By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State men's basketball has signed a contract to play one of the nation's best mid-major programs.
MSU officials confirmed Thursday the Bulldogs have finalized an agreement to play a two-for-one deal with Utah State that will begin this season with the Aggies traveling to Starkville for a game tentatively set for Dec. 31.
The addition of Utah State, who has made the NCAA Tournament five of the last seven seasons, means MSU could be putting together a non-conference slate with the possibility of at least four opponents in the Top 25 at some point in the season.
MSU will also participate this season in the 2K Sports Classic with a field that includes Texas A&M, St. John’s and Arizona. The Bulldogs non-conference schedule will also feature a home game against West Virginia on Dec. 3 in the Big East/SEC Challenge.
"I think the interesting thing is football you've got to make your schedule so far in advance but basketball you work on a shorter time frame," Mississippi State athletics director Scott Stricklin said last March. "Rick wants to toughen up the schedule a little bit and that tells me we're going to be pretty good."
MSU and Utah State will play this season, take a year off, with the Bulldogs returning a game to Logan, Utah in two seasons. The series will conclude at Mississippi State in 2014. The Aggies, coached by Stew Morrill, finished last regular season 19th in the Associated Press poll after winning 30 games but losing 73-68 to Kansas State in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Utah State is 159-12 in their home arena, the the Smith Spectrum with Morrill as their head coach. Over that same period of time, Utah State has averaged 26 wins per season.
"Coach (Stew) Morrill made this happen, I just signed the contract," Utah State athletics director Scott Barnes told the Salt Lake Tribune Thursday. "We feel like this has the potential to be a very challenging schedule for us. We’re very excited to go out and play it."
This season's contest will mark the first ever meeting between the two schools.
CBS Sports also confirmed Mississippi State has accepted an invitation to the 2012 Maui Invitational. CBSSports.com senior staff writer Jeff Goodman reported the news on Twitter Thursday afternoon.
Mississippi State is currently slated to make it its first appearance in one of the nation's premier early-season college basketball tournament with North Carolina, Texas, Butler, Marquette, Illinois, Southern California and host Division II school Chaminade in the field.
The Bulldogs program made a trip to the Aloha state this past season where MSU lost two of those three games and the trip being notorious for the fight in the stands caught by television cameras between a pair of Mississippi State players in Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey.
Mississippi State is 2-4 all-time under head coach Rick Stansbury when playing in Hawaii.