Consistency is still being sought, but tonight gives the Aggie men’s basketball team a chance at playing someone other than themselves.
Utah State begins the 2013-14 season by hosting Central Methodist in an exhibition game at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The game is scheduled to tip off at 7 o’clock.
“We need to figure out who can do what in a game setting,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said. “Any time you go out and play, you’d like to win, but in exhibition games I like to believe that is secondary. You want to win, but you want to figure out where you’re at in so many areas of the game.”
With seven new members of the team and three back from injury, there has been a lot of learning going on. The new NCAA rules of allowing teams to start earlier has helped, but also taken some time getting used to as there are more days off than normal.
“You get three days off, you’re trying to get back into your routine a little bit,” Morrill said of his team having last weekend off after a scrimmage. “I would say things are going OK. ... We’re not very consistent right now. We’re not very consistent in our execution or in our practice habits. We’re not awful, don’t get me wrong, we’re just kind of average.”
There have been good practices, which the coach called encouraging. Before the season begins there is a lot of learning going on.
“There’s two times a year that I call the dog days — that’s when you’re three or four weeks in and you’re just beating on each other, and it’s in February,” Morrill said. “We’re battling that a little bit. That’s what makes the most sense to me to describe where we’re at.”
Which is good timing for the Eagles to come to town. Central Methodist is a NAIA school located in Fayette, Mo.
The Eagles went 19-13 a year ago, but are facing a big learning curve heading into this campaign. Central Methodist returns just three lettermen from a year ago, including one starter. That returner is guard Melvin Tillman, who earned all-conference accolades and was an honorable mention All-American. Tillman averaged 14.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game last season.
Morrill has no film on the Eagles and does not know their personnel. However, he is aware of their veteran coach. Jeff Sherman is entering his 29th year at the helm at Central Methodist and has a record of 509-405.
“They’ve had a really good program and they’ll run a lot of good stuff,” Morrill said of the Eagles. “The main thing to accomplish is to go out there and play someone else. We have to adjust to teams that are running things and try and guard them without seeing them every day like we do our own stuff.”
The Aggies went 21-10 last season, despite dealing with numerous injuries. Four starters are back, including injured players Preston Medlin and Danny Berger. Jarred Shaw, Marcel Davis and Spencer Butterfield ended last year in the starting lineup. Guard TeNale Roland has also seen time in the starting lineup and logged big minutes.
Medlin was leading the team in scoring at 16.3 ppg before going down with an injury. Shaw and Butterfield ended up with the best scoring averages for the entire year at 14.2 and 12.2 ppg, respectively. Shaw and Butterfield also led the team in rebounding at 8.4 and 6.6 rpg, respectively.
Who will start tonight?
“That’s always a big deal to people, especially this time of year,” Morrill said. “Who we start the first exhibition game may not be who we start the second, or who we start against USC (in the season opener). It’s a little overrated who starts, especially early in the year.
“I do hope we have some depth. I think we have a chance to have some depth. That would be really positive to be able to play nine, 10, 11 guys.”
Only one Aggie is out with an injury in junior forward Ben Clifford. He is nursing a broken foot and should be back in December.