Utah State coach Stew Morrill said he enjoyed watching film this week.
The tough part for the Aggies? He was watching film of Saint Mary's point guard Matthew Dellavedova, last season's West Coast Conference Player of the Year. Watching footage of the 6-foot-4 Australian was enthralling as a fan of basketball, but daunting as an opponent.
"It's fun to see all the things he can do," Morrill said. "He's shooting it, he's stealing it. And it's real easy to say, 'OK, he's who we've got to focus on,' but we're aware of Saint Mary's size, and they will be trying to get it to those guys, too."
Utah State will face perhaps the toughest nonconference opponent of the season Thursday night when the Gaels blow into Logan. Although the Aggies defend their home court as well as anyone, it will be a tough challenge for a team playing its second game with many new cast members.
The biggest threat is Dellavedova, a senior who can shoot and pass efficiently and spent the summer playing for the Australian Olympic squad.
Dellavedova's success may call to mind the Aggies' own Preston Medlin, but Morrill said the two are unlikely to be guarding each other directly very often.
It might come down to how well Utah State's frontcourt can come together. Big things are expected of Kyisean Reed and Jarred Shaw this year inside the post, but a so-so opening performance against Idaho State showed how far the Aggies still need to go.
The Gaels start a pair of 6-foot-9 forwards Brad Waldow and Mitchell Young, who are strong and rebound well. Morrill said it will be up to his inside guys to set the tone for physicality, especially considering Saint Mary's aggressive man-to-man scheme.
"We've worked on trying to get more physical, and at this point we're just trying to get better," Morrill said. "We've got to grow to be a contender in our league. Guys gotta believe we can win these games."
A subplot to the already compelling matchup is the return of James Walker III to Logan. The guard played for the Aggies as a freshman, but left the program and went to Citrus College in California.
Now he's popped up with the Gaels as a sub off the bench. Morrill said he was glad Walker has found a spot, but wasn't too concerned with him scheme-wise.
"My focus is not on James, to be honest," Morrill said. "I hope he does well and all of that, but we're going to focus on guys who play more minutes."
Saint Mary's at Utah State
P Thursday, 7:05 p.m.
At Dee Glen Smith Spectrum
• The Aggies host one of their toughest nonconference games of the season against the Gaels, an NCAA Tournament team last year.