LOGAN – It has been a bizarre year for Mountain West basketball.
Colorado State is playing with a seven-player rotation, but has a five-game win streak and is atop the conference standings. San Diego State, the team that has won at least a share of the conference championship the last three years, is in fourth place. San Jose State has been a bottom-dwelling team during that time, but is now fighting for a top-5 finish and a first round bye in the conference tourney.
Almost nothing has unraveled as expected.
Meanwhile, the Utah State basketball team has shown moments of potential and has beat some good league teams at home, but still hasn’t won on the road and is battling to find some consistency.
The Aggies will try once again to get a conference road win tonight at San Jose State. The Spartans are 14-11 overall, 7-7 in conference and is the only conference team USU hasn’t played this season, even though it has went up against most teams twice. Head coach Tim Duryea said it is strange not having played a conference opponent this late in the year, but he is still somewhat familiar with the Spartans from watching tape.
He said he is expecting one of the best San Jose State teams USU has ever faced.
“They are very effective and have had some very impressive road wins and were able to beat San Diego State at home,” Duryea said. “That is something we haven’t been able to do yet. Coach (Dave) Wojcik is playing the right way, playing a lot of guys, changes his defense and gives you a lot of looks.”
Those defensive looks, according to Duryea, include full court pressure, three-quarters court pressure, half court man, half court zone, box-and-1, triangle-and-2 and others.
“They really throw the kitchen sink at you defensively,” he said, “and that is a little unusual in this league. Most teams don’t do that. We probably play as many defenses as anyone, except San José State. It will be a little different look from them in that regard.”
The team is led in several different categories by sophomore Brandon Clarke. The 6-foot-8 forward/center averages 18 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, both team highs. His 65 blocks rank first on the team and his 30 steals rank second. Duryea said Clarke isn’t a conventional player.
“They start him at the five and play him as a center, but he is not a center,” he said. “He is more of a forward and a basketball player that can score anywhere inside the 3-point line. He doesn’t shoot 3s, but is very effective driving the ball, as an offensive rebounder, can make 15-foot jumpers and is a really good player in isolation situations. They play a lot of guys, but he is the guy that makes them go.”
Duryea said he will use different guys to guard Clarke, but it will be sophomore guard Norbert Janicek’s job to start the game.
“He is improving defensively and does a good job in a lot of ways on guys that play 15 feet and in,” he said. “That is where Clarke is. The fact that he doesn’t shoot 3s will help Norbie guard him effectively.”
The other Spartan averaging double figures is sophomore Ryan Welage, who is scoring 12.5 points per game.
“Welage is their 4-man and he roams around the perimeter and is a spacing 4-man,” Duryea said.
Duryea said his freshmen guards’ shooting percentage has been a concern on the road, but that is because Sam Merrill and Koby McEwen aren’t getting high percentage shots. He is hoping to change that tonight.
“The shots they are taking are tough shots, are highly-contested shots or shots at the end of the shot clock,” he said. “They are just not getting a lot of really good looks. We are trying to adjust to give them a little more help and free them up in some different ways than what we have.”
That could mean playing smaller.
“That is something we did at Nevada,” Duryea said. “We played Jalen (Moore) a lot at the four. Part of our struggles offensively comes from teams not guarding our 4-man out on the perimeter, other than Jalen when we play him at the four.”
The game will tip off at 8 p.m. MST.