Part 1 – Cache Valley Daily

Utah State guards Rylan Jones (15) and Max Shulga (11). Photo by Tina Lerohl

LOGAN – The dawn of the Utah State men’s basketball season is upon us with the team’s season opener set for Monday against Utah Valley. With excitement growing for the second year of Ryan Odom’s tenure, this is a breakdown of the first half(-ish) of the non-conference schedule. This will run down each of the games Utah State will play in the month of November, with the upcoming part two covering all of the team’s December non-conference games (Mountain West play begins Dec. 31).

For each of these games, you can tune in an hour before tip-off to hear Al Lewis and Jalen Moore on Aggie GameDay Coverage on KVNU (102.1 FM/610 AM & KVNU mobile app). He’ll be joined by fellow analysts and former players to break down each game. You can also tune in to KVNU Aggie Call immediately after each game ends to hear the post-game press conference and have a chance to call or text into the show to discuss each game with Lewis and the show’s analysts.

All times listed are Mountain Time

Nov. 7 – Utah Valley

Game Info

  • Location: Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (Logan, UT)
  • Tip-off time: 7 p.m.
  • TV Broadcast: Mountain West Network

Returning Starters

  • *Trey Woodbury (6-4, G) – 15.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists
  • Le’Tre Darthard (6-4, G) – 9.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists

Key Losses

  • Fardaws Aimaq (6-11, C, transferred to Texas Tech) – 18.9 points, 13.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 blocks
  • Connor Harding (6-6, G, graduated) – 10.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists

Key Newcomers

  • Tahj Small (6-5, G, transfer from Tarleton State) – 13.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists
  • Aziz Bandaogo (7-0, C, transfer from Akron) – 3.2 points, 3.3 rebounds
  • Cam Alford (6-1, G, transfer from John A. Logan College) 9.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists
*Stats are from the 2020-21 season

2021-22 Final NET Ranking: 116

2022-23 Preseason KenPom Ranking: 128

Utah Valley was bit hard by the injury bug last year and overachieved despite of it. The Wolverines upset at-the-time No. 12 BYU and a Pac-12 team in Washington. They’ll be hard-pressed to see the same success despite the return of star guard Trey Woodbury, who missed most of last year due to a knee injury.

Fardaws Aimaq, UVU’s star center who racked up accolades in two seasons in Orem (2020-21 WAC Player of the Year, two-time WAC Defensive Player of the Year, two-time All-WAC, two-time WAC All-Defense) transferred to Texas Tech during the offseason. Madsen brought in seven-footer Aziz Bandaogo, but he saw limited time at Akron before moving to Orem and isn’t likely to fill Aimaq’s shoes too much. Tim Fuller, the top returner in the frontcourt, averaged 6.8 points in 4.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 21.7 points per game last year.

Utah Valley will rely much more on its backcourt this year with Woodbury and Tahj Small – a transfer from fellow WAC school Tarleton State – leading the charge. Monday morning Jeff Goodman reported that Small would not be available for UVU’s season opener in Logan. The team has several good shooters with five players in the projected top eight rotation players shooting above 36.5 percent.

Nov. 11 – Bradley

Game Info

  • Location: Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (Logan, UT)
  • Tip-off time: 7 p.m.
  • TV Broadcast: Mountain West Network

Returning Starters

  • **Rienk Mast (6-9, F/C) – 11.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.9 blocks
  • Malevy Leons (6-9, F) – 9.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 blocks
  • Ja’Shon Henry (6-6, G/F) – 9.5 points, 4.5 rebounds
  • Connor Hickman (6-3, G) – 6.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists

Key Losses

  • Terry Roberts (6-3, G, transferred to Georgia) – 14.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.6 steals
  • Jayson Kent (6-7, G, transferred to Indiana State) – 6.9 points, 2.9 rebounds

Key Newcomers

  • Duke Deen (5-8, G, transfer from Troy) – 9.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 steals
  • Christian Davis (6-7 G/F, transfer from Le Moyne) – 12.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.1 blocks
  • James “Pop” Weathers (6-0 G, JUCO transfer from State College of Florida) – 18.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.1 steals
**Will likely miss game vs USU

2021-22 Final NET Ranking: 102

2022-23 Preseason KenPom Ranking: 124

The Field of 68, in their preseason preview publication “The Almanac,” listed Bradley as one of the 25 “Mid-Major Teams to Watch” although that publication came out before the news that Rienk Mast would miss the first part of the season with a knee injury. That loss combined with Terry Roberts transferring means Utah State will face the Braves at the perfect time. Bradley will still be working through acclimating Duke Deen, Christian Davis and James Weathers into the rotation as other returning starters work themselves into playing bigger roles.

