Last year, the Utah State basketball team won 21 games and finished runner-up in a postseason tournament, by most standards a pretty good year. For the Aggies, however, it was the worst season in more than a decade. This season, judging from the thoughts of the coaches and media, last year was an outlier not a trend.
The Aggies were voted to win the new-look WAC in their final season in the conference by the media. The coaches tabbed Utah State to finish second behind New Mexico State.
“I’d say the coaches are a little ahead of the media by picking New Mexico State to win,” USU coach Stew Morrill said.
The Aggies have been rebuilt from almost the ground up and appear — on paper at least — to be bigger, faster and stronger than last year’s squad. Utah State brings in a cadre of new players at nearly every position in hopes of getting back to the NCAA Tournament.
"We have a lot of new guys that need to produce for us to be successful," Morrill said.
On the frontline the Aggies will be big, as they return 6-foot-10 Jordan Stone in the middle in addition to the two nearly 7-foot tall transfers in Jarred Shaw (Oklahoma State) and Matt Lopez (LaSalle) joining the program. While the height is nice, physicality is what the coaches are looking for from this group.
“Last year we were the all-skinny team. We really got pushed around,” Morrill said. “Hopefully we’ve added a little strength.”
Shaw was tabbed by the media as the preseason newcomer of the year and will likely start the season at center. The size and length up front will be combined with returner Kyisean Reed at the other forward spot. Reed was named second-team All-WAC preseason by the coaches.
Preston Medlin — who carried the Aggies at times last season and is expected to do the same this season after being named preseason player of the year by both the coaches and the media — headlines the backcourt. Medlin averaged 17 points 4.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists a game as a sophomore while shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor and 42 percent from beyond the arc.
“He had a sophomore year that surprised lots of people. We knew he was good but he even surprised us a little bit,” Morrill said of Medlin. " ... It's a nice preseason honor for him certainly.”
Fellow returner Danny Berger at the wing will join Medlin, but there will be plenty of competition to not just lock down the primary backup job, but to challenge Berger for time as well. Junior college transfers Marvin Jean and Spencer Butterfield are both players Morrill has high hopes for. Butterfield averaged 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds at Yuba Community College last year while Jean put up 13.1 points and 6.7 rebounds for Sullivan Community College.
There are no returning players at the point guard position, leaving a wide-open battle that will likely come down to TeNale Roland and Marcel Davis. Roland was a junior college All-American last season for Rend Lake College, while Davis is a true freshman who led American Fork to a co-championship in Region 4 last year.
Utah State will get a chance to see what all the new additions can do when they open up the exhibition season on Friday night against Grand Canyon. The regular season will begin for the Aggies on Nov. 10 vs. Idaho State.
Kraig is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.