The basketball season is nearly upon us. With practice just about done, lets delve into a preview of the upcoming season for the Utah State Aggies.
Starters Returning: Five (Jalen Moore, David Collette, Chris Smith, Darius Perkins, Julion Pearre)
Key Losses: None
Utah State has been slowly climbing the ranks in the Mountain West, finishing 7-11 in their first year but improving their conference record to 11-7 last season. Now, Utah State looks to continue their climb and improve on their recent success. The Aggies were projected to finish third in the conference in the preseason poll, their highest since joining. And it is no wonder: the team returns all 5 starters from last season and they have a new coach in Tim Duryea that has experience with the program. There are a lot of expectations for this year team. The question is: can they live up to those expectations?
Three-Point Shooting - If there is one thing the Aggie offense is very good at, it's shooting the ball from long range. As a team, Utah State led the conference statistically last season, shooting 40 percent from three-point range and were ranked second in made threes per game, averaging 7.5 per game. Individually, Chris Smith led all shooters, averaging 47 percent from three. Without a doubt, the Aggies' biggest strength comes from the three ball, which they've had success with over the past few years. Don't expect to see anything different when it comes to the offense this season.
Experience - This is going to be huge for the team as the season goes on. As mentioned, Utah State returns all five of their starters from last season, including junior Jalen Moore and sophomore David Collette. This is an experienced group of starters that have had a year or more to learn the system at USU. With everyone returning, expect it to pay off in a big way.
Coaching - Exit Stew Morrill. Enter Tim Duryea. The longtime assistant coach under Morrill is now at the helm and brings with him a knowledge of how the team works. Not to mention that the other assistant coaches also remained when Duryea took over as coach. The combination of returning starters and the same coaching staff coming back should be enough to propel the Aggies this year.
Rebounding - If you give up lots of offensive rebounds to your opponent. you probably won't fare well in games. The Aggie defense had a very hard time last season on the board, actually ranked last in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage (66 percent). The offensive rebounding percentage was also last in the conference at 22 percent. It is critical that if the Aggies are going to have any success this season, they need to stop giving up offensive rebounds and second chance, something Tim Duryea will preach to his squad.
Free Throw Shooting - You won't win many games if you're free throw shooting doesn't improve, either. True, USU was ranked in the middle of the pack, but shooting 67 percent from the line won't do you any favors. Leaving points at the line could be all the difference in either winning or losing a game. Utah State needs to (not drastically) improve at the line to have a better chance of success this season.
From what I have seen and the people I have talked to, many feel this could be the year the Aggies make at least a run at a regular season title. If they can improve on the rebounding end and be as athletic as they should be, this could be a very good season for USU. My prediction: with the way this team is, any less than 20 wins this year may be a disappoint. Look for around 20-25 wins this year, which should be enough for a top 5 conference finish.