A tradition, coach Stew Morrill called it. One they hope to continue.
The Aggies invite three teams to play at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum for a holiday tournament every year. The Aggies win every year. The last time Utah State (6-2) lost in its own holiday tournament was in 1971, rattling off 45 straight wins since.
But with leading scorer and rebounder Jarred Shaw suspended, the sledding won’t be as easy this year. And with Shaw out indefinitely, the Aggies will need to use this year’s tournament to find out a way to win without him before tougher Mountain West teams come calling.
“You look to go to different people’s strengths,” Morrill said. “We’re going to give some guys a chance to do what they can do.”
Morrill said Wednesday that the Aggies plan to start 6-foot-10 Jordan Stone at center in Thursday’s game against Western Illinois. Utah State will have other creative lineups in Shaw’s absence, including putting forward Ben Clifford at the 5-spot or shifting forward Kyle Davis there for smaller sets.
Shaw’s production will be hard, and maybe even impossible, to replace. The Aggies don’t have another scorer as effective as Shaw in the paint, and Morrill acknowledged his rebounding will be missed as well.
“You’re not going to have as many opportunities to throw to the low post,” Morrill said. “You’re looking at getting your points from a different area.”
That may mean guards Preston Medlin and Spencer Butterfield, the next two top scorers, may be looking for more shots from the wings or trying to drive inside. The Aggies also will look to Davis, Jalen Moore and Danny Berger to increase their scoring production at the 3 and 4 spots.
Defensively, Utah State hopes to bolster itself inside with Stone, who is the team’s best low-post defender. Though Stone lacks Shaw’s shooting touch, the Aggies expect him to make an impact by rebounding and blocking shots.
Clifford will see his minutes increase significantly and will be playing the most minutes he’s faced since returning from a preseason foot fracture. Morrill said the junior still is getting up to speed after his injury and more minutes should help him. Clifford took on a similar, more impactful role last year after Kyisean Reed was lost for the year — albeit at a different position.
“He hasn’t been where he finished last year,” Morrill said. “Minutes are what he needs right now. Certainly having his experience is positive.”
Western Illinois (4-5) is known for a possession-oriented, slow-paced style that has kept opponents to only 54.7 ppg, the No. 2 defensive mark in the nation. The Leathernecks are outrebounding opponents by an average of 3.4 boards per game.
On Friday, the Aggies will face UC Santa Barbara, who they beat on the road Nov. 16, 71-64. Troy will face Utah State on Saturday night.
Western Illinois at Utah State
O Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (Logan)
What • Basketball Travelers, Inc., Classic
Tipoff • Thursday, 8 p.m.
Radio • 1280 AM
Records • USU 6-2, WIU 4-5
Series history • First meeting
About the Aggies • Utah State is playing without 6-foot-10 senior center Jarred Shaw, who is suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. ... Senior guard Preston Medlin is No. 8 in the country with a 4.0 assist-to-turnover ratio. ... The Aggies are among the best passing teams in the nation, at No. 11 in assists (17.8) and No. 16 in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.58).
About the Leathernecks • Western Illinois is No. 2 nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 54.1 ppg per game. ... The Leathernecks are one of the least-whistled teams when it comes to fouls, No. 5 in the country with only 15.3 per game. ... Freshman guard Garret Covington leads the team with 12.0 ppg.