The final season of Utah State athletics in the Western Athletic Conference has been an unquestioned success so far. During the fall, football, women’s soccer and volleyball all won league titles.
Now men’s basketball gets its chance to leave the conference with a title under its belt as conference play begins this weekend.
With five new teams in the WAC this year, conference play is anything but business as usual. Three of the new teams — Seattle, Denver and UT Arlington — were on the Aggies' schedule last season, so there is some familiarity with the rosters. The other two newcomers, Texas State and UTSA, are completely foreign to the Aggies. Not only were they not on the schedule last year, they have never played the Aggies in over 100 years of basketball.
The new matchups mean extra work in the film room for the Aggie coaches and players. Starting with UTSA on Saturday the coaches have been watching extra film to prepare the team for players and coaches they have never seen before.
“It’s kind of an odd situation with teams we’ll only play one year in conference play,” head coach Stew Morrill said. “We’ve got to learn about them in a hurry and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
In a schedule oddity, the trip to San Antonio will be just the Aggies' third road game of the season and only the second trip out of Utah.
“You’ve to go out there and pull together and figure out what you need to do,” Morrill said. “It’s just kind of you and a lot of others out there on the road, without your support from home. I don’t think it’s a real issue that we haven’t played a lot of road games.”
UTSA, on the other hand, will be playing in its home gym for just the second time this season and for the first time since Nov. 17. The Roadrunners' last six games have been away from home, including stops at BYU, Mississippi State and Oregon.
“Maybe they’ve (UTSA) got to adjust to playing at home. Who knows?” Morrill joked. “Every game is different. When it’s all said and done, in hindsight, you can pick out this and that as the reasons. It’s really just a matter of how you play on that given night.”
The Roadrunners live up to their name on the court and like to push the ball and play aggressive defense. UTSA will lean on its backcourt to carry the scoring load. Kannon Burrage leads the team with 18.6 points a game, while Micheal Hale adds in 16.9 points of his own, including a lights-out 53 percent mark from beyond the arc.
“They’re athletic. They’re impressive to watch on film,” Morrill said of UTSA. “It’s a team that loves to shoot a lot of 3s. They’ve shot a lot more than their opponents and they’re shooting a pretty high percentage.”
On defense the Aggies will have to deal with a mix of man-to-man and 2-3 zone. Utah State has spent extra time preparing for the zone this week after not having seen much in game action since the opening game of the season against Idaho State.
Aggies and Roadrunners on the air
Utah State (9-1, 0-0 WAC) at UTSA (4-6, 0-0 WAC)
Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012
5 p.m. MST
San Antonio, Texas
Convocation Center (4,080)
Radio: Aggie Sports Network
Kraig is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.