Emotions will be running high in Logan tonight as beloved head coach Stew Morrill will be coaching his final basketball game for the Aggies. The veteran coach announced his retirement on January 9 and the players responded by winning nine of their last fourteen games. I am also emotional about Morrill’s retirement as he is one of the few coaches remaining in collegiate sports to emphasize the importance of character and integrity. In fact, Morrill demands only the best from his players both on and off the court which, unfortunately, is not the case in most high-profile athletic programs throughout the country.
Morrill is one of the best coaches in the nation as evidenced by the fact that the Aggies are 248-31 (.890) at home under his leadership, including 123-20 (.860) in conference games. Overall, Morrill is 402-153 (.724) during his impressive tenure at Utah State and is one of only eight coaches in the country to win at least 400 games at one school. Let’s also note that Utah State 56-28 (.667) in the month of March. The assertion that Morrill is one of the best coaches in the land is not based upon hyperbole or conjecture. Utah State returned only 11.7% of its points, 9.5% of its rebounds and 13.5% of its minutes from last season and was selected 10th in the 2014-2015 Mountain West Conference Preseason Media Poll.
Despite what would have been insurmountable obstacles for most (if not all) coaches, Morrill has the Aggies tied for third place in the conference with an 11-6 mark, together with an overall record of 18-10 (.621) on the season. Even more impressive is the fact that a win tonight would catapult the Aggies into a tie for second place with Colorado State in the Mountain West standings.
Utah State takes the floor with an extremely well-balanced attack that has had four players score in double-figures in five of the last seven games and 11 times overall this season. Utah State’s scoring is led by sophomore guard Jalen Moore, who has scored in double figures in each of the last nine games, averaging 14.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while shooting 51.1% from the field, 37.5% from beyond the arc and 83.9% from the foul line.
Moore is followed by redshirt freshman forward David Collette, who is averaging 12.9 points per game on a conference-best 58.9% shooting from the floor (155-of-263). Collette has scored in double digits in each of the last four games and is averaging 14.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game during the stretch (74.2% FG). Junior guard Chris Smith rounds out Utah State’s double-digit scorers with 12.3 points per game, including shooting a team-best 47.5% (53-of-114) from three-point territory. The Aggies have shot over 50 percent from the field during their last six games, averaging 74.3 points on 52.5% shooting from the field. One final tidbit: Utah State is the only team in the conference with three players in the top 15 of the league in scoring
While Utah State’s attack is only 1.8 points per game better than average (66.5 points per game against teams that would combine to allow 64.7 points per game), the Aggies are averaging 68.9 points per game at home (47.2% FG; 42.2% 3-PT) and 74.2 points over the last two weeks (51.4% FG; 41.8% 3-PT). I also like the fact that the Aggies lead the Mountain West and are No. 17 in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.40). Utah State is also ranked 17th nationally in taking care of the ball, committing just 10.4 turnovers per game. The Aggies also lead the Mountain West in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage.
Utah State’s strength is its defense that is allowing 63.1 points per game on 40.0% shooting from the field and 30.2% from beyond the arc to teams that would combine to average 65.4 points per game against a mediocre defensive squad. More importantly, the Aggies are 11-4 SU and 9-5 ATS at home this season where they are limiting opponents to just 61.7 points per game on 38.5% shooting from the floor and 29.9% from three-point territory.
Let’s also note that the Aggies are 11-6 ATS in conference play where they are giving up just 61.4 points per game. Colorado State is attempting 19 three-pointers per game this season (only making 30.7% on the road), which plays into the hands of Utah State’s stingy perimeter defense that is 24th in the nation in defending the arc.
From a technical standpoint, Colorado State is a money-burning 9-23 ATS versus teams with a winning record, 6-15 ATS off a double-digit win, 5-15 ATS off two or more consecutive wins and 2-9 ATS after covering the point spread. The Rams are also 11-27-1 ATS in their last 39 games following a win, 8-20-1 ATS in their last 29 road games versus teams with a winning home record and 2-6 ATS in their last eight games versus .601 or greater opposition. Grab the points and invest with confidence.