- Looking for a shot – And here I find myself torn. Recruiting is beast of equal parts science, self-awareness, and bullshit. You’ve got to fill your program with the pieces that will most benefit your program, your style (that’s the science and self-awareness). The bullshit is everything else. I don’t really need to go into it. So what of a kid like this? Is he worth the risk? What kind of a shot does he deserve? If he doesn’t fit your system, don’t take this risk. If you don’t project him out to be successful, you’re not going to help him be successful. But success is relative. Someone’s going to give Ruggles a shot to make shots. I just hope they believe in what they’re doing. Continue reading
A few months ago I asked Jordan Loveridge about his role on this Utes team. He said something about his growing role as a leader, but that might have only been because I lead him into it. He did talk about the conversations he’d been having with his coach about him becoming more of a leader before trailing off as teenagers in front of microphones tend to do.
But it was clear that Loveridge was being groomed to lead. On Thursday night he showed us he’s ready. Because leaders don’t always win but they do lead and Jordan took 23 shots in the losing effort. He took the last shot in regulation and the last shot in overtime. In a game ripe for Utah to slink away from, Loveridge scored 11 first half points. We are here to play.
And this could be the article where I tell you how close Jordan and the Utes were to knocking off #10 Oregon. I could yap about how hard the Utes played and that they really were in that one. They can hold their heads high knowing they went toe-to-toe with a top-10 team. Then I’d call it a moral victory and we’d all roll our eyes. And agree.
Not gonna do it.
Not gonna do it because that’s not how the Utes feel about it. That’s not the way it looked and it’s not the walk away feeling on the matter. There was a Duck dog pile afterwards as dejected Utes shook the hands of the Oregon coaching staff. And such a celebration is not indicative of much beyond the fact that it was a fantastic finish; but it is telling to the necessary release after such a struggle. Oregon had lost that game. Utah had won it. And then the buzzer sounded and the score didn’t really say that. It was a terrific basketball game lost in seemingly the most inconceivable of ways.
Oregon is a good basketball team. They have some front court issues but enough talented and contributing guards that they’re always going to be a tough out. It’s worth noting that they showed plenty of toughness themselves.
This being a Utah-centric piece, however, let’s talk about those guys. They held two separate leads in two separate final minutes. That highlights the inconceivability of the loss. But whatever, losses happen and so do wins:
I was surprised by how upbeat Larry Krystkowiak was at the postgame presser. I think he knows the wins will come
— Tony Jones (@Tjonessltrib) January 3, 2014
Because Larry K has weathered quite a storm in Utah to get to this point where we don’t have to call his team’s work cute. Or Cinderella. Or morally victorious. Because for all the talk of their bummer of a schedule, the Utes have been winning – something they haven’t done a ton of these past four seasons.
Leading to Thursday night, the Utes had been sticking to a high potent and effective offense. They’d relied on their leader – Loveridge – to lead (27% of the shots). Their model of 56% eFG shooting had won them eleven previous games. Unfortunately, the distance shooting let them down on Thursday: 3-19 ain’t gonna Duck it. They’d previously been shooting a nationally average 33% from three (for help, 3-19 is 15%). The final shot was a good Loveridge look that rimmed out.
But breaking this one down doesn’t tell us much. This was a basketball game featuring two teams scoring like Wilt: 90.8 ppg for Oregon; 87.4 for Utah. So naturally they played to the tune of 70-68. Collectively they barely broke 0.9 ppp. That was a dog fight.
What we learned from it:
- Jordan Loveridge wants to be a star and so he is
- Delon Wright is as talented as any guard in the conference and he carries himself like it
- Utah is not soon going to sneak up on anyone
- Bachynski is hereditary
It is a moral victory, though. We watched Utah play like they expected to win the whole time. Larry K was upbeat after the game not because he was giddy at how close his team came to winning but because he knows that his team now has every reason to believe in themselves. