Evidence at how the Aggies improved over non-conference play can be pointed at two preseason tournaments: the South Padre Island Invitational in Texas and the Gossner Foods Classic in Logan.
In one (South Padre Island), it showed the Aggies how much they needed to improve if they were to attain their goal of winning the WAC; in the other (Gossner Foods), it proved that they had indeed improved, and needed to keep taking strides to be ready for conference play.
Utah State finished third in the six-team S.P. Invitational, behind champion Vanderbilt and Bradley and ahead of fourth-place Iowa, Austin Peay and Montana Western. The Aggies, Vandy, Iowa and Bradley were the four teams that actually traveled to Texas over Thanksgiving break. Austin Peay played at Iowa and Utah State, and hosted Montana Western, while Montana Western had to take their Invitational games on the road.
USU was pounded 76-55 by the Commodores, who have been ranked in the Top 25 nearly all season. However, the Ags responded by knocking off Iowa 65-52.
Previously in Logan, USU beat NAIA Montana Western 77-58 in an ugly game, and Austin Peay 71-68 in a much better played game.
Overall, the Ags played two good games in the tourney, and two bad ones.
In their two wins, USU played like a WAC contender. In their two losses, pretenders.
It really was that simple.
The Aggies were smacked around by a top SEC team, but took it to an average Big Ten team, proving that they can be Big Dance-worthy this year, but only if they give a consistent effort every game.
Then came the Gossner Foods Classic.
The Aggies were drubbed by Utah 72-48 to put their record at 5-5 fifteen days earlier. However, Utah State came out of the gates strong in the opening game against Utah Valley, and maintained the intensity in an 87-65 win. Two of the nation's top scorers, Jaycee Carroll and UVSC's Ryan Toolsen, faced off against each other, and Carroll took the battle in a landslide.
Then in the championship the next night, the Aggies played another solid game in a 78-62 victory over a 7-4 Northern Arizona club. Gary Wilkinson had perhaps his best game in the Aggie blue up to that point in the season.
Utah State looked SO much better in these two games than they had when they played another inferior team in Montana Western a month earlier. It really indicated that they had taken strides and made the choice to be a tough team after the wake-up call at the Utes' home in Salt Lake City. Add in a victory over a solid Oral Roberts group eight days later heading into WAC play, and Aggie fans, after initial concern with a .500 start to the season, could breathe a bit easier.