Jeff Hunter,
Utah State sophomore guard Sam Merrill defends University of Providence guard Jared Schultz during the Aggies' exhibition game on Nov. 3 at the Spectrum in Logan.
Offensively, Jerrick Harding has really come a long way since his game here last year when he broke out and scored the first points of his career. —USU coach Tim Duryea

The Utah State and Weber State basketball teams will open the 2017-18 season with another clash of old friends, longtime in-state rivals and some new faces.

The Aggies will face off against the Wildcats Friday night at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, the site of USU head coach Tim Duryea’s first victory as a head coach two years ago. Weber State head coach Randy Rahe, like Duryea, a longtime assistant of Utah State legend Stew Morrill, won last year’s meeting in Logan, 77-71, to leave the all-time series at 42-27 in the Aggies’ favor.

“They are very solid,” Duryea said of the Wildcats. “I’ve only watched one exhibition game, that all we had, plus the history we have with Randy and his program. He is one of the best coaches in the country that nobody talks about. He is very solid, year in and year out.”

Weber State, which finished with a 20-14 overall record in 2016-17, heads into Rahe’s 12th season as head coach without the services of guard Jeremy Senglin. Currently a member of the Long Island Nets G-League team, Senglin finished his standout collegiate career as WSU’s all-time leading scorer and 3-point shooter.

But helping to offset the substantial loss of Senglin is the addition of former Roy High star Brekkott Chapman, who is now eligible after transferring from Utah following his sophomore year at Utah. The 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward totaled 20 points and seven rebounds in his Wildcat debut on Nov. 2, an 84-77 exhibition game victory over Western State.

Sophomore guard Jerrick Harding put up a team-high 26 points in that same contest, which surely caught Duryea’s attention. In last year’s game in Logan, Harding came off of the bench to knock down 5 of 8 field goal attempts on his way to scoring 14 points in just 19 minutes.

“Offensively, Jerrick Harding has really come a long way since his game here last year when he broke out and scored the first points of his career,” Duryea noted. “He is tremendously talented, and is a slippery little scorer that can score at the rum and is good at the 3-point line.”

In addition to Harding, who ended up averaging 9.3 points per game in 2016-17, the Wildcats also return a strong post presence in 6-9, 250-pound forward Zach Braxton (10.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game last season).

“They present a lot of problems defensively,” Duryea said of the Cats. “They’ve changed their offensive scheme up a little bit this year, but they are always well organized and intelligent in the things they do. They do a good job of putting their players in a good position to succeed. Just watching one exhibition game, I really like Randy’s team.”

The Aggies beat the University of Providence, 98-54, in their lone exhibition game on Nov. 3, with reigning Mountain West Freshman of the year Koby McEwen leading the way with 17 points. But while Duryea also returns sophomore guard Sam Merrill (9.4 ppg in 2016-17) and senior forward Alex Dargenton (4.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg) from last season’s 14-17 squad, this will be the first time in four years that USU has taken the court without future Aggie hall of famer Jalen Moore.

Junior center Norbert Janicek is also out for the season with a knee injury, and senior guard Julion Pearre will be sidelined for around four to six weeks with a torn calf muscle. That leaves the Aggies small in the frontcourt, and also without an experienced player to back up McEwen at point guard.

“We are extremely unproven at the point when Koby goes out for a rest,” Duryea admitted. “Crew Ainge is just off of his mission, and Abel Porter has just been in the program for a year and hasn’t had the chance to play. … One, if not both of those kids, will be forced into minutes that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

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Duryea said that JUCO transfer Dwayne Brown Jr. has really grabbed the power forward position “by the throat,” and that another incoming junior DeAngelo Isby will start at the three spot. But Duryea, who is entering his 17th overall season at Utah State, quickly added that freshman Brock Miller out of Brighton High School is “getting better on a daily basis.”

“They can both score in their own way,” Duryea added. “But the guy who probably ends up playing the most minutes there is the guy who jumps ahead defensively.”