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Mar 20, 2024 11:32 am

Tournament-experienced Utah State, TCU tangle in first round

great osobor

INDIANAPOLIS — Two teams that earned at-large berths in the NCAA Tournament field will meet Friday as No. 8 seed Utah State takes on No. 9 TCU in a first-round Midwest Region contest.

Led by national coach of the year finalist Danny Sprinkle, Utah State (27-6) won the regular season Mountain West title before losing to San Diego State in the conference tourney last week in Las Vegas.

After taking Montana State to the tournament in the previous two seasons, Sprinkle led Utah State to its first Mountain West regular season crown in its 11 seasons in the conference. The Aggies made the tournament last season under previous coach Ryan Odom.

Despite the regular season success and being ranked No. 20 nationally heading into the NCAA Tournament, Utah State received just a No. 8 seed in the Midwest bracket.

“You know, it is what it is,” Sprinkle said. “I mean, now we have to go prove it on the court. And, you know, it was a tremendous league this year, and I expect all the teams in the Mountain West to go and represent really well.

“It’s just that time of year when you’re in this tournament it doesn’t matter what seed you are. You’ve got to go play a tremendous opponent, and I know our league represented very well.”

Sprinkle is rumored to be a candidate for the coaching vacancy at Washington to replace the fired Mike Hopkins.

Utah State is led by wing Great Osobor, averaging 18.0 points and 9.2 rebounds a game. Ian Martinez leads the backcourt, scoring 13.1 points while Darius Brown II averages 12.4 points and Mason Falslev is the fourth scorer in double figures at 11.4 points.

Utah State will be making its 24th NCAA Tournament appearance while TCU is playing in its 11th tournament all-time, including its third straight for the first time in program history.

TCU (21-12) is coming off a 60-45 loss to Houston in the Big 12 quarterfinals.

The Horned Frogs have won a game in each of the past two tournaments before bowing out in the second round.

“Very few schools have done what we’ve done, been to the tournament three times, win some games in the NCAA Tournament last two years,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon said. “So we need to win some this year and Utah State, I’m very familiar with the school and I’m very familiar with their coach, Danny Sprinkle.”

They go back years — to 1995.

“I’ve been around him around a little bit,” Dixon said. “He was a freshman at Montana State when I was coaching at Northern Arizona and they won the league, so we go way back with his family. He could shoot and so I’m guessing their team can shoot. I know he brought a lot of his players with them from Montana State.”

TCU is led by forward Emanuel Miller and guards Jameer Nelson Jr. and Micah Peavy. Miller is averaging 15.9 points and 5.9 rebounds a game while Nelson (11.3) and Peavy (11.1) are the other two players in double figures for the Horned Frogs.

The two schools are meeting for the first time in the tournament and for the third time overall, with Utah State winning the previous two contests in 1960 and 1982.

–Mike Petraglia, Field Level Media

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