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The Utah State men's basketball team faces high expectations coming into its final tour through the Western Athletic Conference.
Maybe more from others than from itself.
Utah State was picked to finish No. 1 in the WAC by the media and No. 2 by the coaches in the conference's preseason poll. Junior guard Preston Medlin was also tabbed the preseason WAC player of the year in both polls.
Coach Stew Morrill was characteristically skeptical of prognostications.
"It's interesting that we're picked first and second after we finished fourth last year, and we scrambled around to do that," he said. "The challenge for us is we have to get new guys to figure things out, and mesh them all together."
Utah State has only five returning players who saw significant time last year, but WAC coaches and media are still paying respect to the Aggies. In the media poll, Utah State got 15 of 25 first-place votes. New Mexico State got the edge in the coaches poll by one point, but the two teams each got five first-place votes in the coaches vote.
Other players were also honored: Senior forward Kyisean Reed was tabbed a second-team selection, and transfer Jarred Shaw was picked to be newcomer of the year.
Medlin said it was an honor to get preseason nods, but he was more focused on making sure that Utah State could live up to the hype as a team.
"It's a new year, a new team," he said. "I want to do whatever I can to make sure my team does well. If that causes me to be WAC player of the year, that's great. Hopefully that's what I can do to help my team win."
Morrill said Medlin's likelihood of being the WAC player of the year increases if the team can win the conference this year. As for Shaw, Morrill said there's much to prove.
"No offense to Jarred, but that one doesn't have much validity yet," Morrill said. "When you haven't blocked a shot or grabbed a rebound, it doesn't make much sense."
Of course, Utah State will be gunning for another WAC championship this year. The intriguing factor is that the WAC looks much different, with Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State gone.
The Aggies are only a year away from joining the Mountain West themselves, but immediately ahead of them is the challenge of a slate full of unknown opponents. Three programs from Texas, Seattle and Denver are all new to the WAC, and Morrill said there could be some blind spots headed into those games.
"There's a lot of preparation concerns and lots of teams we're not familiar with," he said. "Half the league is new there's a lot of shifting."
The first teams for both the media and coaches poll were identical: Medlin, sophomore guard Raheem Appleby (La. Tech), senior center Kyle Barone (Idaho), sophomore guard Daniel Mullings (NM State) and junior forward Chris Udofia (Denver).
Denver was third and Louisiana Tech was fourth in both polls.
WAC preseason basketball poll
1. Utah St. (15) 232
2. N.M. St. (8) 223
3. Denver (1) 181
4. La. Tech 162
5. Idaho 144
6. UT Arlington (1) 137
7. UTSA 104
8. Seattle U 77
9. San Jose St. 61
10. Texas St. 54
Note • First-place votes in parentheses