Utah State 2009-10 basketball preview

Utah State 2009-10 basketball preview

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LOGAN -- Under the watchful eye of head coach Stew Morrill, the Utah State men's basketball program has reveled in unprecedented success during the past decade. That success has led to extremely high expectations from Aggie fans, and the 2009-10 year is no exception.

High Expectations

Coming off a school-record 30 win season, a second consecutive WAC regular season title, a conference tournament title and with four returning starters from that record setting squad, expectations are again high.

"We always have expectations at Utah State. That's something we've learned to live with and understand through the years," said Morrill according to the team's media guide. "When you are fortunate enough to go to 10-straight postseasons, fans expect you to have a quality basketball team and we expect to compete for a WAC championship every year."

Heading into Friday's season opener at Weber State, however, it's not only USU fan's that have high expectations for this season's Aggies. Utah State was tabbed as the number one team in the conference by both the coaches and the media.

"We're excited, we're glad to be recognized," said senior Jared Quayle who was voted to the preseason WAC first-team. "We can't get big heads. We can't go off of last year's team or last year's accomplishments. We've got to come out and prove ourselves this year. It's a whole new team. We've just got to keep working hard and prepare ourselves for this year."

Along with Quayle, junior forward and two-year starter Tai Wesley was also recognized as he was voted to the WAC preseason second-team. Wesley averaged 12 points and six rebounds a game during his sophomore campaign.

"I think we need to not let it go to our head. It's definitely a compliment, something that we should be proud of, but more about last year's accomplishments," said Wesley of the preseason accolades. "This year we haven't proved anything and I think we need to go into each game with that mindset, prove ourselves each game and prove the critics right - that we can be that number one team."

Roster Shuffle

Returning to the starting rotation, along with Quayle and Wesley, will be junior swing-men Tyler Newbold and Pooh Williams. Newbold has played in 70 games since his freshman season, including starting in the last 60. Last year the 6-foot 4-inch shooting guard led not only the Aggies, but also the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.96). He also averaged nine points and 4.2 rebounds per game.

Williams has been recovering from a foot surgery this offseason, but could see time against the Wildcats after missing the Aggies two exhibition games. Williams only averaged 5.9 points and 1.9 rebounds as a sophomore, but came one strong towards the end of the season. He is the Aggies most athletic small forward and best lockdown defender.

The only spot on the floor where the Aggies don't return a starter - and their biggest question mark heading into the season - is the center position vacated by 2008-09 WAC Player of the Year Gary Wilkinson. The big red-head left a 17.1-point 6.8-rebound hole in USU starting lineup.

The Aggies though have had recent experience in replacing a WAC player of the Year. Before last season's 30-win campaign, USU was presented with the task of replacing the school's all-time leading scorer in Jaycee Carroll.

"I think we do it the same way we did last year in replacing Jaycee," Wesley said of replacing Wilkinson. "We've got a lot of new guys that are going to have to step up and take on big roles - fill some big shoes - but I think we've got the guys to do it."

One of those new guys who will most likely step in and fill the hole left Wilkinson is JC transfer Nate Bendall. The 6-foot 9-inch, 245-pound junior is returning to USU (he played for USU as a freshman, appearing in 13 games) after helping lead Salt Lake Community College to a 31-6 record and the NJCAA National Championship.

"I always knew Nate was a good player," Morrill said. "I remember watching him when he was in high school and I turned to my assistant after warm-ups and said, ‘We want him,' hadn't even seen him play a game yet. It's nice to have him back in an Aggie uniform."

The Bruins also provided the Aggies with another transfer who should contribute right away in combo-guard Brian Green. Green averaged 14.1 points and shot 47.2 percent from beyond the arc for SLCC last year.

Along with the two JC transfers, the Aggies added five freshmen to their team this year. Among those who should contribute quickly is shooting guard Prestin Medlin (Hebron HS, Tex.) and small forward Tyrone White (Jefferson HS, Ore.). Texas Hoops ranked Medlin as the No. 43 player in the state as a prep senior. He averaged 22.5 points a game while knocking down 53 percent of his shots, including 44 percent from 3-point range.

White - who was a Mcdonald's All-American nominee - averaged 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists last year with the Air Force Academy Prep School.

"We've got some good players that are new… they'll help us out a ton this year," Quayle said. "It's hard to say who's going to be an outstanding guy, but I think they'll all do well this year."

Quayle will be backed up by redshirt sophomore Jaxon Myaer who is coming off a surgery on his face. The speedy guard averaged just less than 12 minutes a game last year, but often sparked the Aggies with his change of pace.

Other returning players include junior Matt Formisano, and sophomore's Brady Jardine and Modou Niang. Formisano came on as a consistent force in the post last season, while Jardine is another high-energy player. Niang suffered a wrist injury early last season and was granted a medical redshirt. He should benefit from another year in USU's system.

Freshman guard Preston Eaton and 7-foot 1-inch freshman center Anthony DiLoreto are also on the Aggies roster, but will most likely redshirt this season.

Home Court Advantage

Following Friday's season opener, the Ags will stay on the road for two more games (Utah and Northeastern) before finally opening up Spectrum play Nov. 24 against Idaho State. Wesley said the team needs to not hesitate and not wait to get its feet wet if they expect to do well on the road swing.

Under Morrill, the Aggies have a 159-12 record at home, including having won 34 straight and 50 of their last 51. The 34-game home win streak is currently the second longest streak in the nation behind Kansas. This season USU will be playing a record 18 games at the Spectrum.

"There's definitely pressure. If I said there was no pressure I'd be lying," Wesley said about keeping the home winning streak going. "Anybody can come in here and beat us, so we need to really protect our home court. The only reason we have the fan base we do is because we're a good basketball team - they don't want to come out and support a bad basketball team. We need to pay it back to the fans by competing every night."

Regardless of pressure and expectations, the Aggies are excited to get the season started and finally have their games count. Though Quayle and Wesley both expressed plenty of things the team needs to improve on - especially on the defensive end - they know this could be another special year for the Aggies.

"We've just got to take one game at a time and hopefully we'll come out and play that night and get that win," Quayle said. "I'm excited, it's my last year of college basketball and I'm going to give it all I can. Hopefully the rest of the team does the same and we can have a successful year."

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