Sports Journalism Blog

By Jaela Johnson | @jae_jamirah

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS—Utah State is entering the NCAA tournament crushing records and making history, coming off its first outright Mountain West Conference regular-season championship championship. The eighth-seeded Aggies (27-6) are looking to push that momentum into their game Friday against TCU.

TCU (21-12) is one of a conference record eight Big 12 teams to earn a bid despite its loss to Houston in the conference tournament. The Horned Frogs are looking to capitalize on this March Madness opportunity. Their physicality, height, offensive aggression in transition and longevity with players being in their third and fourth consecutive season create potential obstacles for the Aggies.

Yet the Aggies exemplify the new culture of college basketball, and how a younger coach and the transfer portal worked in their favor.

“I don’t know if what we’ve done this year and winning an outright Mountain West championship with 13 brand new players and not having resources that a lot of schools have for recruiting, I don’t know if that’ll ever be done again,” said Utah State coach Danny Sprinkle, the league’s Steve Fisher Coach of the Year.

Springle succeeded Ryan Odom, who left after last season to take the job at VCU. He led Utah State to the school’s 24th NCAA appearance, the 12th in this century and the fourth in the last six years. The success this Aggies team has found started with their leadership. “Having faith in our coaching staff and letting us coach them hard and believing in us – even when things weren’t going well,” said Sprinkle.

The Aggies’ leadership extends beyond their coaching staff and is found in junior Great Osobor, the league’s Player and Newcomer of the Year; graduate senior guard Darius Brown II, whose assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.45 ranks seventh in the nation, and senior guard Ian Martinez, who has averaged 14.2 points in his last five games.

“I feel like we just have to keep playing in our system, to be honest,” said Osobor. “I don’t have to do anything special. I just have to be who I’ve been all season. I’m going to do my part, and then I trust everyone else to do their part.”

Osobor and Brown came with Sprinkle from Montana State and got a taste of the NCAA tournament first round last season. Martinez played for Maryland and was in the NCAA tournament, making it to the second round.

“It brings a sense of comfort being in the tournament again with the same coach,” Brown said. “It brings a sense of comfort because it allows me to kind of still be me. I don’t feel like I have to be any different, and I think that’ll go a long way and it’ll probably carry over into the game unconsciously.”

Brown added, “The fact that we’re able to come here with 13 new guys and carry on tradition that the Aggies have going on to the dance, it speaks volumes of like everyone brought in from the staff to the players, and it speaks volumes for what Coach Sprinkle decided to bring to Logan, Utah.”