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USU basketball: Aggies struggled to 21-win season

LOGAN — For as long as anyone can remember, Utah State head coach Stew Morrill has warned anyone following the program that eventually the Aggies would have a bad season.

Such is the cycle of college basketball. Even the most elite teams in the nation suffer a season that blends a storm of injuries, player graduations, transfers and plain-old bad luck.

By the unbelievably high standards that Morrill and previous Utah State teams have set, this year's Aggie team was a disappointment. The previous four seasons had ended in regular season WAC championships for Utah State.

This season ended with the Aggies in fourth place and a distant five games behind first place Nevada.

Five of USU's previous seven seasons ended in the NCAA tournament. The hope to make an appearance in six out of eight years and four in a row ended when Louisiana Tech knocked Utah State out in the first round of the WAC Tournament. It was Utah State's first loss in the quarterfinals of a conference tournament since 1999.

In terms of pure wins, only Morrill's 15-win first season in 1999 finished with a lower total than this year's 21 victories.

Still, even in a down season, Utah State won 21 games for the 13th consecutive season, a mark only college basketball blue bloods Syracuse, Duke, Kansas and Gonzaga can also claim. The Aggies also finished runners up in the Tournament.

Second place in a postseason tournament and 21 wins are achievements that many programs aspire to have in their best season, and can only dream to have happen in their worst season.

The Tournament gave the Aggies some crucial late season practices and momentum to bring into next season.

"I think it helps a lot," guard Preston Medlin said about playing in the CIT. "You get to have way more practices and way more games than any team in the country really. That's something that's good for us and good for guys that aren't as experienced."

It was good for Medlin, one of the more experienced players on the team as well. The sophomore raised his level of play down the stretch of the season and finished as one of the top players in the conference.

Medlin joined Nate Harris (2003-2004) as only the second Aggie in school history to make first team all-conference in his sophomore season. Not only were Medlin's individual numbers fantastic at 17 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists a game, but he learned a lot about being a teammate as well.

"I'm just trying to be a leader for all the guys that don't really know what's going on," Medlin said about his personal experience in the CIT. "Postseason is postseason no matter how you look at it. I think that was important for us. I think it was important for me to become more of a leader over the postseason run."

With Medlin back to anchor the team, the valley the Aggies hit this year should only be temporary. Next year, Utah State brings in a talented recruiting class that includes two nearly 7-foot tall transfers in Jarred Shaw and Matt Lopez, and high school guards Marcel Davis, Quincy Bair and Riley Bradshaw. With a talent influx and extra experience for young returning players like Danny Berger, Ben Clifford and Jordan Stone the sky is the limit next season.