KSU opponent wonders about No. 12 seed

03/15/2011 12:00 AM

03/26/2012 12:23 PM

MANHATTAN — It's hard to imagine any of the 68 teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament feeling more upset about its fate than Utah State.

The 19th-ranked Aggies, coming off a 30-3 regular season with conference regular-season and tournament titles, were expecting be favored and wear white in their first-round game. Instead, they head to Tucson to take on 21st-ranked Kansas State.

The 5-seed is ranked 21st, the 12-seed is ranked 19th.

Senior forward Tai Wesley used sarcasm to suppress his disappointment.

"Maybe we could've gotten three more wins," he said, referring to a perfect season. "That means we probably would've gotten a No. 10 seed."

The frustration was understandable, but explainable. Gaudy record and national ranking aside, Utah State faced a weak schedule and lost its games against opponents that qualified for the NCAA Tournament, Georgetown and BYU. It also suffered a bad loss to Idaho.

Still, Utah State thought it deserved better.

"It was a big shock to the whole team," senior guard Pooh Williams said. "We were in, but that's about all we could say."

Some players took the seeding as a sign of disrespect and vowed to use it as motivation against the Wildcats.

That was Sunday evening. Monday brought a different set of emotions.

"We all went home and slept on it," Williams said. "We felt a lot better about it this morning. It doesn't bother us anymore. We're excited to go down there and play against a good pool of teams."

As long as Utah State maintains the same, steady mindset it used throughout the regular season, the Aggies will have a shot at advancing.

K-State senior guard Jacob Pullen certainly respects them.

"A lot of people might have this as an upset game, so we have to understand that we're playing a good team," Pullen said. "We have to come out with the same fire that we've been playing with these last seven or eight games."

K-State coach Frank Martin compares Utah State to one of the Wildcats' conference foes.

With Wesley, the WAC Player of the Year, and senior Nate Bendall leading the way inside, along with Williams and Tyler Newbold on the perimeter, they have the capability of being equally physical as the teams K-State sees on a regular basis.

"They're similar to a Big 12 team," Martin said. "They have two frontcourt guys who can both score and rebound at the rim. They have a point guard that is very athletic and can get the ball anywhere he wants to. They have an athletic small forward who can shoot it and drive it.... They're very compatible with Nebraska."

A more successful Nebraska. Utah State has almost always been a factor in the NCAA Tournament under longtime coach Stew Morrill. It has won at least 23 games in 12 consecutive seasons, and reached the NCAA Tournament eight times since 2000.

"It's remarkable what he's done in his time there," Martin said.

The Aggies have rarely found success in March Madness, though. Utah State has lost five consecutive tournament games and has reached the second round once since 1970.

But Williams recalls the Aggies competing with Marquette and Texas A&M in each of the past two NCAA Tournaments. With four seniors in the starting lineup, Utah State will try to use that experience to its advantage.

"What I've learned from the last two years is that we can play with anybody," Williams said. "We just felt like we didn't give those two teams our best shot. We need to play our game this time. If we do that, we'll feel real confident."

Confident enough to head to Tucson with the same thoughts as K-State.

"We are looking to win this game," Wesley said, "and then win another one."

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