LOGAN – So far, the only losses the 8-3 Utah State basketball team has suffered came against the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils, a very tall UC Irvine team and in-state rival BYU, but now with conference play starting, each win and loss from here on out will count for more.
Before the season started, the Aggies were picked to finish third in the Mountain West preseason poll behind San Diego State and Boise State, but that was a long time ago. Head coach Tim Duryea said Mountain West teams have both unexpectedly won games he didn’t think would be won and lost games he didn’t think would be lost. He said the conference is more wide open this year than it has been in the past, and that the parity and uncertainty should give his team hope.
“It is going to play through the first five or six games, but you got to do a good job of holding your home court, and we talked to our players about playing on the road,” he said. “You’ve got to be mentally and physically prepared every night to give yourself a chance to have a chance. And then, you know, if you do that, you’re going to break through a few times. You don’t know where, you don’t know when, but the key is preparing mentally and physically to where every chance you get you got to go compete on the road.”
The Aggies will start conference play on the road Wednesday evening against San Jose State. The Aggies had no problem handling the Spartans last season, winning the first game at home 61-33 and then again on the road 76-54, but this year’s Spartan team is a group Duryea called “new and improved.”
“It is almost like playing a new team and a new coach,” he said of SJSU almost completely overhauled roster. “They are doing a lot of different things on both sides of the ball, and obviously as a coach, when you have a full roster of players, you can do a lot more things. It feels like a whole new team. There’s a couple of holdovers that are playing a decent role for them, but mostly, it is a totally new-look team.”
Duryea said all the changes aren’t unexpected given San Jose’s previous season. Spartan head coach Dave Wojcik’s current 5-7 record is still a couple of wins below .500, but it is still more than double the win total of the entire previous season where the Spartans went 2-28.
Duryea said San Jose State’s size has the potential to create problems for his team. He said USU will need to create space and grab rebounds to give themselves a better chance to win on the road. Picking up a road win, Duryea said, is something his team needs to do whenever given the chance to compete for a top spot in the competitive league.
“If we are going to finish in the top-three of the league, we’ve got a couple of stats that need to improve – our defensive field goal percentage, our defensive 3-point field goal percentage and our turnovers,” he said. “Those all got to improve a little bit and if they do, we’ll have a chance.”
The game will tip off at 8 p.m. Wednesday and will be available on the Mountain West network and KVNU 610 AM.