Logan • Stew Morrill tried to tell anyone who would listen. But his warnings mostly fell on deaf ears.
As early as last year, the Utah State head coach predicted that the Aggies’ run of excellence wouldn’t always be automatic. That 30-win seasons are to be cherished. That sustaining a winning college basketball program is more difficult than he’s made it appear.
Utah State’s bumpy road
» Hasn’t had a losing season since 1992-1993
» Has been to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments
» Has been to the postseason in every year since the turn of the century
Friday’s gameIdaho at Utah State, 7 p.m.
Not many believed him.
But Morrill has turned out to be prophetic. Heading into Friday’s home finale against Idaho at the Spectrum, the Aggies are indeed mediocre. The season has been a struggle, and Utah State is on the verge of a few dubious accomplishments.
USU is within range of its first losing season since 1992-93. The Aggies are well on their way to missing the postseason for the first time in more than a decade. Getting to a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament is impossible without winning the conference tournament. The season has been sidetracked with bad luck, injuries, transfers and recruits who never made it to Logan.
Many point to next year, when Morrill welcomes what may arguably be his best recruiting class ever. But the present is awfully painful.
"It’s been frustrating," sophomore shooting guard Preston Medlin said. "We thought we would be better than this, and we think we’re a better team than this. We’ve had some things that haven’t gone our way, and we thought that we would have to adjust a little, with us bringing in so many new players. But we never thought it would be like this."
There are a number of reasons for USU’s 2011-12 demise. Injuries are at the forefront. When Brady Jardine, Utah State’s best player, and one of the best inside players in the Western Athletic Conference, tore ligaments in his foot, the Aggies were robbed of the inside presence that’s been their calling card for so long.
It seemed like a simple sprained foot when he limped off the court against Southern Utah early in the season. Little did anyone know that would be the last time for the 6-foot-8 senior in an Aggie uniform. The injury turned out to be career-ending.
Without Jardine, Utah State has struggled to rebound. The Aggies are woefully undersized each night, and they don’t have a single player who can score consistently with his back to the basket.
Next season, Jarred Shaw, an athletic 6-11 center, becomes eligible. He sat out this season after transferring from Oklahoma State. Utah State will also have the services of 7-footer Matt Lopez, a transfer from LaSalle in Philadelphia.
"They should help us a ton," sophomore wing Danny Berger said. "The first team can’t get a rebound against them in practice."
Besides injury, defections have hurt as well. In just the past year, James Walker, Steven Thornton and Antonio Bumpus have all transferred out of the program for various reasons. All were athletic guards. All three would have been in the rotation had they stayed.
The Utah State coaching staff is banking on people like Medlin and Berger to get better with a year of experience. Medlin has a chance to be one of the best players in the WAC next season. Much will be expected of Marcel Davis, the 6-3 point guard out of American Fork, and his 6-5 wing, Quincy Bair. And the spring recruiting has begun, as the staff has already offered spots to several players at various junior colleges.
The thinking is that the 2012-13 Utah State team will have the size and the skill that this team lacked. But that’s next season. Right now, the Aggies are just trying to find themselves in time to try to make a run through the conference tournament, which starts in a little more than two weeks.
"We firmly believe this is just a temporary thing," Medlin said. "We have a lot of talent in the program, and we think that we’re going to be a lot better once we get more experience."
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