Yesterday, I took a look at Utah State’s performance this season as a team and some of their strengths and weaknesses which you can find here. Today, I’ll go in-depth on every player within Utah State’s rotation before my final analysis and prediction on the morning of the game. Players are in order of minutes played per game.
Utah State Player Profiles
G- Sam Merrill, Jr. 6’5, 190: 21.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.2 apg, 46.5% FG, 37.8% 3pt, 90.7% FT
There’s no better place to start with an examination of Utah State’s roster than with Merrill who won MWC Player of the Year this season. Merrill also led the team in scoring last season but he shared ball-handling responsibilities with a much less efficient player who transferred out. That often relegated him to the role of spot-up shooter which he excelled in (made 45.9% of 3-pointers). But this season Merrill has truly been unleashed.
His 3-pt shooting efficiency is down to a still respectable 37.8% which you would expect since he has fewer spot-up attempts. But he has made major strides in every other aspect of his game. Merrill improved his passing despite taking on more ball handling responsibility and the end result was an increase in both points and assists while keeping his turnovers constant.
But at his heart Merrill is a flat out shooter no matter where he is on the court. Jaylen Nowell is often considered a midrange wizard but this season he has shot just 36% on midrange jumpers and 24% on long 2’s. Utah State’s offense frowns upon the midrange game for its relative inefficiency but Merrill shot 57% and 39% on those corresponding shots this season
He ranks in at least the 72nd percentile nationally in every play type per Synergy Sports except for Isolation. The Huskies’ best hope of containing Merrill is by shutting down his ball movement and forcing him to dribble with Matisse Thybulle hounding him. Because if instead the zone fails to rotate to Merrill’s location then the Dawgs are dead. He shot 58% on unguarded catch and shoot 3’s this season.
And he isn’t just a designated hitter either. Merrill actually has also graded out as a well above average defender. Synergy Sports puts him in the 86th percentile on a points per possession basis and the only area on the court in which opponents shoot better than 33.3% when he’s the primary defender is straight away 3-point attempts. The steal and block numbers aren’t anything to write home about but he could definitely give Jaylen Nowell and/or David Crisp problems on that end of the court.
C- Neemias Queta, Fr. 6’11, 240: 11.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 62.7% FG, 56.0% FT
Husky fans will remember the impact that Robert Upshaw had on Washington’s defense in his half season roaming the paint on Montlake. If you’re looking for the biggest explanation as to how Utah State went from 9th in the preseason MWC media poll to an 8-seed, Queta is it.
The big man out of Portugal wasn’t rated by 247 despite playing on the national U20 team and averaging a double double. Part of that is he didn’t even sign with the Aggies until almost September. Queta is a dominant shot blocker, rebounder, and rim running center at 6’11 with a 7’5 wingspan. He finished 20th nationally in block percentage and led the MWC on the way to Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors. Utah State finished 165th in defensive efficiency with 6’8 Quin Taylor as their leading rim protector a year ago and upgraded to 47th this season.
Queta’s rebounding numbers look pretty similar to Noah Dickerson’s from last year although Queta isn’t quite as proficient on the offensive glass. He has solid hands but is definitely a true center. 93% of his shots came in the paint although there have been hints at a decent shooting stroke as somehow Queta went 4/4 on long 2’s and 2/5 on 3-pointers.
About 40% of Queta’s possession came on post-up opportunities and that is definitely what Washington would ideally try to encourage as he’s below average in that regard (46th percentile) with poor footwork. He does most of his damage cutting or rolling towards the basket with momentum ready to dunk over anyone in his way. Neemias averages 1.48 points per possession when getting the ball as the roll man in the Pick and Roll (95th percentile) so that’s his bread and butter play.
On the defensive end his elite length lets him block or alter almost any shot near the rim. If you can draw him away from the basket he doesn’t quite have the foot speed to stay with shooting or particularly agile big men. But unfortunately, it’s unlikely the Huskies can take advantage of that even when playing Hameir Wright at center.
KenPom puts together the 5 most similar seasons in his database for every player based on their age, size, and statistical output. Here is the list for Queta: Willie Cauley-Stein, Robert Williams, Derrick Favors, Joel Embiid, and Bruno Fernando. That’s four 1st-round picks plus a projected 1st rounder currently averaging a double double for a 6-seed. Right now he’s off of NBA Draft radars but if Queta has a dominant performance this week in the NCAA tournament you can be sure that he’ll start drawing national attention.
G- Brock Miller, Fr. 6’6, 205: 8.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, 36.4% FG, 34.9% 3pt, 88% FT
Miller was a solid 3-star recruit coming out of high school in the class of 2015 but took his LDS mission and so he’s a 21 year old freshman this season. His primary role on the team is to be a 3-pt specialist since more than 75% of his shot attempts this season have come from beyond the arc. Miller knocked down 50% of his corner 3’s this season so keeping Utah State from swinging the ball around the zone to Miller in that spot will be key. His rate stats are almost identical to Dominic Green’s except he’s a slightly better ball handler and slightly worse rebounder. And just like Green the best way to defend him is to force him to drive the ball as Miller shot just 32% on 2-point attempts in conference play.
