Aggies take on Knights in lone exhibition game
When the Aggies take the court Friday night, it will be the opportunity to take another step forward.
Utah State hosts Division III Southern Virginia in its one and only exhibition game before the 2016-17 season gets underway the following week with a road trip to southern California. The Aggies and Knights are scheduled to tip off at 7 o’clock in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
Second-year Aggie head coach Tim Duryea does not recognize any of the athletes on the Southern Virginia roster. The Knights are an LDS Church-based school that draws athletes from that faith.
While USU will be focused on trying to improve, picking up a win is also helpful for the mental advancement of the squad as well. The Aggie coaching staff will try and play as many athletes as possible in different combinations to help get a feel for who will start and play in the season opener at UC Irvine the following Friday. Athletes that could possibly redshirt will also be decided after the exhibition outing.
“We don’t force anybody to redshirt,” Duryea said. “We will definitely propose it to two or three. It’s in their best interest, but we let them decide. We don’t want to waste anybody’s year.”
Duryea did not name any names.
The Aggies have 10 new faces on the team this year and seven of those are freshmen. Two of those freshmen will definitely not be redshirting. Guards Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill have drawn praise from the head coach and will be pushing for a good chunk of minutes this upcoming season.
The point guard spot will be anchored by senior returning starter Shane Rector and McEwen. Junior Julion Pearre could even log a few minutes there.
“Koby and Shane will handle the majority of the minutes at the point,” Duryea said. “Koby has learned two spots, so he can play the point and the two. That’s great. When you are new and a freshman, the more versatility you have, the better for you.
“Sam Merrill has done the same thing. He can play the two or the three. He is a little undersized at the three, but we can put a small-ball unit out there with four guards. We could go with a Shane, Koby, Julion or Sam and Jalen (Moore) with a big. We will play that lineup some. We’ll throw a little small ball at you, spread the floor and play four guards.”
Pearre is the most experienced player back among the guards. The two-year starter will most likely get the nod to start at the shooting guard spot.
“Julion is doing a good job,” Duryea said. “Koby is pushing for minutes there and so is Sam. That may be the most hotly contested position for minutes on our team. The two has three guys there that are all good players. There is only 40 minutes at that spot. That’s going to be a tight competition there all year long.”
The most solidified spot is the small forward or wing position. Moore, a three-year starter, has been moved to his natural position. Moore has earned all-league accolades the past two seasons, but played more at the four or power forward.
“We will try and play Jalen the majority of the time at the three,” Duryea said. “When we go small, he can man the four. You have Sam (Merrill) that can get minutes there and Alexis Dargenton that’s long and athletic. He is a combo three/four. It’s a lot more clear at the three who is the starter and who will get back-up minutes.”
The final two spots are still up in the air as to who will emerge as the starters and who will come off the bench. Sophomore Quinn Taylor is the only athlete with any experience at USU, having started a handful of games and played in most a year ago.
“Quinn is the most stable at the four right now because he is the most experienced,” Duryea said. “You’ve got Ngor Barnaba in the mix that has the ability to win the spot. He’s got to get better on the defensive end and rebounding the ball. He has not rebounded up to his capabilities yet. We have Alex who is athletic, but a little undersized to play the four. But the best pure rebounder on our team is Alexis Dargenton, and we want to use that skill, especially trying to improve in that area, so that gives him a chance to play.”
The 6-foot-8 Barnaba also adds a strength being able to shoot well from 3-point range. While that is valuable, he needs to be able to guard to see major minutes. Barnaba could also log time at the five.
Taylor is also in the mix to see time at the post. Norbert Janicek will also get time at the five. The 6-11 sophomore is the tallest Aggie that will play this year.
“Norby (Janicek) is kind of the mainstay at the five,” Duryea said. “He’s got to get where he can play harder, longer. He plays very hard, but right now can’t play many minutes until he needs a break or his performance dips. We need him to sustain his level of play. ... Norby is very skilled, has a great feel for the game and can pass out of the post. ... We need him to be more aggressive with his power moves.”
Klay Stall could also figure into the mix. However the 6-9 freshman is still working his way back from a knee injury.
Duryea would like to have a few questions answered after playing the Knights.