We’re finally previewing the Pac-12. This week, the last before games actually tip, I’ll post two previews of travel mates (i.e. UW and WSU will appear in the same post) and, in the interest of being fully prepared for Friday’s hoop joy, I’ll post two-a-day. Thus the title. Although it’s 4 previews-a-day. Regardless. Enjoy. (Other school previews)
Has Tad Boyle built a program? There’s a big distinction between programs and individual teams, collections of talent that achieve something nice. Chauncey Billups’ Buffs? Team. Mark Few at Gonzaga? Program. Follow? In the latter half of this post we’ll explore Larry Krystkowiak’s program. It’s a good one. But for now, what do we make of Boyle’s six years in Boulder? At the surface, they’re great. Some readers have suggested statues. That’s a little much but four dances in six years isn’t just unprecedented out of The Keg, it’s – well – statue conjuring. So in considering Boyle’s program, this is a critical year. We could excuse a chunk of the past to Josh Scott; a local talent who blossomed into a transcendent player. He was fantastic. An All-Time Buff. But J40 isn’t suiting up in 2017. And what we’re left with, according to resident CU expert Ben Burrows in his monster CU preview, is:
I get the feeling that this, finally, is what the ideal Tad Boyle roster is supposed to look like.
If that’s indeed the case, we’ll have a really good feel for what the Tad Boyle program looks like and likely further optimism oozing out of Boulder.
Last season on The [other] Rise
Opened up my tee-shirt drawer the other day. In there I spotted my favorite and slipped it on. Didn’t matter the tattered fabric or faded images, the arm pits’ hue at least suggesting a semblance of hygiene. I like my favorite shirt because it takes care of my essential: makes me happy, is reliably comfortable, and can get me where I need to be (grocery store, Laundromat, gym, warmly into bed) in my own aesthetic. The shirt knows what’s up.
And so I ask: What’s up with Brandon Taylor? Continue reading
If it hasn’t been said yet, allow me: Welcome to the Pac, Utes! From the marked and steady progress of Larry’s program to this year’s football performance, Utah has taken full advantage of its place at the big kid’s table. They’re clearly playing the part on the court. But off the court? Just a brand new $36 million practice facility. Watch the video. Larry Krystkowiak’s office is bigger than my apartment (he’s also taller than me so it’s cool). And his team is probably better than yours. If you’re reading other previews, there’s going to be a focus on “replacing Delon.” In college basketball, if you’re trying to “replace” anyone, you’re in trouble. A college basketball season is a flash in the pan, a shooting star, Josh Rosen’s hot tub. It’s a 30-ish game sample set of whatever you can milk out of immature and budding talents. Delon Wright was exceptional. So, so good. You don’t replace him. You adjust, take inventory of the talent you have and that you’ve brought in, and you coach to that roster. Look at Arizona’s “struggles” last year as they seemingly tried to “replace” Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson. That was never Stanley Johnson’s game. What Utah has going for themselves is a lot more known commodities as opposed to unknowns. Brandon Taylor is great. Brekkot Chapman is a sophomore! Jakob Poeltl might be the best player in the conference and Dakari Tucker – not Delon Wright – was the one who drove, drew contact and hit two free throws while down a deuce with 18-seconds left against Wichita State. He’s back.
And maybe you don’t like my Arizona analogy (relax, it’s my bread and butter). For the record, it’s probably the most optimistic you’ll find. I looked at Delon’s 2015 comparables (the players, according to KenPom, that most closely resembled Delon’s contributions). This afforded us access to just a small sample set (4 players + Jerian Grant who’s Notre Dame team has yet to play a season without him). The results showed that, the season after a Delon comparable left school, those teams achieved 3 fewer wins, about a 6% drop in offensive efficiency, while approximately maintaining defensive efficiency. Is this the hard and fast rule? Hell no. But I also think this serves as a good reminder of the aforementioned fluidity, brevity and immediacy of college basketball. One player does not a team make (except for Spencer Dinwiddie at Colorado). Heading into a given season we have no barometer but those 30-ish games played by a nearly completely different group. I wonder what the average percentage of returning minutes is across college basketball? For Utah it’s 75% which is very high and – considering the past success of that three-quarters – is good stuff.
