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Utah State head men’s basketball coach Craig Smith celebrates after cutting down the net after the Aggies defeated San Diego State 64-57 to win the Mountain West Conference Tournament in March of 2019.

For just the third time in school history, the Utah State men’s basketball team will begin a season ranked in the Top 25.

In The Associated Press Preseason Poll, the Aggies checked in at No. 17. The poll came out on Monday. Utah State finished last season at No. 25 in the final poll.

Michigan State was nearly the unanimous No. 1, picking up 60 first-place votes. No. 2 Kentucky garnered two first-place votes, and No. 3 Kansas received the final three first-place votes. It was the first time the Spartans will begin a season as the top-ranked team.

The last time USU was ranked in the initial poll was before the 1970-71 campaign began. The Aggies checked in at No. 12 that year.

There are three USU opponents on the 2019-20 schedule that are ranked. They include No. 6 Florida, No. 20 Saint Mary’s and No. 22 LSU. The Aggies play the Gators on a neutral site in Florida in December, as well as the Tigers in Jamaica in November. USU travels to California to take on the Gaels in late November.

Of the 65 voters on the panel, only four did not have USU on their preseason ballot. The highest any voter had the Aggies was at No. 11 by a writer from New Jersey who covers the Big East Conference. Jeff Call of the Desert News had USU at No. 14, while writers that cover the Mountain West Conference had the Aggies anywhere from No. 16 to No. 19 on their ballots. ESPN’s Dick Vitale had USU at No. 25.

The high expectations for the Aggies come after they shared the regular season title with Nevada last spring after being picked No. 9 in the preseason poll. USU went on to win the Mountain West Tournament and secure a berth to the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies received their highest seed ever for the Big Dance at No. 8.

A week ago, USU was tabbed unanimously to win the MW title in a preseason poll released by the conference.

The Aggies return six letterwinners and four starters, including MW Preseason Player of the Year Sam Merrill and preseason all-league selection Neemias Queta. These two players are joined by sophomore guard Brock Miller, who started in every game last season, and junior guard Abel Porter, who started at the point in each of the final 17 games last season and led the Aggies to a 15-2 record over that stretch.

Also back for USU is senior guard Diogo Brito, one of only three players returning in the MW who played in more than 30 games last season and averaged more than 8.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game. Sophomore forward Justin Bean rounds out the returners for the Aggies, saving one of his top performances of the year for the opening round of the MW Tournament a season ago after finishing with his first-career double-double of 14 points and 15 rebounds against New Mexico.

The six returners represented a large part of the Aggies’ success in 2019-20, accounting for 76.2 percent of the blocks, 73.6 percent of the assists, 73.4 percent of the points, 71.3 percent of the minutes, 68.8 percent of the steals and 60.4 percent of the rebounds.

USU hosts the College of Idaho in an exhibition contest on Wednesday, Oct. 30, before welcoming Montana State to the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Tuesday, Nov. 5, for the home and regular season opener at 8 p.m.

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Shawn Harrison is the sports editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at sharrison@hjnews.com or 435-792-7233.

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