NIT preview coach

Utah State head coach Ryan Odom yells instructions to his team during a game against BYU last season in Provo.

Support Local Journalism

It’s been nearly three months since the college basketball season ended for the Utah State men.

During that time the Aggies have had plenty of time to reflect on a season that had plenty of ups and downs. First-year head coach Ryan Odom guided USU to a 18-16 overall record and a 8-10 mark in the Mountain West Conference. The Aggies lost in the quarterfinals of the league tournament by two points to second-seeded Colorado State.

That two-point setback summed up how close USU was to having a 20-plus win season. Seven losses during the 2021-22 season came by three points or less.

“What are we going to do about that?” Odom during an interview Friday with The Herald Journal. “This summer we have to increase our level of competitiveness. It’s going to be a new team. Just because we lost seven games by three points (or less) doesn’t mean that’s going to happen this year, but we can’t ignore the fact that we’ve got to get the stop when we need it, got to be able to get the basket at the key time when we need it. All the things that lead to winning, we’ve got to work on as a group this summer. We’ve got to be a little bit better than we were last year.”

The Aggies started the season with a rough home opener, falling to UC Davis, 72-69. However, they responded by winning their next six games, including capturing the Myrtle Beach Invitational with a three-point win against Oklahoma in the championship game.

USU headed into Mountain West play with a 9-4 record. Other non-conference losses came to Saint Mary’s (by two points), BYU and Iowa.

“I think the guys understand how hard it is to win,” Odom said. “I think they appreciate how hard it is to win. I do think last year’s team — the collective group — gave us everything they had. Each player was committed to winning and doing it right, competing at a high level, but there are some execution things that we’ve got to do better. Sometimes it comes down to just having to make shots.”

While opponents did make some big shots at the end of games, the Aggies struggled to respond with late shots, especially from 3-point range. Improving from long range is an emphasis this summer. USU made 34 percent of its shots from beyond the arc for the season, but that percentage dipped to 31 percent in MW games.

“We can’t finish last in the conference in 3-point shooting,” Odom said. “That’s not a good stat with how important the 3-point shot is in our game today. Our guys know that and are working on that constantly.”

Two four-game losing streaks during league play saw the Aggies finish seventh in the 11-team MW standings.

“It is one of the toughest conferences in the country and most competitive conferences,” Odom said of the MW. “We didn’t have a great team (in the conference) as witnessed by the postseason. But we had some really, really good teams and a lot of those games (postseason) could have gone either way. A lot of the players are back within the conference, which is great for our conference. We have a ton of respect for all the teams.”

The Aggies ended the campaign by hosting Oregon in a NIT game at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Despite building a four-point lead at halftime, USU fell to the Ducks, 83-72.

“I don’t want to make it seem like last year’s team had nothing to be proud of,” Odom said. “Making the NIT is a good accomplishment, certainly not our goal, but a ton of teams would love to play and be a four seed in the NIT and play a home game. We can’t lose sight of what our goals are and that’s to compete for championships. We know we want to play in the NCAA Tournament. The NIT is jam packed with really good teams. It was a good opportunity for us to play in the postseason and have one more game at home, even though that second half didn’t go like we wanted it too.

“It was a good season considering the circumstances and things that were thrown at that particular team.”

Injuries, COVID and having two conference games postponed were all hurdles the Aggies had to deal with. The postponements meant a busy stretch when make-up dates were announced.

Members of the team were back in town this past week to start summer workouts. The athletes are focused more on individual and skill work.

“We are trying to get them better individually,” Odom said. “We will begin to work our way into some abbreviated practice stuff as we go.”

There are currently 15 players listed on the roster, but another athlete is expected to be added as soon as all the paper work is complete. He is a transfer.

As the team works to get better this summer, the coaching staff — which stayed intact from a year ago — is working on the schedule for the 2022-23 campaign. Getting teams to come to Logan continues to be a struggle.

“We are not close at all,” Odom said when asked about how the upcoming schedule was coming together. “It’s incredible. ... We are trying to get home and home games, but the problem is folks don’t want to come here. They know it’s a tough place to play. It really isn’t that hard to get here. We’ll see how it goes.

“... It’s a delicate balance and really just comes down to who wants to play. Sometimes we are told no, then we move on.”

A game with San Francisco will officially be announced soon. The Aggies will play a game in the Bay Area first, with the West Coast Conference Dons returning to Utah in the future. The Aggie are also playing in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu in December, concluding on Christmas Day. USU is joined by SMU, Washington State, Hawaii, Seattle, Iona, George Washington and Pepperdine.

“It’s a good field,” Odom said. “It will be a good test for us.

Playing a good schedule last season helped the Aggies reach the NIT this past spring and have good computer rankings.

“Our schedule last year put us in position had we done a little bit better in our conference, we probably get an at-large bid to the NCAA, based on where our numbers were,” Odom said. “We’ve got to try and follow that model and try to stay with it.”

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

Please be aware that Cache Valley Publishing does not endorse, and is not responsible for alleged employment offers in the comments.

Recommended for you