Utah State coach Tim Duryea’s squad hasn’t quite found its footing just yet, so opening conference play at home is welcomed.
The Aggies host San Jose State on Wednesday to begin Mountain West play.
“Every league game feels like it’s so hard to win,” Duryea said. “I think the most important thing is you have a home game. Depending on who it’s against, I’m not sure it matters so much as the fact that you get to start out at home.
“You know, you can’t let those slip away if at all possible.”
Four schools — UNLV (11-2), Boise State (10-2), Nevada (11-3) and Fresno State (10-3) — have reached double figures in wins heading into conference play.
San Diego State (8-3) and Wyoming (9-4) also have enjoyed pre-league success.
Utah State (7-6) has won three of its last four games, with the defeat against Utah. But the last two victories, both at home, were against little-known Life Pacific College and a Youngstown State team that is 2-10.
Next up is San Jose State (3-8), which has the worst pre-conference record in the Mountain West. But the Spartans recently ended a five-game losing streak by winning at Santa Clara.
“I think it’s a different San Jose State club,” Duryea said. “If they keep on going on the path that they’re on, they will win a lot more games than they’re expected to win.”
The Aggies are led by sophomore Sam Merrill, who is averaging 14.5 points a game. Junior college transfer DeAngelo Isby is averaging 12.5, while sophomore Koby McEwen is scoring 11.7 per contest.
Duryea said that McEwen, the team’s leading returning scorer from 2016-17, has had to fight through a couple of factors in the early part of the schedule. First, there have been injuries not only to himself, but also to teammates that have led to lineup alterations. Second has been foul trouble.
“We’ve got to do a better job of putting the ball in his hands in good situations,” Duryea said. “He’s such a good 3-pointer shooter. A lot of times maybe the ball doesn’t need to be in his hands as much and people need to do a better job of making plays for him.”
Alex Dargenton, Utah State’s 6-foot-8 senior, has missed the last two games, and Duryea is hoping that he’ll be on the court for the San Jose State game. He might be needed because Duryea compares the Spartans to an earlier opponent, UC-Irvine, that has two big players in the lane.
USU won that game 62-59 on Dec. 6. Overall, though, Duryea says his team is not quite where he hoped it would be to start conference play.
“We’ve had so many things we’ve had to deal with,” Duryea said. “We’re not the well-oiled machine you’d like to be. We’ve done a pretty good job, but obviously not where we’d be had we had everybody available all preseason.
“We’re going to get there, and we’ve had a couple of good practices. But to say we’re where we want to be is probably wishful thinking in terms of our win-loss record and in terms of our comfort level.”
SAN JOSE STATE AT UTAH STATE
When • 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where • Dee Glen Smith Spectrum