Mountain West Preview: Perimeter plays holds key to success for Utah State
The 2017-18 season didn’t start out on a good note for Utah State, as coach Tim Duryea learned 6-11 center Norbert Janicek would be out for the season after undergoing off-season knee surgery.
The injury leaves the Aggies, who were 14-17 overall and 7-11 in conference, with just three players 6-8 or better on the roster, and none have Janicek’s skill set.
“We are going to be a little small,” said Duryea, who replaced the legendary Stew Morrill three years ago, at last month’s MW Media Summitt. “We are going to be undersized. We won’t have a true center.
“We are skilled and we have good shooters. We are a competitive group from what I’ve seen so far. We are going to play up-tempo, and I want to shoot as many 3s as we can. That is important to us.”
The biggest task ahead of Duryea is replacing 6-6 swingman Jalen Moore, who led the Aggies in scoring and rebounding the last three seasons, en route to making the all-MW team three straight years. Moore averaged 17 a game.
“We’re in a constant state of developing the next player,” Duryea said. “Jaycee Carroll left and Nate Harris left. You are in a constant state of change.”
The absence of Moore places more pressure on sophomore guards Koby McEwen, Freshman of the Year and an honorable mention pick after averaging 14.9 a game, and sophomore Sam Merrill, who started the team’s final 18 games and averaged 9.4 a contest.
“His work ethic is really over the top,” Duryea said. “His basketball IQ has really risen. He sees the game better. He had a good year last year, and he is a lot better now.”
“I worked hard in the off-season,”McEwen said. “I don’t have set expectations. I don’t want to have to think about what I’m doing out there.”
McEwen’s marks of 14.9 and 5.1 rebounds are better than what former WAC Player of the Year Jaycee Carroll produced (14.7, 4.3) his freshman season at Utah State.
The 6-4 Merrill shot 45 percent from beyond the arc, and he scored in double figures in eight of the Aggies’ last 11 games, including a season-high of 22 at San Jose State.
Merrill and McEwen combined for 45 points in that 81-75 win over the Spartans. The then-freshman duo combined for 14-for-24 shooting in that game. It was the first time a freshman tandem had scored 20 points apiece in USU history.
Alexis Dargenton started 22 games last year, and the 6-8 senior averaged 9.4 a game. He will be expected to score more frequently with Janicek out for the season.
Another frontcourt returnee is 6-8 Quinn Taylor, who averaged 5.3 points and 4.0 rebounds a contest. He started eight games.
He goes hard to the offensive glass, grabbing a second-best 46 for the season.
Klay Stall and Daron Henson are redshirt freshmen, and should help provide depth in the frontcourt, and Abel Porter should see action in the backcourt. Henson averaged 17 a game at Cathedral High in Los Angeles, and Stall averaged 11 points and 11 rebounds at Basha High in Chandler, Ariz.
Dwayne Brown, a JC transfer, scored 13 a game at Northern Oklahoma Tonkawa, and Deangelo Isby, a transfer from Wabash College, averaged 16 a game. Both figure to help immediately.