With all five starters from last season’s 18-win team back, the transition for Utah State first year head coach Tim Duryea was expected to be a smooth one. Two days before the Aggies’ regular season opener at Weber State, Duryea’s program was hit with news that will have a significant impact on their 2015-16 campaign.
Sophomore forward David Collette has left the team and will transfer, with the school announcing the news Wednesday evening. Collette was one of the best front court players in the Mountain West last season, averaging 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting better than 59 percent from the field. For his efforts Collette was a third team all-Mountain West selection, and his departure is a major blow to a team with hopes of contending in the Mountain West.
Collette was Utah State’s most productive player in their 77-60 exhibition loss to Cal-State Monterey Bay on November 6, scoring 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting while also grabbing five rebounds. With his height (6-foot-10) and skill Collette, who redshirted as a freshman in 2011-12 before going on a two-year LDS mission, will be a highly sought-after player on the transfer “market.”
Based upon his words in the release, Duryea is none too thrilled with how this situation came to be.
“I was shocked when he came into my office today and said he was going to quit,” Duryea said in the release. “I think there are a lot of factors in play that, unfortunately, have become a trend in college basketball of schools poaching other schools’ players. I don’t feel good and don’t like how things transpired, but we will move on and get ready for our season opener on Friday.”
This news leaves a major hole to fill on a team that entered the fall with one of the Mountain West’s better front courts. Junior wing Jalen Moore, a preseason all-conference selection, will lead the way with players such as Elston Jones and Lew Evans among those who will compete for the available minutes. But to lose an established interior scorer at this stage in the year makes the adjustment process even tougher for Utah State.
The college basketball coaching carousel was in full effect last spring, as 40 head coaching positions changed hands. Of those 40 jobs, 12 major high major programs will enter this season with a new man in charge while six more teams that would be classified as mid-major plus had turnover in leadership.
Here are the coaches in the best position to succeed immediately, and those that will likely need some time before they see the kind of success they’re used to:
COACHES BEST SET UP FOR IMMEDIATE SUCCESS
Steve Prohm, Iowa State: With Fred Hoiberg making the move to the NBA, someone was bound to land a job coaching a team with the talent needed to play deep into the NCAA tournament. Prohm was the pick for Iowa State after a successful run at Murray State, and with players such as Monte Morris, Georges Niang and Jameel McKay, his first season in Ames can be a special one.
Will Wade, VCU: Yes, Wade has some personnel losses to account as the former Shaka Smart assistant returns to VCU; most notably, Briante Weber and Treveon Graham have graduated. The cupboard isn’t bare either, however, as Melvin Johnson is back for his senior year, as are JeQuan Lewis and Mo-Alie Cox. Look for the Rams to once again be a factor in the Atlantic 10 race. (And yes, I know my opinion differs from some of my colleagues.)
Tim Duryea, Utah State: Duryea’s definitely familiar with the USU roster, as he served as the now-retired Stew Morrill’s assistant for 14 seasons. And he’s got a good roster to work with, with all five starters returning led by forwards Jalen Moore and David Collette. Utah State exceeded expectations by finishing fourth in the Mountain West a season ago; they’ll be expected to contend this time around and have the pieces to do just that.
Mike White, Florida: Like Prohm, White arrives at his new gig after experiencing a lot of success at his last stop. But unlike Prohm he’s taking over for a coach in Billy Donovan took Florida’s program to heights never before reached in the history of the program. There’s some talent to work with, especially if he can get Kasey Hill going, and White also managed to hold onto most of Florida’s 2015 recruiting class.
Ben Howland, Mississippi State: While Howland’s resume surpasses that of any other coach on this list, and he’ll have Malik Newman at his disposal, that doesn’t overtake the fact that there’s a lot to be done with a program that struggled mightily in the three seasons prior. Howland put together a good recruiting class led by Newman, but if there’s a concern it’s the health of his front court (that wasn’t all too deep to begin with).
Matt McCall, Chattanooga: McCall’s first head coaching gig at the Division I level has the potential to be a very successful one, thanks to the talent due back on campus. Four starters, including guard Casey Jones and forward Justin Tuoyo, return from a team that won 22 games and finished 15-3 in SoCon play.
Eran Ganot, Hawai’i: Last season began with tumult for Hawai’i, but interim head coach Benjy Taylor was able to lead the Rainbow Warriors to 22 wins and a run to the Big West tournament final. Now former Saint Mary’s assistant Eran Ganot takes over an experienced group that returns three starters (seven who started at least two games) led by Big West Defensive Player of the Year Roderick Bobbitt.
Shaka Smart, Texas: A key question for some is how Smart’s pressure system will mesh with bigs who are best equipped to play in the half court. However the biggest issue in Smart’s first season at the helm in Austin is the strength of the Big 12, with perennial favorite Kansas leading what should be a deep race. There’s still talent, enough to make the tournament, but contending in the Big 12 may take a little time.
Rick Barnes, Tennessee: Barnes has relocated to Knoxville, where he’ll aim to rejuvenate a program that dealt with the Donnie Tyndall investigation (and ultimately, firing) for much of last season. Three starters return but the one true difference-maker, Josh Richardson, isn’t among those players. Add in a lack of size in the post, and this could be a difficult season for Barnes in an SEC that will be improved.