Deen could be someone to watch. The diminutive guard earned Sun Belt freshman of the year was a volume three-point shooter (5.5 attempts per game) and made a respectable 33.9 percent considering that volume. Weathers, a junior college transfer, will look to translate his high-scoring ways in the JUCO ranks to DI, though his poor outside shooting (28.0 percent last year) may hold him back as will his smaller, 6-foot-0 frame.

Even including the temporarily loss of Mast to the lineup, the Braves still retain three starters from last year’s team. That squad made a 17-14 season out of playing physical and making things work with less. They could still be a tough challenge an Aggie squad that will also be figuring things out with newcomers and lost leading scorers.

Nov. 14 – Santa Clara

Game Info

  • Location: Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (Logan, UT)
  • Tip-off time: 7 p.m.
  • TV Broadcast: Mountain West Network

Returning Starters

  • Keshawn Justics (6-7, G/F) – 13.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists
  • Parker Braun (6-10, F/C) – 6.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 blocks

Key Losses

  • Jalen Williams (6-6, G, declared for NBA Draft) – 18.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists
  • Josip Vrankic (6-9, F, graduated) – 15.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals
  • PJ Pipes (6-2, G, graduated) – 12.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists

Key Newcomers

  • Carlos Marshall (6-6, G/F, transfer from Tennessee State) – 12.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals
  • Brandin Podziemski (6-5, G, transfer from Illinois) – 1.4 points, 0.9 rebounds

2021-22 Final NET Ranking: 70

2022-23 Preseason KenPom Ranking: 111

The Broncos finished third in the WCC last year in a conference that boasts Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU. However, Santa Clara may lose quite a bit of steam with the loss of Jalen Williams, who left declared for the NBA Draft and become the 12th overall pick this past June. The Broncos also lost Josip Vrankic and PJ Pipes, both of whom were big scorers on that team. The one star they will retain is forward Keshawn Justice, who’s eligible for a fifth season in Santa Clara and will look to shoulder a big portion of lost production.

A big newcomer to watch will be Brandin Podziemski, a former four-star recruit who averaged 35 points per game his senior year of high school. He didn’t get much burn as a freshman at Illinois, but has the chance to play a feature role with Santa Clara.

In the last three years, Santa Clara has produced two 20-win seasons (the other being the COVID year where the team only played 20 games total and went 12-8). Head coach Herb Sendek has this team on a positive trajectory and should have a solid year despite taking huge losses from last year’s squad.

Nov. 17 – at San Diego

Game Info

  • Location: Jenny Craig Pavilion (San Diego, CA)
  • Tip-off time: 8 p.m.
  • TV Broadcast: 

Returning Starters

  • Marcellus Earlington (6-6, F) – 13.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists
  • Wayne McKinney III (6-0, G) – 6.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals
  • Jase Townsend (6-3, G) – 11.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists

Key Losses

  • Joey Calcaterra (6-3, G, transfer to UConn) – 8.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists
  • Terrell Brown (6-10, F/C, graduated) – 8.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.6 blocks
  • Bryce Monroe (5-11, G, transfer to IUPUI) – 6.3 points, 2.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists

Key Newcomers

  • Eric Williams (6-6, G/F, transfer from Oregon) – 8.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.1 steals
  • Sigu Sisoho Jawara (6-3, G, transfer from Weber St.) – 12.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists
  • Jaiden Delaire (transfer from Stanford) – 10.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists
  • Kieves “Deuce” Turner (6-2, G, JUCO transfer from South Plains College) – 18.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists
  • Nic Lynch (6-11, C, transfer from Lehigh) – 9.7 points, 4.4 rebounds
  • Bendji Pierre (6-7, G/F, JUCO transfer from Indiana River St.) – 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists

2021-22 Final NET Ranking: 219

2022-23 Preseason KenPom Ranking: 139

There’s a reason that despite losing five starters/rotation players, the Toreros are projected nearly 100 spots higher in the KenPom than the team’s final NET spot last year. No less than six transfers are incoming for San Diego with two of those coming from major conference schools (Jaiden Delaire and Eric Williams) and one being a NJCAA Division II All-American (Deuce Turner).

