It was no secret that jumping to the Mountain West Conference was going to increase the difficulty level for Utah State basketball, and over the next 10 days the Aggies will find out just how much harder life is in the MWC.
The Aggies (12-4, 2-2 Mountain West) play the preseason consensus top four teams in the league in the next week and a half, starting with a road trip to Boise State (12-5, 2-2) on Saturday night.
“It’s about as tough a stretch as you are going to get,” coach Stew Morrill said. “What we need to do is worry about Boise State and then the next one after that. If we look about them as a whole group it can be a little bit overwhelming.”
After the Broncos on Saturday, USU will play at UNLV next Wednesday before hosting San Diego State on Jan. 25 and New Mexico on Jan. 28. The four teams combined have a 50-16 record and all made the NCAA Tournament last season.
“We have to just take it one game at a time and practice really hard,” guard Spencer Butterfield said about the upcoming stretch. “We need to start bringing it more competitively in practice. If we do that, it will carry over into the game.”
For now the focus is on an explosive Boise State team that plays an up-tempo style and leads the conference, scoring 79.3 points per game.
Sharpshooting guard Anthony Drmic leads the Broncos with 19.2 points per game. Forward Ryan Watkins averages nearly a double-double a night with 10.3 points per game and 9.4 rebounds and makes Boise State one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. USU leads the conference in rebounding margin at +10.3 per game but was outworked on the boards in its last outing against Colorado State.
“We need to go play good basketball at Boise. They have five starters back from an NCAA Tournament team,” Morrill said. “We know they are good. It’s going to take a really good effort.”
In order to keep up with the Broncos, the Aggies will need to figure out how to get their struggling offense on track earlier in the game. USU has posted its two worst offensive efforts in back-to-back games but managed to squeak out a victory against Colorado State on Wednesday night, thanks to some improved defense.
“We will get ourselves going offensively,” Morrill said. “The great thing was we have been playing enough defense to keep ourselves in games.”
Utah State and Boise State have not played since 2011 when they met in the WAC championship game in Las Vegas, with USU getting a 77-69 victory. The Broncos showed just how difficult life in the Mountain West can be the following season, going 3-11 in conference before earning an NCAA Tournament at-large berth in 2013. Overall, the Aggies have won the last eight games in the series.
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.