Despite being heavy favorites again, the Aggies are taking their next basketball opponent very serious.
No. 17 Utah State continues its homestand to open the 2018-19 season Friday night. The Aggies (3-0) welcome North Carolina A&T (1-2) to the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Tipoff is set for 7 o’clock.
“I love our Aggies, but we have an Aggies team coming to town that's had back-to-back very good seasons,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “They won 20 games two years ago and 19 games last year. They finished second in their league. They're a big, strong and athletic team. They're a very, very different than the first three teams we've played this year. They'll be the most athletic team we've seen.”
After a bit of a rough outing to begin the season against Montana State, the Aggies have been on a tear. They have won their past two games by 55 and 41 points, respectively.
“I don’t know if we had that mindset that we were good, and we were going to come in and beat everybody easily or however you want to put it,” USU guard Diogo Brito said. “I think that really woke us up. We need to focus if we want to be good. We have to practice hard and we have to come out and play harder than the other team, which we didn’t do against Montana State. They were the more aggressive team.
“The past two games we really have changed that. We want to do that every single game, be the toughest team on the floor.”
According to the Aggie head coach, his team will need to do that again on Friday night. The Aggies from the Tar Heel State will be different than any team USU has faced to this point.
“They're going to throw the kitchen sink at us,” Smith said. “We're going to have to expect the unexpected. Offensively, they want to run. They run a lot of different sets. They have good size and very good athleticism. They really attack.
“Defensively, we're going to see everything. We're going to see pressure and deny, man, we're going to see full court run and jump, we're going to see 1-2-1-1, we're going to see 2-2-1, we're going to see random traps, we're going to see a matchup zone. We're going to see a 1-3-1. We're going to see everything. We just have to mind our p's and q's and play in attack mode.”
One statistic that jumps out is NCA&T averages nine steals a game.
“We have to make sure our offense is not their best offense,” Smith said. “We have to avoid those catastrophic turnovers because they jump you quick. They can get a pick-6 really quick. They can get two points going the other way just off of creating offense off their defense.”
Another area to keep an eye on is rebounding. The Aggies from the east have done a good job of getting offensive rebounds. USU has rebounded well on both ends of the court and will be trying to do that again Friday night.
North Carolina A&T has not attempted or made a lot of 3-pointers. The visiting Aggies strength has been getting to the rim and not relying on outside shots. Utah State has made 26 3-pointers this season, while NCA&T has 10.
Making sure they are aware of who is in the game will also be a test for the home Aggies. Eleven NCA&T players have seen action in every game this season.
“They have a lot of guys that can do different things,” Smith said. “... You just have to be sharp with what you are doing on the offensive end. Then, obviously, like any game be locked in defensively to what we’re trying to do.”
There are two players averaging double figures for NCA&T. Forward Ronald Jackson leads the way with 13.3 points a game, while guard Kameron Langley nets 10.0 ppg. Jackson and Langley are also the top rebounders for the Aggies, averaging 7.3 and 6.7, respectively. Langley also averages 4.3 assists and outing.
“Langley’s a very good player,” Smith said. “He plays a ton of minutes for them at the point guard. He really does a good job of running their team. ... Ronald Jackson is uber athletic. The first game he had three dunks where his head was above the rim.”
The Aggies counter with four players averaging double digits. Guard Sam Merrill leads USU with 18.7 ppg. He is joined by Brock Miller (14.7), Justin Bean (13.0) and Alphonso Anderson (10.7). Brito (9.7) and Abel Porter (9.0) are close to joining their teammates in double figures.
USU has been hitting the boards well and average 15.7 more than its opponents. Bean is the top boarder with 11.3 a contest. Anderson and 7-foot-2 center Kuba Karwowski are next in rebounding with 5.3 and 5.0, respectively.
Porter and Merrill are the top assist men to this point, averaging 6.3 and 4.7, respectively. Karwowski has blocked six shots, while Brito has come up with six steals through the first three games.