On defense, Miller’s length serves him well when he’s on a smaller guard in the paint and he particularly has success defending the pick and roll. But he doesn’t quite have the foot speed to defend quicker or craftier wings and is below average closing out on spot up shooters or guarding in isolation.
F- Quinn Taylor, Sr. 6’8, 240: 8.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, 50.5% FG, 30.3% 3pt, 67.7% FT
After serving as the starting center last season, Taylor has shifted mostly to power forward to give Queto playing time although Taylor also functions as the backup center. His rate stats are down from last season but that’s to be expected when he’s increasingly sharing time with another big man clogging the paint.
Taylor converts on over 60% of his 2-point attempts although he, like many of the Aggies, struggles to create his own shot. Taylor scores more than 1 point per possession off of cuts, put backs, the P&R, or in transition. He’s extremely adept on the offensive glass and finished 6th in the MWC in that regard. However, he’s a below average scorer when posting up or spot up shooting.
The shooting is relevant since playing power forward in Utah State’s offense has required Taylor to play more like a wing than a big. Last season only 20% of Taylor’s attempts were 3-pt shots but this season it’s up to almost one-third. He had one night when he went supernova against UC Irvine but in the rest of his games he’s shooting 25% from deep. UW will be happy if Utah State ends up settling for Taylor 3-pointers.
On the defensive end of the floor he’s at his best as an extra rebounder and post defender. Taylor’s block numbers are similar to those of Noah Dickerson although his shooting percentages defending the paint are much better than Noah’s. However, normally in the UW zone the center is on an island whereas Utah State’s system tries to give as much help as possible to the middle of the court.
G- Diogo Brito, Jr. 6’5, 205: 8.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.2 apg, 43.3% FG, 39.6% 3pt, 72.2% FT
The second Portuguese member of Utah State, Brito has has seen his role increase within the Aggies offense this season. He’s shooting almost 10% better from 3-pt range over last year and that efficiency has come despite an increase in total opportunities. Brito isn’t just a long-range sniper but the percentage of his shots coming from 3-pt range increased during conference play so that’s the most relevant part of his offensive game.
Where Brito really makes hay is as a rebounder on the defensive glass. His defensive rebounding rate is about equal with Jaylen Nowell’s so he’s a big reason why Utah State is in the top-5 nationally in that particular statistic. However, Brito grades out as by far Utah State’s worst defender. Opponents absolutely torch Brito from deep when he’s listed as the primary defender to the tune of 57% which is good for finishing in just the 1st percentile nationally. The Huskies can only hope that holds true and results in a good shooting night for whichever combination of Jaylen Nowell, Matisse Thybulle, or Dominic Green he ends up against.
G- Abel Porter, So. 6’3, 185: 5.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.7 apg, 43.4% FG, 41.8% 3pt, 71.7% FT
Porter hardly played the past 2 seasons but has become a starter over the last half of his redshirt sophomore year. It took him until conference play to get 20 minutes of playing time but he has hit that number in 15 of Utah State’s last 16 games. The Aggies have a 14-1 record in those 15 games and he fouled out of the one loss.
Abel is Utah State’s PG in the way that David Crisp is for Washington. Sam Merrill has the ball more of the time and is the primary playmaker but when he’s off the court or can’t get open then Porter is capable of running things. Unlike Crisp though, Porter would really prefer to be a role player. His % of shots taken is last among the Utah State rotation players and is lower than anyone on Washington’s roster except for Sam Timmins and Jamal Bey. He’s more comfortable spotting up for 3’s where he shot 42% this season but he is also occasionally capable of driving and getting to the free throw line.
F- Dwayne Brown Jr., Sr. 6’6, 220: 6.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.6 apg, 52.2% FG, 32.5% 3pt, 76.0% FT
It’s unfortunate for the senior but it’s a clear trend that one of the reasons Utah State took off was by reducing Brown’s playing time. He played between 11 and 25 minutes in each of the Aggies’ first 15 games but has only reached double digits in 5 of the final 19 (although they’ve won each of those).
Brown actually was incredibly efficient with his limited playing time in conference play and shot 63% on 2-pointers and 46% on 3-pointers albeit in small sample sizes. His biggest issue has been turnovers especially against premium competition. He turned the ball over on nearly 1/3rd of his possessions in their 5 toughest games and my guess is he doesn’t see much run against UW’s steal-happy defense unless Utah State is in foul trouble.
F- Justin Bean, Fr. 6’7, 215: 4.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.8 apg, 50.6% FG, 16.7% 3pt, 76.3% FT
Bean is another player who, like Porter, has seen his minutes increase greatly in recent games. This may be his first year of college basketball but he served a mission then redshirted so he’s almost as old as UW’s seniors. He played a combined 23 minutes in USU’s first 12 games but has played at least 17 minutes in 7 of their final 8 and is now essentially the co-starter with Quinn Taylor at PF.
At 6’7 Bean is still a true post player who has made just 5 of 18 attempts this season on shots outside the paint. He’s at his best when cutting to the basket. He’s also a very good offensive rebounder although surprisingly he struggles when trying to convert those opportunities into put backs. On defense, Bean isn’t an elite shot blocker but he is still serviceable as a rim protector. However, he had 0 blocks in any of the games against the other top-3 teams in the Mountain West.
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