The Toreros will pair these potentially dynamic newcomers with returning leading scorer Marcellus Earlington, who dropped in 13.2 points per game last year in the lead role. Earlington is a big, physical forward listed at 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds. He’ll continue to work opponents with a solid inside-out game (he shot 4.0 threes per game last year, making 34.1 percent of them) but will have good scorers on the perimeter.

The Aggies have already seen Seikou Sisoho Jawara once before when he played for Weber State. In a mid-December matchup between the Aggies and Wildcats, Jawara scored 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-6 from three.

Overall, San Diego has a good mix of physicality alongside shooting. First-year head coach Steve Lavin could run plenty of five-out to spread the floor and create space for Earlington to go to work one-on-one.

Nov. 22 – Oral Roberts

Game Info

  • Location: Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (Logan, UT)
  • Tip-off time: 7 p.m.
  • TV Broadcast: 

Returning Starters

  • Max Abmas (6-0, G) – 22.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.0 steals
  • Isaac McBride (6-2, G) – 12.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists
  • Kareem Thompson (6-5, G/F) – 7.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists

Key Losses

  • Jamie Bergens (transfer to Drexel)
  • Luke Tekavcic (Coppin State)
  • Ismael Plet (transfer to Arkansas Pine Bluff

Key Newcomers

  • Patrick Mwamba (6-7, F, transfer from UT Arlington) – 10.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals
  • Connor Vanover (7-5, C, transfer from Akrkansas) – 3.9 points, 2.1 rebounds
  • Demari Williams (6-6, G/F, transfer from Arizona State) – Redshirted last year

2021-22 Final NET Ranking: 160

2022-23 Preseason KenPom Ranking: 120

Last year Oral Roberts was just shy of getting its first 20-win season since 2012-13, going 19-12 and having its season ended in the Summit League conference tournament. Although a lack of 20-win seasons hasn’t meant a lack of success for the Golden Eagles. In the 2021 NCAA Tournament, Oral Roberts made waves by making the Sweet 16 as a 15-seed.

Key to that Sweet 16 run and a solid season last year is the highly decorated Max Abmas. Over the last two seasons, Abmas has averaged 23.6 points (he was the nation’s leading scorer in 2020-21 at 24.5 points per game) and earned two honorable mention All-American selections from the Associated Press and CBS Sports Third Team All-American in 2020-21. Naturally he’s covered in All-Summit honors and MVP/Player of the Year selections and earned NCAA All-Region for that run into the Sweet 16. Abmas is simply a baller and will shoot, shoot, shoot. Last year he attempted nearly 10 threes per game (9.8 to be exact) with his 293 total attempts being tied for fifth-most in Division I.

The guard depth for Oral Roberts is very real as they have three starting-caliber guards. Abmas is obviously the first, but Isaac McBride and Trey Phipps are no slouches. Phipps comes off the bench as a sixth man and averaged 8.4 points last year behind only McBride (12.3) and Abmas. All three stand under 6-foot-3, but that hasn’t deterred head coach Paul Mills from playing the trio all at once as they logged 433 offensive possessions together throughout the season.

With such dynamic guard play, Oral Roberts was one of the best offenses in Division I last year, ranking 15th in points per possession. That efficiency combined with a fast pace (13th-fastest in D1) meant the Golden Eagles ranked fourth in points per game (83.3).

The main weakness of Oral Roberts last year, and likely this year, is its defense. The team ranked 253rd in points per possession allowed and 306th in points allowed per game (74.4). The addition of the giant Connor Vanover, who stands all of 7-foot-5, may provide some interior defense while still allowing the other four players on the floor to get out and run.

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