6-foot-7. He’s a potential mismatch with an ability to shoot over defenders or bully past them with his bigger bulk. Wenzel went just 2 of 8 from the field in Logan, including 1 of 5 on threes. That’s far below his usual efficiency and included three wide-open looks from deep that he missed, something a 34.3 percent 3-point shooter might do once, but isn’t likely to do again, especially at home.

“Our defense was solid,, but there was there was times where they had too good of looks. And they’re not gonna miss those shots (Wednesday),” Sprinkle said. “So we have to do a better job scrambling out of some rotations in our ball screen defense and be able to contest a little bit better.”

Even though they’ll be at home, the Cowboys’ 3-point shooting will be somewhat diminished compared to their last game against the Aggies. Kobe Newton, a junior guard that’s averaged 54.5 percent on 3-pointers this season and was a key bench player for much of Wyoming’s season, will not play. Newton has been battling an undisclosed illness, including being hospitalized at one point, and his status the rest of the year is up in the air. Even without Newton, who’s not played since mid-January, the Cowboys still shoot 36 percent as a team from 3-point range.

The defensive matchups will be a challenge the Aggies should be able to handle, with some potential exceptions, but Utah State will have every chance to be the aggressors on offense. Great Osobor dominated the paint against Wyoming last time and this game could be pretty similar. The Cowboys don’t really possess any sort of counter to Osobor defensively. Walters wasn’t particularly effective against him and the rest of Wyoming’s frontcourt — Cam Manyawu, Caden Powell and Oleg Kojenets — are all too inexperienced and/or small to handle Osobor.

Wyoming isn’t going to just let Osobor line up in the post and go to work, though. They’ll double-team him any time he touches the ball on the block and will use some zone looks as well, just as they did in Logan. The key will to be to do exactly what the Aggies did to get Osobor points last time: pushing the ball in transition and great ball movement. Osobor scored six points by running the floor alone, also adding six more points with timely cuts and great passes from teammates for open layups or dunks. The post scoring will still likely be there, but those kinds of plays are the difference between Osobor scoring 20 points or 10 points.

Projected Starters

Utah State: 20-4 (8-3, 1st in MW)

  • G — Darius Brown (6-2, Sr.) – 11.2 points | 4.0 rebounds | 6.6 assists
  • G — Mason Falslev (6-3, Fr.) – 12.0 points | 4.7 rebounds | 2.5 assists
  • G — Ian Martinez (6-3, Jr.) – 13.6 points | 3.5 rebounds | 1.8 assists
  • F — Great Osobor (6-8, Jr.) – 18.3 points | 9.3 rebounds | 2.9 assists
  • C — Isaac Johnson (7-0, So.) – 6.8 points | 3.2 rebounds | 1.0 assists

Wyoming: 12-11 (5-5, 8th in MW)

  • G — Akuel Kot (6-2, Sr.) — 15.0 points | 2.6 rebounds | 2.3 assists
  • G — Sam Griffin (6-3, Sr.) – 17.7 points | 4.0 rebounds | 3.5 assists
  • F — Brendan Wenzel (6-7, Sr.) – 10.2 points | 5.5 rebounds | 1.6 assists
  • F — Mason Walters (6-9, Sr.) – 12.3 points | 5.2 rebounds | 1.9 assists
  • F — Caden Powell (6-10, So.) – 6.2 points | 5.3 rebounds | 1.5 assists

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