"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Getting to Know Utah State, Part Two

Now it's time for the second part of our primer on the Utah State Aggies. It's our pleasure to welcome Martin Renzhofer to Cracked Sidewalks. Martin has worked at the Salt Lake Tribune since 1990. He is responsible for coverage of collegiate basketball, soccer and volleyball as well as professional baseball. For the first part of our "Getting to Know Utah State" feature click here.

CS: Over the years Stew Morrill has enjoyed much success at USU. What are the most impressive aspects of his coaching and leadership?
MR: After watching Stew Morrill’s teams for five seasons, I am impressed with how he manages to coax the best effort from of his players. He demands a lot, but athletes who buy into his system are usually rewarded. Morrill is also loyal to his guys. He’s given a questionable character or two – those who have fouled up one way or prior to coming to Utah State – a second chance and his decision has typically been proved correct. His teams have not been successful in NCAA Tournament, but this is not due to lack of preparation. This 11th seed has been the school’s best, which should tell you the caliber of competition the Aggies have faced.

CS: What has been the most surprising aspect of this year's Aggie squad?
MR: The entire season. USU’s career scoring leader graduated and, while the Aggies were picked for second in the WAC, there was no indication that this team would have accomplished everything it has. They have become a team in the real sense. On any given night, there are five or six players who can step forward. The sum is greater than the parts.

CS: The most disappointing?
MR: USU’s performance at St. Mary’s. The game came following a 19-game winning streak and the Aggies may have been mentally bushed. They didn’t have the normal spark. Yet, USU still came close at the end.

CS: Utah State has only played six teams with an RPI of better than 100. Is their strength of schedule a concern heading into the NCAA tournament?
MR: Utah State’s strength of schedule is a hot-button issue. Morrill will not schedule 2-for-1 games with higher-profile programs, so there is no incentive for a team from a high profile conference to travel to Logan where the Aggies have not lost in more than two years. So, Utah State winds up playing teams from the Big Sky, Big West and so on. USU does benefit from in-state rivals BYU and Utah every year, which helps. The one positive going into the NCAA Tournament would have to be Utah State’s performance in the WAC title game against Nevada on Nevada’s home floor in front of a hostile crowd. But USU has not played anyone close to the caliber of Marquette. If the Aggies don’t adjust quickly, it might be a long game.

CS: Utah State only lost four games -- were there any similarities in their defeats that Marquette might exploit?
MR: The loss to BYU came while USU was still trying to find itself, and I’ve explained the St. Mary’s loss. However, Boise State and Nevada shot lights out in the first half, built big leads and hung on. In both cases, the opposing guards were the difference. I understand Marquette has two very fine guards, so…

CS: Which Utah State player is most likely to figure in the final outcome of Friday's game?
MR: To have a chance, they all have to play at their best. But center Gary Wilkinson and point guard Jared Quayle I believe are the keys for USU.


Martin, thanks very much for your help today. Fans, please follow Martin's work all week long on the Salt Lake Tribune as he chronicles the Aggies' preparation for the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

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