To be completely honest, I struggled putting the Utah State Aggies this low in my rankings due to their stellar past decade-plus and recent dominance in the WAC. However, since the Aggies lose so much from last year's team, I have to knock then down.
First off, the projected depth chart is a total crapshoot. With so much turnover from last year's roster, only returning starter Brockeith Pane and key reserve Brady Jardine appear to be sure things in the starting five. After that, there is going to be competition all across the roster to see who earns minutes.
Pane made an immediate impact last season after transferring in from Midland Junior College. He will take on an even larger role running the Aggies' offense, more than likely be relied on as the go-to scorer. After Pane, E.J. Farris is the only returning contributor from a year ago and he only played in 21 games.
Utah State did have a pair of guards redshirt last season in Preston Medlin and Antonio Bumpus. Medlin saw decent playing time as a freshman during the 2009-10 season while Bumpus was a former third-team National Junior College Player. Both players should see significant minutes this season while a host of newcomers will try to work themselves into the rotation. The transfer of talented point guard James Walker leaves freshman Sam Orchard as the Aggies' only true backup point guard.
On the interior, Utah State will miss the physicality and experience of WAC Player of the Year Taj Wesley and Nate Bendall. Jardine will have to pick up the slack. He is an effective back-to-the-basket player and a terrific rebounder. The concern is who else will step into a significant role?
Morgan Grimm is the only other Aggie with Division I experience and he only saw eight minutes per game last year as a junior. JUCO transfers Kyisean Reed and Igor Premasunac will try to step in right away and contribute off the bench. Reed relies on his athleticism while Premasunac is more of a physical presence. Freshman Jordan Stone (6-10, 270 pounds) adds some much needed size and muscle into the equation as well.
It is really hard to doubt three-time defending WAC Coach of the Year Stew Morrill after the success his program has had since his arrival. The past 12 years under Morrell (he is entering his 14th year as head coach so I am throwing out his first year), the Aggies have averaged almost 26 wins, have the fourth-highest winning percentage of all Division I teams, and never finished with fewer than 23 victories in a season. So by Utah State standards, this could be somewhat of a "down" year. It will also be a strange campaign considering the Aggies will not play in-state rival Utah for the first time in 67 seasons.
Player to Watch: Brockeith Pane, PG
An All-First Team WAC honoree, Pane also earned the distinction of the league's top newcomer last season. His Achilles heel though was from beyond the arc where he hit just 16 of his 76 triple tries which is a major drop from the 37.3 percent he connected on during his sophomore season. An upgrade in competition obviously made his looks more difficult last season, but if Pane can return his outside shooting form to what it was during his JUCO days, it will tremendously help Utah State's effort to win at least a share of their fifth-straight WAC title.