Projecting USU men’s basketball depth chart and potential lineups – Cache Valley Daily

FILE PHOTO: Big Blue gets the crowd excited during a Utah State men’s basketball game in the Spectrum. Photo by Lorene Hale.

LOGAN – Utah State’s men’s basketball roster looks to be final since transfer windows are closed and the Aggies have filled all of its scholarship spots. And though the season is months away with not even the schedule having been set at the moment, there’s always time to make way-too-early predictions on what the starting lineup for the team may be and what other lineups the Aggies could run. After all, the starters may be the most common lineup, but the vast majority of the game will be played with at least one starter not on the court.

Being able to throw out multiple looks with lineups, along with just having great depth overall, is a fantastic tool for head coaches to have. And thanks to his solid recruiting, Danny Sprinkle should have that capability at Utah State.

There are plenty of questions that need to be answered, and few of them will have definitive answers before opening tip-off later this fall. Who starts at center? Will there be enough 3-point shooting across each lineup? How will young players — like Mason Falslev, Isaac Johnson, Karson Templin, and Garrison Phelps — factor into the lineup?

Position battles will be rampant this offseason with virtually no guaranteed spots in the starting five or in the rotation.

Potential Starting Lineups

Starting Lineup No. 1 – Stretch 5

  • PG— Darius Brown
  • SG — Josh Uduje
  • SF — Nigel Burris or Max Agbonkpolo
  • PF — Great Osobor
  • C — Jackson Grant or Isaac Johnson

This starting lineup features the possibility of starting a non-shooter at power forward (Osobor) but still maintaining a four-out lineup that leaves space for Osobor to go to work in the post where he is quite effective. Both Jackson Grant and Isaac Johnson entered college as stretch five prospects and could fit very well alongside Osobor on both ends of the court. It’s possible that in terms of actual role on the court, Grant or Johnson would basically be the power forward and Osobor the center. Osobor is more useful in the paint on both offense and defense while Grant/Johnson are, at least on offense, potentially more useful outside the key.

In this scenario, Kalifa Sakho isn’t in consideration for the starting center spot, though not necessarily because of merit. We saw last year that Dan Akin played more minutes than Trevin Dorius despite the latter being the nominal starter. Fitting Osobor and Sakho together on offense could be a bit of a challenge since both are non-shooters and the Aggies may lack shooting from some of its wings like Josh Uduje and Max Agbonkpolo. It’s not an impossible task, but it could lead to Sprinkle opting for a lineup with a bit more shooting prowess to make spacing less of a challenge.

Speaking of wings, one of the tightest position battles will be at small forward between Nigel Burris and Agbonkpolo. Burris has the advantage of being an elite shooter with versatility though Agbonkpolo is likely the better defensive and athletic option. Both have advantages, both have disadvantages when compared to the other. This could wind up being a back-and-forth position battle as Sprinkle tries to find the most effective option.

Starting Lineup No. 2 – Sakho at center

  • PG— Darius Brown
  • SG — Josh Uduje
  • SF — Nigel Burris or Max Agbonkpolo
  • PF — Great Osobor
  • C — Kalifa Sakho

The primary benefit of this lineup is it’s likely to be a fortress defensively. You’d have a long, rim-protecting center with Sakho and then a capable small-ball center with defensive prowess with Osobor together in the frontcourt. Opposing offenses would have a heck of a time trying to force their way inside to get shots at the basket. Then there’s the fact of the reigning Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, Darius Brown, is at point guard — flanked by a combination of Uduje, Burris and Agbonkpolo who all have size and versatility — and it’s hard to see teams having a good time scoring against the Aggies.

While defensively this lineup is almost without flaw, there are some worries offensively. As mentioned above, there’s a challenge in fitting two non-shooting players in the frontcourt. It’s not a death sentence to an offense, but the fewer obstacles you put in front of yourself, the better.

Starting Lineup No. 3 – Osobor at center

  • PG — Darius Brown
  • SG — Josh Uduje
  • SF — Max Agbonkpolo
  • PF — Nigel Burris
  • C — Great Osobor

The two primary debates of lineups one and two revolved around starting a stretch five center or Sakho and whether to start Agbonkpolo or Burris. This lineup removes both of those debates from the equation by simply starting Osobor at center. And it’s an appealing option. Osobor is probably simultaneously the best power forward and center on the roster. So it makes sense to simplify things by having Osobor at center and then getting to enjoy having Agbonkpolo and Burris on the floor at the same time.

This lineup has a strong case to be the best lineup the Aggies could field, period. Even if this won’t be the starting lineup, it’s very likely to be the closing lineup for the Aggies. It gives them the most versatility, has most of their best shooters and multiple go-to scorers on the floor, with one in the post and one on the perimeter. It’s got the fewest weaknesses and the most strengths and will probably grade out as one of the best five-man lineups the team has. But even despite that, it’s possible it won’t be the starting lineup.

Even though this could be the top lineup for the Aggies, it’s quite likely it won’t be the starting five. Basketball coaches seem hellbent on starting a “real” center (in this case Grant, Johnson, or Sakho) even when they’ll wind up playing their second center — often a small-ball center like Osobor — essentially starting minutes. Aggie fans got a front-row seat to this phenomenon last year with the aforementioned situation with Akin and Dorius.

