The five-year trend clearly shows signs of a slide for the Utah State men’s basketball program leading into the 2017-18 season.
But a landslide? Well, not exactly.
Utah State won 21 games in 2013 and that total has gently glided down — 21, 18, 18, 16 to 14 last year.
The current group of Aggies thinks a handful of close conference losses can be turned into wins and, in the Mountain West, that might just be enough.
In league play last year, which ended with a 7-11 record), Utah State narrowly lost twice (five points total) at home to Boise State as well once to San Diego State (four points) and a five-point defeat at Air Force.
On the upside, eventual MWC champ and current favorite Nevada was thumped by the Aggies, one time by 17 points.
“That’s what I’m talking about. We can beat anybody and that’s the type of league that we’re in,” said sophomore guard Koby McEwen, who averaged 14.9 points and was named the Mountain West freshman of the year.
“For me, I want to win it all. I feel like that’s reasonable and within our means,” McEwen said. “Last year we lost a lot of close games, but I feel like we can close those games out.”
Other than the departure of Jalen Moore, the losses from last year’s roster are minimal for the Aggies.
Utah State at Weber State
When • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • None.
But Moore was the team’s leading scorer as well as rebounder and the absence of the 6-foot-9 wing certainly isn’t going to help a team that is a little on the small side compared to its opponents.
Utah State’s strength, according to coach Tim Duryea, is definitely its guard play.
McEwen and fellow sophomore Sam Merrill became regulars in their freshman years at USU. Merrill ended up scoring 9.4 points a game — third on the team behind Moore and McEwen.
“Our backcourt is, I don’t want to put pressure on those kids, but our backcourt is all I could ask for,” said Duryea of McEwen and Merrill. “They’re competitive, they’ve been doing a really good job as team leaders.”
Additional backcourt help will come from senior Julion Pearre (6-3), Abel Porter (6-3, R-Fr.), Crew Ainge (5-11, Fr.) and Brock Miller (6-6, Fr.) — although Ainge and Miller are working back into basketball shape after just coming off church missions.
Closer to the rim, Norbert Janicek and Alex Dargenton bring back some experience. Along with those big men, Quinn Taylor and the Aggies hope that junior college transfer DeAngelo Isby (6-5, Jr.) can help in the paint.
“It’s obvious, I think to everyone, that we’re a little undersized,” Duryea said. “I don’t know how deep we are yet. We’ve got to play with a lot of feistiness.”
Merrill, who played at Bountiful High, is displaying a little of that already.
“This year there’s more responsibility on me, on Koby, on this entire team to have a better season,” Merrill said. “Get back to 20 wins, get back to the postseason — and that’s the mindset we have.
“We’re not going to settle for whatever our record was last year — or an eighth-place finish in conference.”
Utah State men’s basketball outlook
Key returnees • Koby McEwen (So., 6-4, G); Sam Merrill (So., 6-5, G);Norbert Janicek (Jr., 6-11, C); Alex Dargenton (Sr., 6-8, F); QuinnTaylor (Jr., 6-8, F).
Key losses • Jalen Moore (17.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg); Shane Rector (8.0 ppg).
Outlook • Continued growth and development from the sophomore backcourt of Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill is the block to build upon for the Aggies. But Utah State’s post players will have to hold their own near the basket — and emergence of another shooter would help the Aggies move back into the thick of Mountain West contention.