<strong>LOGAN—</strong> In the midst of a bye week for the Utah State football team, I’ve been taking a closer look at the USU men’s basketball team. Though I’ve certainly been paying attention to the team, it hasn’t been until now that I’ve had time to put together my positional previews – with the help of new CacheValleyDaily.com writer Kyle Heywood – and really delve into men’s basketball.
Based on interviews with players, coaches, and what I’ve seen during the first couple of exhibition games, here are some thoughts and observations on the team before the season opener Saturday.
Much has been made about the added size on the Aggies’ roster – just take a look at my first two position previews – but that is something to get seriously excited about. After sitting out last season because of transfer rules, Jarred Shaw is going to provide a new dimension to the USU offense.
Shaw was named by the media as the preseason WAC newcomer of the year. I was one of the media members who voted for him to receive that honor, and I am in no way regretting that decision. Through two exhibition games, Shaw has converted 8-of-13 field goal attempts and 11-of-14 free throw attempts to tally 27 points while also pulling down 10 rebounds.
The Aggies have had some skilled big men during the Stew Morrill era, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone that tall that is able to put the ball on the floor and play that far away from the basket.
Staying in the post and staying with the size, I have been pleasantly surprised by the play of Jordan Stone in the exhibition games. Due to the injury to Brady Jardine last season, Stone was forced into the lineup when he should have been redshirting. He gave the Aggies a big body, but it was clear he was raw and would have benefitted from a redshirt year.
However, with a year of play under his belt and another offseason to improve, Stone is starting to look like a legitimate Division I basketball player. He is massive at 6-feet 10-inches and is listed at 270 pounds, though he appears to have slimmed up and looks closer to 250. In the two exhibition games, Stone has made 5-of-6 field goal attempts and 3-of-4 free throws for a solid 12 points, while pulling down 10 rebounds.
“Jordan has made great strides, and when you get to play in games you improve. Practice helps you, develops you, and kind of gives you an idea of what you have to do to play at this level, but getting in games, that’s where you really improve,” USU assistant coach Tim Duryea said. “The fact that Jordan got to do that last year … we’ve seen a lot of improvement offensively from him. His hands are a little bit better, his low-post game is a little bit better, he’s catching the ball in traffic and being able to figure out a way to finish – that’s better. We’re encouraged by his path. Guys that are that big that haven’t played, you forget a lot of times what a bonus playing time is.”
A couple of other guys that have impressed me are new faces in point guard TeNale Roland and small forward Marvin Jean. Both juco transfers have shown the ability to shoot the ball – especially from deep – which is something all Aggies not named Preston Medlin struggled with last season.
With Medlin rightfully drawing the attention of opposing defenses, USU will have open shooters on the wings. During the two exhibition games, the Aggies connected on 43 percent of their 3-point attempts (13-of-30), with Roland (2-of-4) and Jean (3-of-5) showing a particularly smooth stroke.
“Last year we struggled to shoot the ball from 3 consistently. Other than Preston, we had nobody that really shot it consistently – Danny (Berger) had his moments,” Duryea said. “Now, I think if we put TeNale out there and Preston is making tons of plays for guys, I think TeNale is going to fall into a lot of 3’s. We struggled against zone last year, and part of that was because we only had a guy and a half out there that could really make 3’s consistently.”
Those are just a few observations from the two exhibition games. We’ll know more come Saturday when the Aggies play their first real game of the season. We’ll know even more after their second game on Nov. 15, when they host Saint Mary’s in The Spectrum. Saturday’s season opener kicks off at 7 p.m.