Tom Smart, Deseret News
Utah State Aggies guard Preston Medlin (13) and Utah State Aggies guard/forward Spencer Butterfield (21) as Utah State University defeats Colorado State University 73-69 in the first round of the Mountain West Conference Men's basketball tournament Wednesday, March 12, 2014, in Las Vegas.
LOGAN — Utah State’s 18-14 record in 2013-14 was the worst since coach Stew Morrill’s first season in Logan, when the Aggies finished 15-13. As a result, many familiar with Utah State basketball have viewed this past season as a failure, at least compared to the program’s previous 14 years, which each saw 20 wins or more.
But at the end of USU’s first season in the Mountain West Conference, Morrill doesn’t see it that way.
The Aggies finished 7-11 in conference play, better than the Mountain West debuts of Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State. Nevada went 3-13 and Fresno State went 5-11 in 2012, while Boise State finished 3-11 in 2011.
“We had four or five games that went right to the wire that we didn’t win and we’ll always feel bad about that,” Morrill said. “I’ll feel bad about that more than anyone else. Had we been 10-8 or 9-9, we sure would have felt better about it, but that being said, expectation level at Utah State is high.”
This isn’t the first time the Aggies have faced elevated competition from one year to the next: Utah State moved from being the perennial powerhouse of the Big West until 2005 to losing in overtime of the WAC championship in 2006.
“When you jump leagues one time, it’s a pretty big thing. When you jump two times, you definitely feel it,” Morrill said. “Obviously we were a little better equipped to jump into that league. I think this has been a tougher transition and we expected it to be.”
Morrill compared USU’s jump from the WAC to the Mountain West to the frustrations the University of Utah had jumping from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 in 2011.
“Obviously they’re making strides, basketball-wise, but it’s been a process,” Morrill said. “It hasn’t happened overnight. Hopefully we can make strides as we go. That’s what we’re hoping.”
As it attempts to get better, Utah State has been suffering alarmingly high player transfer rates.
After graduating five seniors, USU lost forward Danny Berger, who is transferring in search of more playing time at BYU-Hawaii; center Jordan Stone, who decided to graduate early and will join Berger at BYU-Hawaii; power forward Kyle Davis, who reportedly had disagreements with the coaching staff; and point guard Marcel Davis, who said he wants to start medical school early (Utah State doesn’t have a medical program).
Of USU's four returning players, the only one who averaged more than 10 minutes and three points per game last season is soon-to-be sophomore small forward Jalen Moore.
“We’re excited about those guys coming back,” Morrill said, “and the other guys we signed in the fall and the other guys we’re recruiting right now. The biggest thing is, as everybody knows, it’s going to be a very new group.”
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Morrill wouldn’t shed light on the reasons why so many players left this season, but did say it is hard to see players go, even though academic and playing time reasons are understandable.
“We haven’t had a lot of guys through the years look to move,” Morrill said. “It leads to lots of speculation, which is never that much fun, but it all passes and we all move on to the next thing.”
Tavin Stucki is a senior journalism student at Utah State University and editor-in-chief of The Utah Statesman, the Aggie campus newspaper. Twitter: @DesNewsAggies @StuckiAggies