Let’s be honest.
Who really thought the Aggie men’s basketball team would be 7-0 and in the top 15 in the national rankings without Neemias Queta playing a minute?
Sure, the schedule was friendly to start the season with five home games, but going up against a very athletic LSU team in Jamaica without Queta looked like some trouble. Then No. 15 Utah State finds itself down 19 points early in the second half last Friday.
Anyone that is following sports at all knows what happened after that. The Aggies rallied and beat the Tigers by two to stay undefeated.
Two days later with guards slip-slidding all over the moist court and injuring ankles, USU found itself down to North Texas. The Aggies only trailed by five this time, however, and finished the game with an 11-0 run to win by nine.
Now the next big test looms large on Friday. USU travels to the Bay Area in California to take on Saint Mary’s who was nationally ranked but fell out several weeks ago after a home loss to Winthrop. Since then the Gaels (6-1) have won five straight and seem to be building up steam.
Having Queta back would be helpful, but he hasn’t seen any actual game time since this summer when he hurt his knee playing for his home country of Portugal. While I’m sure he is anxious and wanting to get back out there, not sure if this is the game to make his return.
One thing is for sure, I’m quickly being reminded not to beat against these Aggies. Not that I’ve ever actually gambled on the team I cover. The grit and never-give-up attitude is definitely there. They just keep battling, which is something I witnessed first hand last year when USU shocked everyone by winning the Mountain West.
So, you would think I would have learned. It’s still crazy to think the Aggies were down 19 points to LSU with just over 16 minutes to play and won. That kind of fight and determination needs to be there when it comes NCAA Tournament time this spring.
Another thought that has been running through my head since the LSU game is that this team if for real. The skeptic in me kept wondering if this team was ranked too high and sort of questioning all the hype. I’ll chalk most of that up to having been around USU athletics for nearly three decades. But I will say that in all that time I’ve never seen the national attention and hype this early in a season.
That has been interesting and as Aggie head coach Craig Smith would say, quite frankly scares me a bit. When you are that high, there is only one direction to go, and it’s not good. But I don’t want to be a downer. Enjoy this to the max Aggie fans because it doesn’t happen that often.
While the thought of how Nevada crashed and burned last season at the end has come to mind, this USU team is not like that Wolf Pack squad. I don’t see these Aggies getting full of themselves and they are well aware that it takes all of them playing together as a team to be successful. Plus, the character of these USU athletes is not even comparable.
So as I prepare to spend part of my Thanksgiving in California, I will be thankful that this Aggie team is having a special season and expect the 2019-20 campaign to be one to remember.
The legend of Justin Bean just keeps growing.
I wonder how much louder the chants will be when the Aggies return to the Spectrum to face Fresno State on Dec. 7? Bean is a real MVP now, having been crowned in Jamaica. He averaged a double-double there with 14 points and 12.5 rebounds, while also averaging 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals in the two games. He also blocked a shot.
Bean is loved by the Aggie students and for good reason. So many relate to the walk-on who earned a scholarship.
Plus, the guy just flat out hustles.
I’m hoping he doesn’t have to prove himself any more as a broken nose and two fractured teeth is enough for one season. We all know how tough he is and that a little oral surgery after midnight is not going to keep him from practice or playing in a game.
Wear those braces proudly Mr. Bean.
How about this new addition to the team?
While I totally understand Bean being named the MVP in Jamaica, Alphonso Anderson had to be a close second. The junior college transfer came up big for the Aggies in both games, averaging 21.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.0 steals a game off the bench.
He led the Aggies in scoring in Jamaica, but even more importantly came up huge with the game on the line in both games. Anderson has great touch in the paint, can bang with the big guys and has a nice range being able to hit 3-pointers. An added bonus is his ability to knock down free throws as well — 31 of 36 on the season.
Anderson has been a really nice addition to a talented team.
Knives and butchers
And finally, I’ve got to mention the team’s Swiss army knife.
Diogo Brito does a little bit of everything for the Aggies and that should be no surprise by now. However, a nasty drive and dunk in traffic against LSU was a nice addition to his repertoire. Perhaps he really is a Swiss army knife as Smith likes to call him
Recently the senior was asked about being compared to a Swiss army knife, if he understood it and perhaps if there was something more suitable from his native Portugal to refer to him as. He response was priceless.
“I think he (Smith) just says that because I can do a little bit of everything, and I can also turn the ball over a lot as you can see,” Brito said pointing to a stat sheet. “I’m glad I had one more assist than turnover. ... I don’t think there is anything like that (a Swiss army knife in Portugal) to be honest, but my dad is a butcher and has a lot of knives.”
So, there is sort of a connection.