Thursday, March 27, 2008

Putting a cap on the Utah State basketball season

This season, the Utah State men's basketball team met one of two goals: first, they won the WAC regular-season championship, tying with Nevada, New Mexico State and Boise State but securing the #1 seed for the conference tournament; and secondly, they came short of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, the 65-team field that promises the chance for a national championship, known as March Madness.
Once the Aggies didn't qualify for the NCAA Tourney, they got a pairing against Illinois State, one of the top teams to not make in in the Big Dance, in the National Invitation Tournament, losing 61-57.
Before the NIT game, Utah State traveled to Las Cruces to play in the WAC tourney, winning the first game against San Jose State 85-65 before failing to beat Boise State for a third time this season the next day, falling 88-79.
The Aggies tried to crowd the post against the Broncos, which led to open three-point looks for Boise. Once these early makes got them in a rhythm, there was no stopping them, not even seldom-used bench player Aaron Garner, who averaged barely over one point per game heading into the third meeting against USU before shooting 4-5 from the three and scoring 14 points.
Utah State players and supporters felt a little better the next night, after Boise State defeated New Mexico State on the NewMags' home floor for the WAC Tournament championship and ensuing automatic NCAA berth, taking a 107-102 triple-overtime thriller.
I mean, let's face it, northern Aggie fans: the Broncos brought their best ball into the weekend. Beating a team who they tied for the regular-season title on the road in a championship game is proof of that.
Still, it was admittedly hard to see Utah State allow the looks that they gave to the Broncos to only give them more rhythm and confidence, and also see USU get out-physicalled by BSU, who simply turned the tables from a 88-69 loss to Utah State at home just eight days earlier.
In the NIT, the Ags played hard in a defensive struggle, but when they got limited chances to take the lead on the road, they couldn't make a play. The Redbirds would come up with a steal, or get an offensive rebound, to boost the lead back up to two to three possessions in the last couple of minutes, before Utah State's last attempt to take the lead came up dry when Jaycee missed a good-looking 3 from the corner with 20 seconds left in the game.
Looking back, a week-and-a-half after the season ended, there were a lot of positives out of the season. The team went undefeated (17-0) at home, won the regular-season conference title, and saw Jaycee Carroll break or build on ten school records, including becoming the leading scorer, and also witnessed coach Stew Morrill become the winningest coach in Utah State history.
Not easy tasks.
Next year, the Aggies should compete for the conference championship again, despite losing three seniors, including Carroll. USU does return three starters, two that are sophomores, and five players from their rotation this past season. Nine of the thirteen players will be back, as the four leaving will be the graduated seniors (Carroll, Kris Clark, and Steve DuCharme) and a redshirt from this past season, Brad Brown, who is headed on a mission.
Sophomores Tai Wesley and Tyler Newbold will continue to play alongside upcoming senior Gary Wilkinson in the starting lineup. The open starting positions are at the point guard and wing positions. Point guard will likely be filled by upcoming senior Desmond Stephens (2.3 ppg, 1.2 apg, 11.8 mpg) or redshirt freshman Jaxon Myaer. The other wing who will start alongside Newbold will be sophomore Pooh Williams or Jared Quayle, an incoming JC transfer from Western Wyoming who will be a junior. Quayle shot 52 percent from the 3-point line in junior college this past season.
Other players in the mix are senior DeUndrae Spraggins (F/G) and sophomore posts Matt Formisano and Moduo Niang, one of whom will need to replace DuCharme's production off the bench.
The other incoming players are high school commits, one who is a point guard and the other, a center.

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