With what can only be called a successful basketball season finally put to rest at Utah State, the Aggies are already working on making sure the next campaign is at least almost as successful.
Finishing with a 30-5 record might be too much to ask, but with four starters expected to return, the Aggies will be in great position to make another run at a WAC title.
It won’t be easy, though.
While stars like Jared Quayle and Tai Wesley will be back, so will almost all of the WAC’s top players and teams. I didn’t make an official count, but there were very few seniors playing significant minutes in the WAC the past season and with all that experience coming back, the conference will be a much-improved league.
Utah State loses Gary Wilkinson, the WAC regular season player of the year, conference tournament MVP and an honorable mention All-American. His presense will undoubtedly be missed.
But, just like Jaycee Carroll the year before, Wilkinson is not unreplacable — the Aggies will just adapt and redistribute the ball in different ways, again.
What we’ll probably see is more touches for Wesley, more shots for Quayle and more involvement from Tyler Newbold, Pooh Williams and reserves Matt Formisano and Brady Jardine.
Wilkinson was the only senior on the team. He, along with Richard Sirju who quite the team during the holiday break, are the only holes on the roster — that we know of so far — that need filling. If past history is any indication, though, there may be a player or two who transfer from Utah State for any number of reasons.
The Aggies have already signed SLCC star and former Aggie Nate Bendall. The 6-8 forward may not fill Wilkinson’s role exactly, but few signees are exact replicas of the players they are replacing. Being a defensive and rebounding presence will be adequate for the Ags because there is plenty of offense already in place. Bendall, however, does bring some scoring ability and will fit in nicely.
Moduo Niang will be back as well. An imposing shot blocker and rebounder, the 6-foot-10 sophomore broke his hand early in the season. He’ll be listed as a junior but may get a medical redshirt season back.
Brady Jardine was pressed into service before he was ready because of Niang’s injury. Still, he thrilled crowds with his athleticism and potential. He’ll be allowed to move to the small forward spot when the Aggies decide to play a big lineup but needs work on his ball handling to become a regular on the floor. Another offseason of work will help that out a lot.
Junior-to-be Matt Formisano, with better control of his personal fouls, will be a valuable member of the roster and provide important defensive and rebounding roles while also seeing his offensive game take another step forward.
Perhaps the biggest deficiency USU had last season was at the point guard spot. Quayle was phenominal but freshmen Jaxon Myaer and Deremy Geiger lacked experience and it showed. Assuming they return, they will be much improved and more mature as they battle for the minutes Quayle gives up when he is resting.
Wing players Newbold, Williams and Stavon Williams are also expeted to be back and more involved.
The big question many have, however, is if Utah State will improve its schedule.
Deserved or not, coach Stew Morrill took a lot of heat for playing the weakest schedule of any team ranked in the Top 25 at year’s end. Granted, it’s not Morrill’s fault those teams didn’t all win 20-plus games, but the strength of schedule probably prevented the Aggies from getting a 7 or 8 seed rather than the 11 seed they ended up with.
Rumors have been floating around, though, that USU will indeed find a more rigorous opponent or two for next season.