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#12 Utah State (30-3) vs. #5 Kansas State (22-10)
Betting Line: Kansas State -2 o/u 128
The fifth-seeded Kansas State Wildcats (22-10) did not always look like an NCAA tournament team this season, and they did not play like one in an 87-75 loss to Colorado last Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Conference tourney. Fortunately for the Wildcats (-2), a six-game winning streak to close out the regular season was enough to send them to the McKale Center in Tucson for this Southeast Region first-round matchup with the 12th-seeded Utah State Aggies.
Kansas State was on the bubble for the Big Dance prior to the winning streak, as the team had started 2-5 in Big 12 play after getting clobbered 90-66 at Kansas on January 29. But the Wildcats lost only once in their last nine games and redeemed themselves with an 84-68 rout of the Jayhawks at home on February 14 to spark the winning streak.
That is what made the loss to the Buffaloes in the Big 12 tournament even more frustrating. Kansas State was the hottest team in the conference and led Colorado 39-37 at halftime. The Wildcats were trying to beat the Buffs for the first time in three meetings but again failed to get the victory. Ironically, Colorado did not make the NCAA tournament despite winning all three.
Utah State also knows something about winning streaks, as the Aggies have won eight games in a row along with 25 of 26. Their only loss since December 4 was a 64-56 setback at Idaho on February 9, which ended a season-high 17-game winning streak. The team's only other losses came at BYU on November 17 and at Georgetown on December 4. Both the Cougars and the Hoyas are in the NCAA tournament field and have been ranked in the Top 10 this season.
The Western Athletic Conference champions topped #2 seed Boise State 77-69 in the tournament championship game after getting a scare from San Jose State in the semifinals. Utah State edged the eighth-seeded Spartans 58-54 and failed to cover the 14-point spread after blowing an eight-point lead in the second half. San Jose actually led 49-48 with 7:19 remaining but saw the Aggies go back up for good on Brockeith Pane's jumper with 5:14 left. Pane finished with a team-high 16 points while Tai Wesley scored 14 and grabbed 12 rebounds.
Utah State lost to Texas A&M 63-59 in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament and fell to Marquette 58-57 the previous year in the Big Dance, covering the 6-point line. Kansas State advanced to the Elite Eight last year before losing to Butler 63-56 in the West Regional Final.
Predicted Score: Kansas State 71 Utah State 58
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