Utah vs. BYU Beehive Classic 21

In this Dec. 8, 2018, photo, Weber State's Jerrick Harding (10) drives around a Utah State defender during a Beehive Classic game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

Training camp is over, scrimmages and exhibitions are finished, and it’s time for basketball that counts.

Weber State men’s basketball opens the 2019-20 season at 7 p.m. tonight by visiting No. 17 ranked Utah State in Logan.

The Aggies have entered the season with an energy not seen in Logan for some time, returning plenty of players from last year’s 28-7 squad that won the Mountain West Conference. Utah State opened its regular season Tuesday by holding off Montana State 81-73.

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“Watching them play is like they were playing last February. You can just tell they’re comfortable in what they’re doing and how they play,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. “They know who they are and they play to their strengths ... you can tell those guys have been playing together for a long time and they play off each other very well. Very crafty, very smart. They just know how to play.”

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That effort starts with senior guard and Bountiful native Sam Merrill, who was the Mountain West player of the year last season and this year’s preseason MVP.

Merrill led USU with 28 points on Tuesday, a mark that included shooting 17 of 18 from the free-throw line.

“It just seems like he’s on a different level as far as his feel for the game, his skillset, and he’s a tough kid, too,” Rahe said. “The game is really slow for him, he sees everything so well. You can’t speed him up and he’s got every facet covered. He can really shoot it, he’s really crafty bouncing it by you, he’s a big-bodied kid so when he gets a shoulder on you, he can finish, and he’s as good a passer as you’re going to see.

“He sets the tone for them in everything they do.”

Part of USU’s relative struggles against a team that, on paper, it had overmatched — aside from MSU’s Harald Frey pouring in 34 points — was the absence of sophomore big man Neemias Queta. Last year’s MWC defensive player of the year injured his knee during summer play with the Portuguese national team.

While talented, it was clear Tuesday that Utah State’s makeup was vastly different without Queta. His status for Friday’s game is unknown.

Weber State enters the contest looking to bounce back from an 18-15 mark last season, including 11-9 in Big Sky play — modestly OK for many programs but the second-worst season in 13 under Randy Rahe.

“It’s a hardworking, hard-playing team that likes to compete,” Rahe said of this year’s squad. “They like each other. It’s early, so everybody likes each other right now. But they get along, they’re all gym rats, they like to compete. When you get a bunch of those kind of guys, they seem to get very close quickly.”

The Wildcats played a close scrimmage at Denver and defeated Western Colorado in an exhibition as warm-ups for the season.

Last season saw the Wildcats push the tempo and play a free-flowing motion offense full of ball screens. That’s out the window this season as Weber State returns to Rahe’s offensive philosophy that, while some transition game will occur, is built mostly on set plays that play to the strengths of the roster.

“It’s early for us, so we’re still getting comfortable with our system,” Rahe said. “I thought with our scrimmage and our exhibition game, you can see it’s coming together.”

The game is not on TV but

will be live streamed online at utahstateaggies.com/watch. A

Weber State radio broadcast will air on 1430 AM with Steve Klauke on the call, and a Utah State broadcast will air on 1280 AM with Scott Garrard.

Contact Brett Hein at bhein@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @bhein3/@WeberHQ and at facebook.com/WeberStateSports.

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