Avery Johnson, Alabama: Johnson and his staff have made some waves recruiting-wise, most notably reeling in Terrance Ferguson, and that certainly bodes well for the future. However, when it comes to this season he inherits a roster that lost its top three scorers from a season ago. That could prove difficult to overcome in a league that’s improved from last season.
Chris Mullin, St. John’s: To say that Mullin and his staff were left with a bare cupboard would be an understatement. Two of the remaining players (Chris Obekpa and Rysheed Jordan) didn’t exactly mesh with the new staff’s plans, so they moved on. The work done by Mullin and assistants Barry Rohrssen and Matt Abdelmassih to fill out the roster will help St. John’s in the long run, but this season could be a difficult one.
Brian Wardle, Bradley: Wardle’s move from Green Bay to Peoria, Illinois is a big one for a Bradley program that struggled in a big way under Geno Ford. Given Wardle’s accomplishments he’s got a good chance of turning things around. But it’s going to take some time to do so, especially with just one starter from last season’s nin win team back on campus. There was a lot of turnover on the roster, so the Braves will take their lumps as a result.
Bobby Hurley, Arizona State: Hurley put together two successful seasons at Buffalo before making the move west, and he inherits a roster doesn’t lack for experience. In a similar situation at Buffalo in 2013-14, he led the Bulls to 19 wins and had the MAC Player of the Year in Javon McCrea. The two issues this time around: while the Pac-12 may not have a dominant team as it did a season ago (Arizona) it is deeper, and the Sun Devils will have to navigate a tough non-conference slate as well.
Dave Leitao, DePaul: Since Leitao’s first run at DePaul came to an end in 2005, the Blue Demons have struggled mightily. Now he returns to the Windy City, and while there is some talent (Billy Garrett Jr. being one option) there’s a long way to go when it comes to making a move up the Big East standings and being a true factor in the conference.
Utah State landed a major impact recruit on Monday as four-star Class of 2016 guard Koby McEwen committed to the Aggies. A 6-foot-3 Canadian, McEwen had a very good month of July and also was strong at adidas Nations.
During the spring, McEwen played 17 games and averaged 13.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3-point range. Attending Wasatch Academy for his high school ball, McEwen will stay in Utah for his college ball and picks the Mountain West program despite offers and interest from ACC programs like Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
Slowly but surely college basketball programs are releasing their full non-conference schedules. And in the case of the 11 members of the Mountain West, they now know their possible path to a regular season conference title.
Wednesday the conference released its full league schedule, with four games on December 30 marking the start of conference play. Each team will play eight opponents both home and away, with single games (one home, one away) against the other two teams to reach a total of 18 conference games.
Of the four conference games to be played December 30, Fresno State’s trip to UNLV could be the most intriguing matchup. While the Runnin’ Rebels add one of the nation’s top recruiting classes to help account for the loss of four starters, most notably Christian Wood and Rashad Vaughn, Fresno State returns its top five scorers from a season ago led by senior guard Marvelle Harris.
Also on the schedule December 30 are Wyoming visiting preseason favorite San Diego State in a rematch of last year’s Mountain West tournament title game, Nevada visiting New Mexico and Utah State visiting San Jose State. The Mountain West will look to increase the number of NCAA tournament bids from last season’s total of three, which could have been even lower had the Cowboys not earned the conference’s automatic bid.
Below are the single-game matchups for each of the teams in the Mountain West. In larger conferences with unbalanced schedules, those single games can have a significant impact on the title race if head-to-head tiebreakers are needed to determine a champion.
Air Force: vs. Boise State, at San Diego State Boise State: vs. Fresno State, at Air Force Colorado State: vs. New Mexico, at Fresno State Fresno State: vs. Colorado State, at Boise State Nevada: vs. San Diego State, at San Jose State New Mexico: vs. Wyoming, at Colorado State San Diego State: vs. Air Force, at Nevada San Jose State: vs. Nevada, at UNLV UNLV: vs. San Jose State, at Utah State Utah State: vs. UNLV, at Wyoming Wyoming: vs. Utah State, at New Mexico
Point guard Crew Ainge verbally commits to Utah State
Ainge, the son of former NBA player and current Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge, attended Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire and he played his grassroots basketball for the New England Playaz organization. The 5-foot-11 point guard is the second addition of the spring for the Aggies, who added junior college transfer Shane Rector last month.
Rector began his college career at Missouri, transferring to Miami Dade College after his freshman season.
However unlike Rector, Ainge will not be joining the program immediately. Ainge will take a two-year LDS mission, meaning that he won’t don a Utah State uniform until 2017.
Of the five scholarship sophomores on the Utah State roster going into the 2015-16 season three are guards: Henry Bolton, Sam Orchard and Julion Pierre. They’ll be seniors when Ainge begins his freshman season at Utah State in 2017-18.
Former Missouri guard Shane Rector headed to Utah State
Rector was a three-star recruit and a borderline top 100 prospect in the Class of 2013, when he was a high school senior. The point guard ended up at Missouri, but he played just 23 games as a freshman before transferring out of the program. Rector wound up at Miami Dade College, spending a year in the Junior College ranks.
Rector will be a nice addition for the Aggies, who return essentially everyone from their rotation from a season ago.
Utah State will have plenty of back court depth, as Rector will join a perimeter attack that already includes juniors Chris Smith and Darion Perkins, sophomore JoJo McGlaston and freshman Julion Pearre.