Utah State Men's Basketball picked first by media, third by coaches in preseason WAC polls

By Doug Hoffman

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 18 2011 1:00 p.m. MDT

After winning four straight regular season Western Athletic Conference Championships and two WAC Tournament titles in the past three years, the Utah State men's basketball team is picked to finish first in the conference once again during the 2011-12 season, according to the league’s media.

Additionally, coaches have tabbed the Aggies third as the WAC’s preseason polls were announced Tuesday.

Two of Utah State’s players were recognized. Senior guard Brockeith Pane was named preseason first-team all-WAC by both coaches and media and was selected the league’s preseason Player of the Year by the media. Senior forward Brady Jardine was named to the preseason all-second team by the coaches.

Nevada is the coaches pick to win the WAC this year after receiving five first-place votes and 46 points, while New Mexico State is slated to finish second after garnering 41 points, but no first-place votes. Utah State received three first-place votes and 38 points and was picked to finish third, followed by Hawai’i (32), Idaho (24), Fresno State (18), San Jose State (14) and Louisiana Tech (11).

In the media poll, Utah State garnered 13 first-place votes and 174 points, while Nevada was second with 162 points and five first-place votes. New Mexico State, which received 150 points and three first-place votes, was picked third, while Hawai’i received 126 points and three first-place votes and was picked to finish fourth. Idaho was picked fifth (89), followed by San Jose State (66), Fresno State (59) and Louisiana Tech (38).

“Both polls reflect our past success rather than our current situation,” said USU Coach Stew Morrill. “The coaches considered that we lost the Most Valuable Player, four starters and six seniors. The media did not. We appreciate the respect given to our program and yet understand that preseason polls mean nothing other than getting people excited for the upcoming season.”

Overall, Utah State returns one starter and four letter-winners from last year's team that advanced to its 20th NCAA Tournament all-time, including its eighth in the last 12 years under Morrill – it lost to Kansas State, 73-68, in the second round. Utah State finished the 2010-11 season with a 30-4 record – tying the school record for wins and setting a school record for winning percentage (.882) – and went 15-1 in WAC play to claim its fourth-straight regular season league championship, which is also a school record. USU won its second WAC Tournament championship in the past three seasons last year. Over the last four years, USU has a combined record of 111-28 (.799) including a 55-9 (.859) WAC mark.

Leading the way for Utah State during the 2011-12 season will be Pane, who earned first-team all-WAC honors as a junior when he averaged 11.8 points, 3.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, while ranking fourth in the league in free throw shooting (.802), fifth in assists and sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.32). Pane, who was also named the Most Valuable Player of the 2011 WAC Tournament, finished the season shooting 43.6 percent from the field and 21.1 percent from three-point range.

Utah State's most experienced player is Jardine, who has played in 91 games with seven starts during his first three years at USU. As a junior, Jardine averaged 7.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 21.4 minutes and shot 54.1 percent from the field and 64.7 percent at the free throw line.

Other returners from last season's WAC Championship team include senior forward Morgan Grim and junior guard E.J. Farris. Grim played in 32 games during his first year at Utah State and averaged 2.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in 8.7 minutes, while shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 62.9 percent at the free throw line. Farris played in 21 games in his first year as an Aggie and averaged 1.9 points in 7.3 minutes.

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