Whatever the case, you’ll see a lot of this lineup.

Other key lineups

So those are the most likely starting lineups, but here’s a selection of possible lineups you could see. After all, the majority of minutes played by the Aggies will see at least one starter on the bench. That makes these kinds of lineup combinations between prospective bench players important to preview and examine. These lineups will have a lot more “or” possibilities as the Aggies do have a lot of options to plug and play in these styles of lineups.

Going Big (and defensive)

  • PG — Darius Brown
  • SG — Max Agbonkpolo
  • SF — Nigel Burris
  • PF — Great Osobor
  • C — Kalifa Sakho

This certainly looks a great deal like the starting five presented earlier that had Sakho at center, but the key feature here is that Agbonkpolo and Burris are playing more in the backcourt than in the frontcourt. And whether or not we’ll see this lineup hinges on the ability of Agbonkpolo or Burris to keep up with smaller opposing guards on defense. If either can, we might see this lineup quite a bit because with that issue out of the way there are far too many possible strengths of this lineup.

Firstly, it might grab every rebound known to man. Every player from the point guard to the center is capable of grabbing a board (Yes, even Brown. He averaged 4.4 rebounds per game last year). The Aggies had some troubles against teams that loved to crash the boards and get second-chance points. This lineup would make that strategy a lot harder to pull off against USU.

Secondly, if other teams are playing 6-foot-3 guards against Agbonkpolo, good luck to them in keeping Max from finishing over that guard at will. And if said 6-3 guard isn’t burning Agbonkpolo on the other end it’ll force opposing teams into really awkward lineup choices.

Thirdly, as long as Agbonkpolo can be a viable shooter, this is a lineup that can still make teams pay with 3-point shooting. If he can simply be average, or at least just slightly below average, it’ll send teams reeling defensively as this lineups will have pick-and-roll, spot-up, slashing and post-up options all available to it to generate points.

If the one or two potential wrinkles in this lineup are able to be ironed out, this could be the Aggies’ “Death Lineup.”


  • PG — Darius Brown
  • SG — Javon Jackson or Mason Falslev
  • SF — Josh Uduje or Garrison Phelps
  • PF — Nigel Burris or Max Agbonkpolo
  • C — Great Osobor

This kind of lineup goes all-in on surrounding Osobor with players who can help maximize his impact. Some of it’s potential will depend on Jackson and Falslev being able to run the pick-and-roll effectively with Osobor, but we know Brown will be perfectly capable of doing so. Even if Jackson/Falslev aren’t great pick-and-roll passers, both should be capable scorers, as will Josh Uduje. This lineup package would give the Aggies numerous quick perimeter scorers, a top-level spot-up shooter with Burris (or add another slasher with Agbonkpolo) while also retaining a post-up option with Osobor.

Despite being a “small-ball” lineup, this lineup isn’t even really that small. The guard line has two players above 6-foot-2, something not all D1 starting lineups can say, and has forwards of 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-7. You do have Osobor as only 6-foot-8 center, but his wingspan (reportedly 7-foot-4) allows him to be an effective center against all but the tallest in the NCAA. It’s not so much that this lineup is short, it’s that it’d play like a small-ball group while still being a decent-sized lineup.

It’s more likely that Brown and Jackson won’t play a whole lot together as they’re probably the two main point guards for the team and Sprinkle will want to stagger their minutes to make sure a capable ball-handler is always on the court at some point. Falslev, assuming he contributes as a redshirt freshman, would be the more likely one to fill the off-ball guard spot in this kind of lineup.


  • PG — Darius Brown or Javon Jackson
  • SG — Josh Uduje or Mason Faslev or Garrison Phelps
  • SF — Max Agbonkpolo or Josh Uduje
  • PF — Nigel Burris
  • C — Jackson Grant or Isaac Johnson

Going full five-out is something the Aggies haven’t been able to do a ton of in its history. Probably the biggest taste of a five-out offense was in Ryan Odom’s first season where Brandon Horvath started at center. But those five-out lineups would often include players who shot below average, or even poorly, from three that year. Guys like Sean Bairstow (12.5 percent), Brock Miller (31.4), Rylan Jones (30.5) and even Horvath himself (31.6).

Unfortunately, this lineup as presented isn’t guaranteed to be full of great shooters. You do get Burris and Brown who both shot near or above 40 percent from deep, but there are two players that shot below average last year (Uduje and Agbonkpolo). And you have Grant and Johnson that are unknowns as to whether they’ll truly live up to the billing as stretch fives each had coming out of high school. In a worst-case scenario, this five-out lineup will have three bad shooters on it which wouldn’t exactly make this a great five-out lineup.

If it turns out that Uduje and Agbonkpolo up their shooting percentages and at least one of Grant or Johnson can be a solid shooter, this lineup could be a change-of-pace lineup. One that throws defenses off after having to guard Great Osobor in the post.

Even though it’s nice to think of the Aggies being able to go five-out, there isn’t as much great potential offensively or defensively. Again, it’s more of a change-of-pace lineup to roll with and maybe you see this combination run with mostly backups and a starter or two thrown in there (like a Jackson-Falslev-Uduje-Burris-Grant/Johnson). Having the advantage of being a five-out lineup could help mitigate some of the weaknesses a group of backup players may bring to the table.

Source link

Share This Article



Related Articles