Tuesday, January 8, 2008

After a one-month absence...

Finally, a new post! Utah State basketball is on my mind today as the Aggies are riding a six-game win streak.
Utah State now stands at 11-5, 1-0 in WAC play, after rolling off the streak with every game at home. These wins include triumphs over Prairie View, UVSC, Northern Arizona, Oral Roberts, and Hawaii on January 3rd to start conference play on the right foot.
The Aggies' scheduled game last Saturday against Nevada was postponed due to the severity of the snowfall delaying flights into Reno, home of the Aggies' conference rival. This likely means that the re-scheduled date will arrive no earlier than two weeks from now, but probably no more than a month from today.
It is about the mid-season point of the college basketball regular season, and there are plenty of assessments about the Aggies, in addition to plenty of questions that have both been answered and have been prompted as a result of the Aggies' winning play of late.
Is this the first year, in their third of being in the WAC, that Utah State wins the regular-season conference championship, which would all but guarantee a return to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence? Is the starting lineup change, one that came into effect after the Aggies' embarrassing 72-48 loss at Utah that placed them at 5-5, the key to this championship? Forward Tai Wesley and guard/forward Tyler Newbold are just redshirt freshman, but have helped the Aggies take significant steps toward being a WAC contender, rather than the pretender that they were in early-season losses at Weber State, Cal-Poly and UC-Irvine.
The Aggies have parleyed a long, long homestand into this winning streak. However, they are still unproven on the road. The game at Nevada would have been a fantastic measuring stick. Now, they will face several multi-game road trips in WAC play, which will determine if they will indeed take the regular-season trophy. After all, USU is not going to lose more than two, but probably just one, conference game at the Spectrum.
Are the junior-college transfers- Gary Wilkinson, DeUndrae Spraggins, and Desmond Stephens- going to fulfill their roles all for this team for the duration of the season? Wilkinson has fulfilled his role for the most part, being a reliable scorer as the starting center. However, Spraggins is not the scoring option that he was envisioned to be. On the other hand, he has provided stellar perimeter defense and energy coming off the bench. Stephens has also been a mixed bag. The trick for him is to utilize his breakneck speed in the right way. Sometimes he has a tendency to try and make a play, particularly on the fast break, before it has opened up. Cut down on the turnovers, and Stephens will be a reliable backup point guard for Kris Clark, who has re-steadied his game after a slew of early-season on-court issues.
Obviously, Jaycee Carroll will continue to do his thing, breaking the Utah State all-time scoring record that currently belongs to Greg Grant in about three games, and doing everything he possibly can to maximize the return of his senior year.
Truly, Steve DuCharme may be the wild-card. The post player started every game last season coming out of a community college in Kansas, but has lost that spot to Wesley. His minutes have decreased slightly, but he is still seeing around 22 or 23 minutes per game. If DuCharme can come in the game and provide instant scoring and rebounding help in place of Wilkinson or Wesley, then the Aggies won't have problems with post play during the entirety of the game, especially against talented WAC forwards like Justin Hawkins of New Mexico State or Hector Hernandez of Fresno State. DuCharme may be discouraged about the demotion, but the truth is that he may be the difference-maker in the conference run.
This season promises to continue to get more interesting as January turns into February. Utah State should get great competition from several WAC teams. Nevada, New Mexico State, Fresno State, and Boise State have just as good a chance as the Aggies, while San Jose State and Idaho are improved. Louisiana Tech and Hawaii may turn out to be the cellar-dwellars, though teams struggle to win on the islands after all the travel required, and the Warriors gave Utah State all they could handle last Thursday.

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