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
You might not love it when your girlfriend, best friend, or really anyone around you over-plans. When they’ve buttoned up the schedule with everything dotted and crossed and you don’t have to do a thing but show up. It can sort of ruin the adventure. Larry Krystkowiak is not an adventurer. He took over this Utah program with a plan, a vision, for how he would build it up. He stuck to that plan and it’s now expected to pay off. Which is, of course, all a part of his plan. Look at the scheduling since he took over. The Utes played teams nicknamed the GeoDucks and a religious school out of San Diego which should be taken about as seriously as Hogwarts. We ripped them for their SoS while Larry K just stayed the course. And then last year happened and heads turned. Larry K has a plan, you guys. He scheduled the GeoDucks because that’s what his team could bear. Now? This year he’s taking his team to San Diego State, BYU, Las Vegas and Kansas. Delon Wright might be the best player in America if you listen to this guy and they have a crop of incoming kids that are not only good but local; a sign of sustainable and forthcoming success. And it’s all a part of the plan.
Why I Love Them:
Delon Wright will not win the Pac-12 Player of the Year award. His team is too far down the standings, his stats not quite adding up to those of a few others. But he’s most certainly in the conversation. He’s terrific – as I’m about to explain – and the conversation that I want to have regarding his POY candidacy is less _OY and more VP. As in valuable player.
What I like so much about Wright is – shocker from this blog – his ability to create shots at the rim. I examined Kyle Anderson’s ability to do such only to discover that Delon Wright is ridiculously good at it. My opening context will center around gross numbers. Wright has made 119 shots at the rim. Here’s the context:
Wright has gotten 20 more baskets at the rim than any other player in the conference. Including Aaron Gordon. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not positive if this is a true top 12 but it’s twelve names that I thought we would all agree were getting shots at the rim. This group averages about 56% of their shots at the rim and the D-1 average is 38.3%. Interestingly enough, for the vaunted frontcourt of Huestis, Powell, Brown and Nastic, not one Stanford Cardinal makes that list.
Revisiting the data from our Anderson study, Wright creates a shot at the rim on 62% of his possessions. That’s easily the best amongst the players I studied and easily contributes to the Utes’ gaudy 71.6% FG shooting at the rim (4th in the country) and 55.2% from inside the arc (9th in the country). Even more impressively, Wright gets half of his rim attempts in non-transition offense. By comparison, Jahii Carson gets just 35.1% of his rim shots in non-transition scenarios suggesting Wright just may be the better shot creator. Only 18.6% of his non-transition rim buckets are assisted (Carson’s is 28.6%). Is this a good thing? I’d assume so considering Utah has a propensity for late offense. They have the 266th longest possessions in America (18.8 seconds).
Now as a trained scientist, or at least someone with a degree in Human Biology, I’m aware of variables within an investigation. You want just one and so it’s difficult for me to validate Wright’s impact by comparing to last year’s Utes. After all, the current Utes played only 40% of 2013’s minutes. And that was a team that ranked 213th in 2pt FG%. Variables be damned, it’s happening.
So enter Delon Wright and now the 2014 Utes rank ninth in the country in 2pt FG%. They’re 25th in eFG% and I can’t rank it but their true shot percentage is 9% better than the D-1 average. Like I said, there are multiple variables, but the Utes’ offense is vastly improved from inside the arc and amongst their six top contributors, Wright is the only newbie. Perhaps there is only one variable.
Wright isn’t about to win the Pac-12’s POY award, but it just might be such that he’s the most valuable.
I can’t dive into too much hyperbole because it was just one weekend. But I’m really impressed with the Utah Utes. They’re not on the tournament bubble but they might – might – have a chance to have their name at least discussed inside the tournament war room. But not going to dive into hyperbole. OK, maybe some:
Was Utah’s 74-69 win over UCLA on Saturday the Utes’ biggest win of the Larry K tenure?
I’m not sure if that question even really means anything but looking back at his three years in SLC he’s got a few good ones under his belt. They knocked off #19 Oregon last season and eliminated Cal from last year’s Pac-12 tournament. They also held court against CU a season ago and blew BYU out this season. But this win, against a ranked UCLA squad that is…well…UCLA, comes as the greatest Krystko-win at Utah.
Firstly, it was UCLA. The school of Wooden-lore and 11 national titles and everything else that is the powder blue. As a reminder of that lore, I almost got swallowed into the 40th Anniversary of Notre Dame ending the 88 game win streak documentary, but then I realized that it was half Digger Phelps and that my mom was waiting for Pops and I at a restaurant down the street. I digress.
Utah didn’t win this game as the little team that could. It wasn’t like last year’s P12 tourney with the ninth seeded Utes battling into the third round. No, this was a 13-4 team with the belief that they can play with anyone and so they did.
I present the game’s win probability chart courtesy of KenPom:
Utah was the expected victor from the first half’s 8-minute mark on. That’s 28 minutes of gameplay in which Utah was the statistical favorite. They subsequently advance their record to 14-4, further validating for themselves that they are to be taken seriously.
Certainly their fans do. To date, the Utes are second in the conference in per game attendance (9711) as well as second in the conference in total attendance (145,658). Sure the latter of those numbers is slightly inflated by their fifteen total home games (most in conference). But the fact of the matter is people are coming to watch this team play. This program develop.
Like I said, I don’t see this as a tournament bound basketball team but I can’t yet rule that out. For example: They’ve jumped into KenPom’s top-50 and have contests against Colorado (x2), Arizona (x2), UCLA, and Cal remaining. Which is to say they still have opportunities to bolster that light resume. Am I pining to a possible Utah audience? Absolutely, but what is there, if not hope, amongst fans?
Saturday was a resounding victory for the Utes. The signature win of the Larry Krystkowiak era. Which is to say it wasn’t a fluke, the aforementioned chart suggests it was expected almost wire-to-wire. I’ll try to mute the hyperbole, and Hoyos Revenge will help us remember that Utah tried to give that one away, but that wasn’t just your average win. It was UCLA on the heels of a rough road trip. The Utes, as an emerging program, asserted themselves as an arriving program.
Because sometimes arriving doesn’t necessarily mean landing on the moon and planting your flag.
Sometimes it’s enough to just say that someday you can.