Aggies have ready-made basketball rivals in Mountain West

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LOGAN — In football, the Mountain West Conference is a conference that can be good but is clearly a step below the rest. In basketball, the story is completely different.

Indeed, the Mountain West Conference is a basketball fan’s paradise, featuring a nationally recognized brand (the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels), a nationally respected arena (the Pit at New Mexico), a coach that has won a national title (San Diego State’s Steve Fisher, who won while coaching Michigan), and an up-and-coming program that boasts a win over Pac-12 Utah (Boise State).

When you look at it, the Aggies joining the Mountain West gave a conference with several outstanding basketball programs another outstanding basketball program, as Utah State has its own well-known coach, arena and tradition. Still, the transition will be a challenge for the Aggies, as the level of competition will dramatically change from how the program has operated over the past decade.


Still, there are several Mountain West matchups that will provide Utah State with a chance to once again elevate its name into the national conversation, and several teams that will become prime rivals for the Aggies in their new conference.

The three teams about to be mentioned are all national names; all programs that will be measuring sticks for Utah State in the Mountain West Conference. And these are the teams Aggies fans will become most acquainted with as time moves forward.


In order for the Aggies to find a new rival in the MWC, all they need to do is resurrect an old rival from the Big West Conference — the vaunted, hyped Runnin’ Rebels of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Indeed, the old UNLV-Utah State matchups were annual television appointments as the games featured battles that involved coaches, teams and even student sections.

UNLV boasts the conference’s largest arena (the Thomas and Mack Center) and the deepest tradition of any program in the Mountain West Conference. The Runnin’ Rebels' head coach, Dave Rice, also coached at Utah State for a season under Stew Morrill, so there is a relationship between the coaches that helps build a rivalry as well.

The Runnin’ Rebels and Utah State are great rivals because they simultaneously have nothing in common, yet have everything in common — united by the belief in sound, fundamental basketball. Both programs are used to winning, and this rivalry will be good for both schools.

New Mexico

While UNLV represents the ghost of great programs past, New Mexico is the current picture of an elite program in the conference. Over the past three seasons, the Lobos have gone 79-26 and have spent much of that time period in the AP Top 25 rankings. New Mexico plays basketball in the conference’s most hallowed arena, as the Pit has hosted 10 NCAA tournaments and hosted the 1983 Final Four, won by North Carolina State.

The current New Mexico roster is built with athletes who play the game with an eye on playing within a system that is cultivated by the coaching staff. Even with Steve Alford leaving for UCLA, the Lobos are still 9-3, with wins over teams like Marquette and Cincinnati. A good New Mexico program is good for the whole conference, and the Lobos are a team that Utah State should attempt to emulate in how they manage the stresses of being a successful Mountain West program.

San Diego State

The only time Stew Morrill will be truly challenged by an opposing coach will be when Utah State travels to San Diego, and when the Aztecs travel to Logan, as Steve Fisher is as good a coach as any in the conference. The Aggies and Aztecs sit atop the Mountain West Conference as the only double-digit win teams, and both have victories over power-conference programs. The Aztecs attract some of the best talent in the nation, and they chase some of the best players in the nation. There's is the program everyone in the Mountain West looks up to, and every facet of their program starts with Fisher.

On the court, San Diego State uses athleticism and speed to beat teams, whereas Utah State uses physicality and attention to detail to wear down opponents. A matchup like that is guaranteed to create a clash, and it will be interesting to see which coach is able to get his team to inflict its will more upon the other team. Again, beating San Diego State this season in MWC play will be akin to Utah State beating Utah in football in 2012 — a program-changing win that will carry a strong Aggies program to an entirely new level.

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Jon Oglesby


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