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Utah State coach Craig Smith gestures during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against San Diego State, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Gregory Bull, AP Photo

Adapt and adjust: Utah State gets early look at what season could be like at Crossover Classic

By Ryan Miller, KSL.com | Updated - Nov. 25, 2020 at 2:03 p.m. | Posted - Nov. 25, 2020 at 7:50 a.m.



LOGAN — Utah State has yet to play a game, but they've already been welcomed to the unpredictable world that is collegiate sports during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, the Aggies went through a lengthy practice preparing to play Wichita State in their season-opener at the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

When they landed in South Dakota later that evening, though, they had a new opponent. Wichita had to pull out due to positive COVID-19 tests and the game was replaced by Virginia Commonwealth. The Aggies will play VCU Wednesday at 7:30 MT on ESPN2.

"We've had to adapt and adjust. We told our guys from Day 1, 'Guys let's not take anything for granted,'" Smith said Monday before his team left for the tournament.

If only he knew how quickly his team would have to be adjusting.

But a little uncertainty is nothing new for the Aggies. There was a time when the program wasn't sure if there would be a season at all, and a time Utah State didn't know if four of its players could even get back into the country. So a little last-minute change in the schedule isn't anything to worry too much about. At least not this year.

The saga that is the Crossover Classic may just end up being a representation of college basketball as a whole in 2020-21. The Shockers are the sixth team to pull out of the tournament, joining Ohio State, Texas A&M, Utah, Creighton and Dayton. Those teams have been replaced by South Dakota State, Saint Mary's, Northern Iowa, Utah State, Western Kentucky and VCU.

Only two teams, West Virginia and Memphis, are left from the original field. It's been a revolving door — is that how the season is going to be?

That's just another unknown for the players and coaches as games continue to be canceled throughout the nation. And it causes some anxiety when tests are done because you never know what the result will mean.

"There's some anticipation and some nerves and some anxiety," Smith said. "'Man, if I get a positive test, am I gonna have to sit out for 10 days? Is my roommates gonna have to sit out 14 days? Or am I gonna be negative and I get to play?'"

For now, the Aggies get to play. And that means the first look at a team that is welcoming nine new players to a squad that was won back-to-back Mountain West Conference tournament championships.

"We do have a lot of inexperience," Smith said. "A lot of freshmen. We're excited about those guys, but they're gonna be thrown to the fire real quick."

The Aggies will be looking for ways to replace guards Sam Merrill (who was taken in the second round of last week's NBA draft), Diogo Brito and Abel Porter.

Guards that will be looked at to fill those roles include former Lone Peak standout Steven Ashworth, Virginia transfer Marco Anthony, freshman Max Shulga and freshman Rollie Worster, among others. The Aggies return guard Brock Miller, a junior guard who started 29 of 34 games for Utah State last season.

Utah State isn't lacking experience down low, though, with junior center Neemias Queta and junior forward Justin Bean both back after all-conference campaigns last season.

Bean averaged 11.9 points and 10.5 rebounds on his way to earning third-team all-conference honors. Queta, who was named to the all-Mountain West second team, averaged 13.0 points and 7.8 rebounds in a season that was slowed by injuries.

Injuries that appear to be behind him.

"Queta looks great, man," Smith said. "I know he's always the one that everyone asks about. It's funny even watching some film from a couple of years ago, and even last year, just how different he's moving. He's moving so much better than he ever has."

And that should give the Aggies hope against just about any team — even the ones that aren't on the original schedule.

Ryan Miller

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