Utah State Basketball Preview: #51
Overall Rank: #51
Conference Rank: #2 Western Athletic Conference
2008-09: 30-5, 14-2
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Stew Morrill (267-91 at Utah State, 485-229 overall)
If we should ever learn anything about Utah State, it is that no matter who they lose, they will be good. The Western Athletic Conference was not that great last year, but Utah State still managed to lose a mere five games on the season. Now with just one starter gone, the expectations are much higher, but there are two things standing in the way of the Aggies and another NCAA title…the absence of Gary Wilkinson and Nevada.
Key Losses: G F Gary Wilkinson, G Stavon Williams
Even with four starters returning Coach Stew Morrill will need some production out of his newcomers, and he will get it. Junior college transfers Nate Bendall and Morgan Grim will provide some immediate help. Bendall, a 6-8 forward, had two great years at Salt Lake Community College and could immediately be the starter under the basket. Brian Green, who teamed up with Bendall at junior college, is a solid shooting guard who should provide quality minutes off the bench. Freshmen Preston Eaton, Preston Medlin, Chandler Smith and Tyrone White will find it more difficult to make an impact right away.
It was the emergence of Jared Quayle that allowed USU to run, yet again, an extremely efficient offense. Quayle led the team with 3.7 assists, but also hit 1.7 three-pointers per game and tallied 13.1 points. Quayle, now a senior, should be even better with a year of experience in the system. With Tyler Newbold and Pooh Williams on the wings, the Aggies should not be lacking in scorers. Newbold is a consistent long range shooter and could turn into a player who could average 12 or 15 points per game if he used his 6-4 frame to get to the basket more often. Williams does not have any more size than Newbold, but he can finish around the basket.
The frontcourt has the daunting task of replacing Wilkinson. Wilkinson was one of the most efficient players to ever play the game and his scoring, rebounding and leadership will be sorely missed. Tai Wesley has the unenviable task of trying to replace some of the scoring and the rebounding, although Wesley did a pretty good job in both of those categories last year too, tallying 12.0 points and 6.0 rebounds. Wesley is even a good passer around the basket and the 6-7 junior should be in for a big year if Bendall or sophomore Modou Niang can turn into consistent players under the basket.
Who to Watch:
Matt Formisano and Brady Jardine are not the most talented players around, but they might have to play a bigger role if the newcomers need some time to adjust to life in the Western Athletic Conference. Formisano can play at the power forward or the center spots and if the team needs him to start, he can do that, but most likely he will have to play quite a few minutes off the bench and give Wesley and Bendall, or even Niang, a rest.
There is no reason to think Utah State will not be right in the mix for another NCAA Tournament bid. However, the WAC is getting better and it will not be so easy for the Aggies. Two years ago the conference was plain awful. Last year they were nothing special, but all those young teams are growing up and the Aggies will have to do deal with some tough teams this season.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Jared Quayle, Senior, Guard, 13.1 points per game
Tyler Newbold, Junior, Guard, 9.0 points per game
Pooh Williams, Junior, Guard, 5.9 points per game
Tai Wesley, Junior, Forward, 12.0 points per game
Nate Bendall, Junior, Forward, DNP last season
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