Aggies receiving high praise during college basketball off-season

Utah State Aggies guard Sam Merrill (5) holds the Mountain West Championship trophy in Las Vegas, NV, on March 16. The Aggies won against the Aztecs, 64-57, and will be an automatic berth in the NCAA March Madness Tournament.

Now that college basketball teams know which of their players are coming back and which will be leaving – either because of the upcoming NBA draft or due to transfers – many national publications are putting together their pre-season Top 25 lists for the 2019-20 season. And the Utah State Aggies are receiving a lot of respect in these early polls, especially with the announcement that Neemias Queta would return for his sophomore season in Logan. USU finished the 2018-19 regular season as the 25th ranked team in the country, and many national publications think the Aggies can top that.

NBC Sports – 14

Rob Dauster with NBC Sports gives USU the highest pre-season ranking, coming in at #14. Outside of Gonzaga (#10), the Aggies are the highest ranked mid-major program on his preseason list.

Stadium – 16

Jeff Goodman with Stadium has USU in a similar position, at #16. He previously had USU at 19th before the announcement that Queta would return.

ESPN – 16

Jeff Borzello also gave USU a bump with the Queta announcement. His pre-season rankings on ESPN previously listed the Aggies at 20th, but then moved them up to #16. He called the combination of Queta and Sam Merrill as one of the “best inside-outside duos in the country.” One other comment from Borzello which is sure to make Aggie fans happy: “The Aggies can push for the second weekend next season.”

Sports Illustrated – 16

Jeremy Woo writes for Sports Illustrated and he, too, previous ranked USU at #20. But after Queta’s draft deadline announcement, bumped the Aggies up to #16. Much like Borzello, Woo praises the tandem of Queta and Merrill and points to all the returning talent back in Aggie uniforms as to why USU should win a lot of games. – 19

Andy Katz produces content for and likes the Aggies at #19. He, too, likes the combination of Merrill and Queta, but also offers a warning. “The issue will be can this team handle being the hunted,” Katz writes. “They weren’t a season ago and won the league. Now the expectations are on Utah State to deliver a league title.

SB Nation – 21

Mike Rutherford contributes to SB Nation and lists USU at #21, highlighting the return and progression of Merrill. “Sam Merrill,” Rutherford says, “has the potential to be one of the sport’s biggest stars in 2019-20.”

CBS Sports – 23

Gary Parrish with CBS Sports lists USU at #23 in his pre-season Top 25. Parrish points out the four returning starters for justification of his ranking, notably Sam Merrill. “Barring a surprise or injury,” Parrish writes, “he’ll win back-to-back MWC Player of the Year awards.”

Busting Brackets – 24

Lukas Harkins was impressed with last season’s turnaround under Craig Smith and, according to his post on Busting Brackets, lists USU at #24. “With (Merrill and Queta) coming back, I would be surprised if Utah State is not right back in the conversation for the MWC title in 2019-20,” Harkins explains. “Add in the fact that head coach Craig Smith is sticking with the program and it is easy to see the top-25 appeal.”

Jerry West Award

The combination of Merrill and Queta are a common justification for a preseason Top 25 ranking. Katz gives additional praise to both players as he lists them on preseason player award watch lists. The Jerry West Award gets handed out to the best shooting guard in the country, and Katz lists Merrill as a top five candidate.

“Merrill is the best player in the Mountain West,” Katz says as he lists Merrill at #5. “He won player of the year last season in the conference. He should win it again for a team that will be/should be in the top 25.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award

Katz also lists Queta as a top 10 player for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, handed out to college basketball’s top center.

“Queta could have stayed in the NBA draft but decided to come back to the Aggies,” Katz says as he lists Queta at #10. “That’s great news for the favorites in the Mountain West, who now have a 1-2 punch with Sam Merrill on the wing and Queta in control in the paint.”

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