BOZEMAN — The Montana State men's basketball team plays its season opener for the second consecutive year against Utah State when the Bobcats tip off against Utah State at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan, Utah.
In the teams' 121st meeting all-time in Bozeman last November, the Aggies took over seven minutes into the game and won 101-71. That got things rolling for Utah State as the Aggies wound up going 28-7 during the under first-year coach Craig Smith. That mark tied for the third-most victories in school history en route to winning the Mountain West regular season and postseason championships.
The Aggies are looking just as formidable this season.
Utah State is ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press poll, marking the third time in school history that the Aggies have been ranked entering the season. It is the first time since the 1970-71 season that USU has appeared in the initial poll. They also are listed at 19th in the USA Today coaches' Poll.
A year ago, the Aggies were picked eighth in the Mountain West's preseason poll. This season, Utah State was named a unanimous favorite by the Mountain West media to capture the 2019-20 conference title. They'll be led by reigning Mountain West Player of the Year Sam Merrill, who scored 37 points which was ninth-most by a visitor in the history of Worthington Arena in last season's matchup, and a host of returners that played the Bobcats a season ago.
Montana State will be guided on Tuesday in its opening game under first-year coach and alum Danny Sprinkle. The Helena native takes over a program in which during his player career (1995-99) he made his mark. He is still ranked seventh in program history in scoring (1,497 points) and is second in 3-point field goals (263) and free throw percentage (.850).
Sprinkle's team got its first taste of competitive action on Oct. 30 when the Bobcats defeated Yellowstone Christian, 94-43, in MSU's lone exhibition ahead of the 2019-20 regular season. The Bobcats shot 53 percent from the floor and were led by four double digit scorers, all of which are in their first seasons in MSU uniforms.
"I thought the guys came out focused and played energetic," Sprinkle said. "Early on defensively we did a pretty good job and got some stops to get some run outs and get in transition which we have to do. We have to continue that now against a Division I schedule. When you're not taking the ball out of the net, it's easier to score."
Harald Frey, Devin Kirby and Ladan Ricketts are the lone Bobcats to have played more than 10 minutes in the matchup against Utah State a season ago. Lessons and instruction from MSU's exhibition inside Worthington Arena will have to carry over to the Bobcats' upcoming contest against the Top 25-ranked team on Tuesday.
"I thought we were really unselfish tonight," Sprinkle said following the exhibition. "In games like this, it's easy to take the first open shot, and I thought our guys, did a really job looking for each other and sharing the ball. Defensively, we've still got some work to do.
"Obviously their pace early got to us a little bit and we know the pace is going to get a lot faster from here on out. We've got to work on staying in a stance consistently. Our guys know we have some depth so you know you may not play for more than 2 ½ minutes, play your butt off for that time and get yourself out."
Tuesday's season opener will be televised by AT&T SportsNet and air on ROOT Sports Northwest. Every Bobcat men's basketball game can be heard live on the Bobcat Sports Radio Network. Zach Mackey serves as the play-by-play with games also available online at msubobcats.com/watch or on the TuneIn App.