Ags Face Early Litmus Test vs. Saint Mary’s

Utah State may be facing its toughest test of its non-conference schedule as it squares off against the St. Mary’s Gaels tonight in the Spectrum.  Both squads enter the game with a 1-0 record hoping to bolster their early season résumé with victories.

St. Mary’s finished the 2011-2012 season with a 27-6 record, which included a berth to the NCAA Tournament.  The Gaels lost a tough game to a 10th-seeded Purdue Boilermakers team in the NCAA Tournament, but are looking to build on last season’s success as they return several contributing players.  Chief among the returners is 2011-2012 WCC Player of the Year, senior Matthew Dellavedova.  Dellavedova averaged 15.5 points and 6.4 assists per game last year to lead an efficient St. Mary’s offensive attack.

Also returning for the Gaels is former USU recruiting target, Stephen Holt.  Holt is a lockdown perimeter defender who can shoot it from distance.  Down low, the Gaels bring back a bruiser in 260-pound Brad Waldow.  His post counterpart is Mitchell Young.  Aggie fans may remember Young from this.

Utah State is coming off an underwhelming performance at home vs. Idaho State in which they notched an 8-point victory.  The Aggies showed some positives from the game, including strong performances from Preston Medlin, Spencer Butterfield and Jarred Shaw.

But despite some solid play and a win, Coach Stew Morrill expressed concern as he aptly put it post-game, “We made some uncharacteristic mistakes. Hopefully, we can learn from it. As I told our guys, it’s nice when you can still get a win when you didn’t play well.”

Uncharacteristic mistakes were manifest in a 17-turnover performance.  The Aggie offense seemed to struggle to run smoothly against a tough Idaho State zone.  The Aggies will need to tighten up their execution tonight in order to compete against a talented St. Mary’s squad.

Though tonight will be a stiff challenge for the Aggies, there are some key areas that USU can focus on in their attempt to start their season 2-0.

  1. Keep Dellavedova Out of the Paint

Senior point guard Matthew Dellavedova is the engineer of the Gaels’ potent offense.  He’s a big, physical guard who likes to drive the ball to create offensive opportunities for himself and teammates.  Dellavedova can finish at the rim, draw fouls or kick it out for open three-point looks.  Last year, he shot an impressive 85.7% from the charity stripe, so it’d be wise to avoid putting him on the line.  It’s no stretch to say that as Dellavedova goes, so goes St. Mary’s.

2.  Posts Stay Out of Foul Trouble

This goes hand-in-hand with keeping Dellevadova out of the paint.  It also coincides with handling the physicality of the big-bodied Brad Waldow.  It will be interesting to see how the referees officiate this game.  If they call it tight, Waldow and company may cause Coach Morrill to dip into his bench early in the game.  With only four post players – two of which are undersized – the Aggies can’t afford to have to deal with significant lineup shuffling and softer post-defense play.

3.  Capitalize on Early Offense Opportunities

When the Aggies get a defensive stop and look to run, they need to capitalize on any easy or open looks they get.  Gael coach Randy Bennett preaches solid, tough and schematically-sound defense, so any easy opportunities to score need to be taken advantage of.

Tonight’s game should give Aggie fans an early indicator of just where the team stands currently.  A win would send shockwaves of optimism throughout Aggie Nation, while a loss would show that the team is not quite up to the standard they to hope to be at by season’s end.  Regardless of outcome, it’s important to remember it’s a long season and we’re only one week into it.

The game is at 7 PM and can be seen on KMYU TV.