Wichita State Shockers

Utah State provides tough test for Wichita State

LOGAN, Utah — The best coaching stories usually begin with a man who fits at his school. Utah State and coach Stew Morrill are that match.

"He loves where he's at," former assistant Randy Rahe said. "He doesn't care about anything other than coaching his team."

Wichita State (22-6) gets a first-hand look at Morrill's work tonight in a Bracketbusters game. Utah State (21-6) leads the Western Athletic Conference and has won 63 of its past 65 home games.

That's a start on understanding the power Morrill has built in 12 seasons at Utah State.

"He's the best coach nobody knows about," said Rahe, now coach at Weber State.

The Aggies are working on streaks of 10 straight 23-win seasons and 10 straight postseason appearances, six in the NCAA Tournament. Like WSU's Gregg Marshall, he wins big at places out of the national spotlight. ESPN isn't clamoring to go unplugged in his practices and Brent Musberger doesn't show up at the Spectrum to call his games.

"They just reload," Marshall said. "When you coach at Winthrop and Wichita State, you admire him for what he's been able to do and sustain at that level."

Morrill, 57, thrives in the low-key WAC and in Logan, population of around 48,000. He is allowed to run his program, recruit his kind of players and win at his pace. He was born in Utah, attended Gonzaga and coached at Montana and Colorado State before coming to Logan in 1998.

Looking at jobs reminds him how good he has it at Utah State.

"They've let me do my job and left me alone," he said. "I like when the administration trusts you. It's a perfect level for me at this stage of my career. I'm not a young guy looking to bounce."

Coaching with that confidence lets Morrill select players who fit his system. They must be able to run his numerous offensive sets, play multiple defenses and take criticism. His assistants tell him when a player isn't thick-skinned enough to be an Aggie.

Seven of his players are from Utah. Three attended junior college. Seven performed one- or two-year Mormon missions, as WSU's Graham Hatch did.

"We want kids you can coach," Morrill said. "We're pretty direct. Kids have to adapt to that. We don't mince words."

Former assistants such as Rahe and Don Verlin, now coach at Idaho, didn't waste much time with the Rivals.com top 150 recruit rankings. Recruiting and coaching egos aren't on Morrill's agenda.

"He doesn't have to deal with that," Rahe said. "His players are outside the top 100-150. They've never been spoiled. They want to work."

It's during precious practice — the best part of Morrill's day, according to Rahe — the Aggies learn the 25 to 30 offensive sets and multiple defenses employed. Rahe, who now coaches against Morrill, marvels at the precision.

"If it calls for you to screen at the block, you don't screen one inch off the block," Rahe said. "You damn-sure better be on the block."

The Aggies, like WSU, run a lot of plays. When WSU's plays don't produce a score, the Shockers go into motion offense. Morrill doesn't like the motion because he can't control who gets the shot. His team will run plays until the right player gets the right shot.

Morrill sees many similarities between the teams. Both rely on balanced scoring and both are among their conference leaders in defensive statistics.

"It's impossible to scout all the different sets they run," Morrill said. "They're awfully well coached. That's something you appreciate about someone who runs as much stuff as they do and runs it as well as they do."

Marshall, also dealing with a quick turnaround for scouting, is equally impressed with the Aggies. They are on an 11-game winning streak after Wednesday's 67-61 win over Louisiana Tech.

"They run good stuff and they shoot it," he said. "There's really no weakness."

Moment of silence — Before the game, Utah State will ask fans to observe a moment of silence remembering the victims of the 1970 Wichita State football plane crash. The team was traveling to Logan on Oct. 2, 1970, on two planes to play Utah State. One of the planes crashed in the mountains near Silver Plume, Colo., killing 31.