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John Zsiray, AP
Utah State's Spencer Butterfield drives around Troy's Westley Hinton during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, in Logan, Utah. (AP Photo/Herald Journal, John Zsiray)

LOGAN — The Utah State basketball team will ring in the New Year with a new era of basketball. The Aggies (10-2) will play their first Mountain West Conference basketball game on Wednesday night at Air Force (6-5).

“Ready or not, you never know,” head coach Stew Morrill said when asked if the Aggies were ready for the Mountain West Conference. “You start on the road and that’s always a challenge.”

The Falcons sit near the bottom of the Mountain West standings in non-conference play but still pose a tough challenge with a difficult to prepare for Princeton style offense. The veteran players for USU know the system well, having played Denver twice last year. The Pioneers use a similar playbook, but the Aggies lost both matchups with DU last season.

“You want to start on a good note, but they know we aren’t just going to waltz in, play bad and get a win,” Morrill said. “The nature of the Mountain West Conference is that you aren’t going to play bad and win.”

Many have said that the Mountain West has taken a step back from last year when the conference sent five teams to the NCAA Tournament and finished the year rated No. 1 in RPI. Only San Diego State is currently ranked in the Top 25, and preseason favorites New Mexico and UNLV have had a few struggles to start the season. Even with a dip in quality, Morrill believes the conference is one of the strongest in the nation and will test USU every night.

“The conference is a beast in terms of all the quality teams,” Morrill said. “I laugh when I hear ‘it’s not quite what it was last year.’ Well no, it’s not first or second in the country, but it’s still in the top eight or nine out of 31 conferences. It’s a heck of a league. We are looking forward to it.”

Utah State will likely continue to be without Jarred Shaw, who was suspended indefinitely from the team last month. Shaw was charged with distribution of a controlled substance on Monday, and Morrill has previously stated that Shaw and the team will need to let the legal process run its course before making any further decision.

A quick look at how teams in the league (in projected order of finish from MWC media day in October) have fared, thus far:

Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.