Logan • Utah State has a good reason to be cautious about preseason basketball polls.
When the Aggies were picked to win the Western Athletic Conference by the media last season, injuries and a few disappointing losses led Utah State to a fourth-place finish instead.
But that doesn’t mean coach Stew Morrill wouldn’t like to live up to the No. 1 preseason rankings Utah State is getting this year.
“We would love to win the league,” coach Stew Morrill said. “But before you become a contender, you have to be competitive. And we haven’t proven we’re competitive yet.”
Heading into the Aggies’ season opener against Idaho State on Saturday, the team is cautiously optimistic about its potential.
In its exhibition games, Utah State looks bigger, more physical and maybe even more mature. Preston Medlin, voted the preseason WAC player of the year, has looked sharp and poised. Jarred Shaw and Kyisean Reed should be tough matchups in the low post. The depth of the team, especially at the wing positions, could wear out opponents in a new-look — many would say weaker — conference.
But a WAC title campaign — USU’s last before heading to the Mountain West Conference next year — and a potential NCAA berth are far into the future for the team. Its leaders, Medlin chief among them, are trying to hone a promising group into a strong unit. Coaches have hammered in the importance of practicing with a consistent effort.
“I’ve been on a team that was 30-4, and I’ve been on a team that finished fourth,” Medlin says. “I think I know what goes into making a winning team, and I’m trying to bring that to these guys.”
Looking at Utah State’s schedule, the Aggies won’t have to go far from the Spectrum early with seven of their first eight contests at home or in-state.
The early schedule, as always, is built for wins, but games against St. Mary’s and BYU will provide a chance for the Aggies to measure themselves.
The bigger question might be the WAC slate, when the Aggies will try to fight off Denver and New Mexico State for conference dominance.
“They beat us both times decisively last year,” Reed said. “We want to get them back.”
There are some definite areas of improvement: The Aggies have two point guards they feel comfortable playing. Shaw, at 6-foot-10, offers more interior looks at the basket, and Jordan Stone and Matt Lopez should give extra depth at the center position.
Reed, an all-WAC honoree, appears improved, and Medlin could establish himself as one of the best guards in the country.
But Utah State, as always, treads lightly, never counting titles before they win them.
Best case scenario
Home court advantage is friendly to the Aggies, and they enter their WAC schedule with only one loss. More size and better shooting help Utah State win most of their conference games — going perfect at the Spectrum — win the WAC tournament and potentially serve as a first-round upset special in the NCAA tournament.
Worst case scenario
Injuries chip at the depth at point guard or the front court, or there’s less cohesion than Utah State hoped. The Aggies still go into conference with a winning record, but have mixed success in the WAC schedule, finishing third to New Mexico State and Denver. The NIT or CIT invites them back for the postseason.
Idaho State at Utah State
Saturday, 7 p.m.
Utah State schedule
Saturday • Idaho St., 7 p.m.
Nov. 15 • Saint Mary’s,7 p.m.
Nov. 17 • Texas A&M-CC,7 p.m.
Nov. 24 • Weber St., 7 p.m.
Nov. 28 • at Santa Clara,8 p.m.
Dec. 5 • at BYU, 7 p.m.
Dec. 8 • Western Oregon, 7 p.m.
Dec. 15 • at Utah Valley,7 p.m.
Dec. 20 - Dec. 22 • World Vision Challenge, at Utah State
Dec. 29 • at UT San Antonio, 6 p.m.
Dec. 31 • at Texas St., 2 p.m.
Jan. 3 • Seattle, 7 p.m.
Jan. 5 • Idaho, 7 p.m.
Jan. 11 • San Jose State,7 p.m.
Jan. 17 • at New Mexico State, 7 p.m.
Jan. 19 • at Denver,4:30 p.m.
Jan. 24 • UT Arlington,7 p.m.
Jan. 26 • Louisiana Tech,7 p.m.
Jan. 31 • at Idaho, 8 p.m.
Feb. 2 • at Seattle, 8 p.m.
Feb. 8 • at San Jose State, 8 p.m.
Feb. 14 • Denver, 7 p.m.
Feb. 16 • New Mexico State, 7 p.m.
Feb. 22 - Feb. 23 • ESPNU BracketBusters, at Utah State
Feb. 28 • at Louisiana Tech, 6 p.m.
Mar. 2 • at UT Arlington,6 p.m.
Mar. 7 • Texas State, 7 p.m.
Mar. 9 • UT San Antonio,7 p.m.
Mar. 13 - Mar. 16 • WAC Tournament, at Las Vegas, Nev.