Why I love them
We must begin by saying the Jahlil Okafor is really good. I’m not messing around and neither is he. Okafor scored in single figures only once this season and his team won that game by 43 and he was 2-2 from the field. He played 19 minutes. Here’s what it can look like: Continue reading
So they’re not the hottest team in the country and have slumped to the point that my March 2014 prediction of the Utes being a four-seed was narrowly missed. I’ve been further off on other predictions – I see you 2015 Buffs – so I won’t soon lose any sleep over this. What I might lose some sleep over is how tough these Utes really are. There’s a je ne sias quoi that I’m going to try to sais quoi: They don’t have it. Whatever that gene is that allows you to flush goldfish down the toilet or take the last piece of cake at not your birthday party or win a close basketball game, that seems to be missing for the Utes. They’re just 4-11 the last two years in games decided by 6 points or fewer. Sometimes in a tournament you’ve got to be able to do that. Can the Utes? My hope is that the imminent finality of these fantastic two years instills some of that DGAF in Delon Wright. He’s too good to play just one more time for us.
When it comes to knowing everything about the Utah Utes, it’s not wrong to note Delon Wright. And while that’s both short sighted and narrow, it’s not entirely inaccurate. He’s just really damn good. But after two double-negatives in nearly as many sentences, credit where credit is rightfully due: Larry Krystkowiak. In my estimation he’s the man with the plan and its come to near perfect execution. He built his program for the 2015 season (and most certainly beyond) and that’s exactly how things have played out.
So more about this team.
Delon is terrific but what else is going on? A 6’5″ point-combo-guard does not alone constitute the fifth most efficient defense in the country. He alone does not protect the rim at alarmingly elite – if not destructive – levels. He alone does not carry a Top-20 3FG% (he actually detracts from it). There are a lot of layers to this Utah onion. Let’s peel:
We know Delon Wright is really good and that he’s uniquely gifted at getting to the rim. Last year it was at insane levels as 62% of his offense was a layup or dunk attempt which he made 71% of the time. He exploded onto the scene and to the rim and we took notice.
Presumably, 2015 wasn’t going to surprise us. Last year he was a JuCo transfer, the kid brother of Dorrel. He could sneak up on you. Continue reading
I subscribe to the idea that it’s never too early to talk Player of the Year. This, of course, is an irrational subscription. We can’t even agree on what generally qualifies a POY. Is it the MVP? The best player on the best team? The player with the gaudiest stats? A career achievement piece? Sports is not a place for agreement.
Nevertheless, when it comes to the three-bid, underwhelming 2015 Pac-12, there will be nothing underwhelming or controversial about its Player of the Year. Because it is going to be one of the following two – highly deserving and non-Jorge Gutierrez – players:
A couple weeks ago, as I was contemplating a content calendar, the idea of Luck came up. I’ve previously written about Utah’s luck but decided not to address it. I figured the stat wasn’t worth diving in to as it ultimately supplements the narrative – nice – wasn’t necessarily going to help us understand this year’s team.
Until last night. Continue reading
Tonight’s main event? #8 Wichita State at #25 Utah, the first top-25 game in SLC since 1999. Which naturally means the Pac-12 has an unknown opponent for us to learn about. And who else would we ask to scout the Shockers than…me! Yup, couldn’t track down a Shoxpert so the preeminent Pac-12 blogger will be a momentary Valley critic. Arch Madness. Tip is at 8pm PST, 9pm MST.
So if I were a Wichita State basketball fan and was asked to answer questions about my favorite team – the Shockers, of course – this is how I’d presumably respond. Considering I once dated a girl – now married to someone else – from Kansas, I think this qualifies me. I also once went to Allen Fieldhouse and a friend of mine spent Thanksgiving in Kansas. I kinda have a Judy Garland crush. I could go on.
Nevertheless, those Shockers are headed to the Huntsman Center for a top-25 showdown. Here’s what you need to know about a less familiar WSU, from me, by me: Continue reading