LOGAN — After a somewhat rocky start, Stew Morrill's Utah State Aggies (8-5) are finally playing their best ball of the season. The Aggies rung up four straight victories at home before the holiday break, including a convincing 81-62 thumping over Kent State, one of the strongest opponents Utah State has faced this season.
The improved play could not have come at a better time, as the Aggies will ring in the new year against the 15th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs.
"It would be a happier new year for me if I didn't have to go to Mississippi State. Travel all that way and play a really good team," Morrill said. "I am not sure how much sense this game makes for us, for our team right now. I think our players are looking forward to it, I think it is a positive in that regard. It is obviously a tremendous challenge right before league starts."
The road trip is the first of a three-game series with Mississippi State.
The two-for-one series will take a break next year, but will resume with the Bulldogs visiting Logan in 2013 and the Aggies making a second trip to Starkville in 2014. Scheduling a BCS school on unequal terms is new ground for Morrill, but something he's been making an effort to do the last two seasons.
"We haven't done a lot of two-for-one games and haven't done a lot of guarantee games, but I've done one of each the last two years, which everyone seems to think that it is a helluva deal but me. I don't think that it is a helluva deal, I think that everyone should play on an equal bases," said Morrill. "Sometimes you do something to try and get home games or try and expose your team a little bit. The Georgetown game last year was positive to go into Washington, D.C., obviously getting an SEC team in Logan in the next couple of years is a rarity. There is some merit I suppose."
While having an SEC school come to Logan in 2013 is something to look forward to, the challenge of facing this Bulldog team is enough to keep the team occupied. Guard/forward Rodney Hood was a top-20 high school recruit and is one of the top freshmen players in in the nation. Senior point guard Dee Bost is having the best season of his career, averaging more than 17 points and nearly five assists a night. And to top things off, Mississippi State has two dominant post players that check in at almost 7 feet in Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney.
"It is pretty hard to try and guard those guys without some help and then of course you open up a whole can of problems if you double them, how do you block out, how do you rebound?," Morrill said. "They go small and that lineup is as dangerous as any when they play (Rodney) Hood. … When they go small they play him at the four and that really creates matchup problems … they just come at you with lots of weapons."
The afternoon tipoff of the game (1 p.m. MST) will allow the team to get back to Logan in time to celebrate the new year and get started on preparations for WAC play, which will begin on Jan. 5 in Logan against Fresno State.