Five Must-Watch Games for Utah State Basketball in 2019-20
Aggies’ non-conference schedule includes three likely Top 25 teams
Expectations are as high as ever in Logan. Can Utah State live up to the task?
Utah State enters the season as preseason favorites to win the Mountain West after taking home a share of the title along with last year’s unanimous preseason favorite, Nevada. The Aggies are also coming off a Mountain West Tournament championship run that launched the team into a 9-seed in the Big Dance. With the league’s Player of the Year (Sam Merrill) and Newcomer of the Year (Neemias Queta) back in the fold for the 2019-20 season, expectations are through the roof in Logan.
But which of Utah State’s matchups present the highest risks – and highest rewards?
The Aggies released their full schedule last week and there are some very intriguing contests throughout the season, especially in their non-conference games. Here are the five most important dates on Utah State’s schedule, including a Thanksgiving weekend trip to Jamaica, a matchup against a potential Top 5 team, and a rematch of one of last season’s most memorable – and infamous – games.
11/22 – vs. LSU (Jersey Mike’s Classic – Montego Bay, Jamaica)
After the Tigers overtook Tennessee for an improbable SEC title last season, LSU drew a lot of national attention. Unfortunately for the team, that was not the only headline news coming out of Baton Rouge. Will Wade became embroiled in scandal midseason when recordings went public featuring the young head coach discussing payment for talented guard Ja’vonte Smart. LSU finished the season with assistant Tony Benford serving as interim coach. Despite the controversy, the team earned a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and made it to the Sweet 16. Smart is back this year, as well as backcourt mate Sklyar Mays and sophomore big man Emmitt Williams. Joining Williams in the frontcourt will be heralded freshman Trendon Waters, a Top 20 player nationally according to 247Sports. Wade has been reinstated by the university and will return to the sidelines in 2019-20 – and he’ll be looking for his team to return to national prominence once more. This game could be huge for the Aggies, as the first of three chances to add Quadrant 1 victories to their résumé before Christmas.
11/29 – @ Saint Mary’s (Moraga, CA)
This trip down to the Bay Area represents the only true road game for Utah State in the non-conference season. In what should be one of the premier mid-major matchups of the entire 2019-20 season, look for Randy Bennett’s Gaels to give the Aggies a serious run for their money. Like USU, Saint Mary’s has a good chance at debuting in the preseason Top 25 later this fall. Their star tandem of Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts provides a tantalizing matchup for Merrill and Queta. After beating Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament last season, Saint Mary’s snuck into the NCAA Tournament and gave Villanova a run for their money. Now, they return just about everybody and should be a lock for second place in their league behind the Zags. This will be the first game for the Aggies after their trip to Jamaica, so they need to be careful that they don’t come back too jet-lagged. A win over the Gaels could really help Utah State’s case for seeding in the NCAA Tournament, especially if Craig Smith can’t collect victories in either of the team’s games against highly-touted SEC opponents.
12/21 – vs. Florida (Orange Bowl Basketball Classic – Sunrise, FL)
The Gators come into the season with the highest expectations for the program since the glory days of those mid-aughts Billy Donovan squads that won back-to-back NCAA championships. Already looked at as a Top 15 team heading into 2019-20, Florida made a huge splash in landing the country’s top graduate transfer, big man Kerry Blackshear. The ex-Virginia Tech star was an All-ACC second-team selection last season after scoring roughly 15 points per game while pulling down seven and half rebounds. He will bring his 6-foot-10, 250-pound frame to Gainesville, along with his veteran presence. But the Gators’ returning trio of Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, and Keyontae Johnson was already enough to strike fear into the hearts of opponents. With Blackshear, Florida is likely to come into the year as a Top 10 team in the national polls. This is probably the biggest win available for the Aggies this season, especially when you consider that it is, for all intents and purposes, a road game. If Queta is healthy for this game, it promises be one of the best matchups of big men all year for college basketball. If not, the Aggies will have some serious problems containing Blackshear.
Those are the highlights from the non-conference schedule. But which league games will be most important for the Aggies in 2020?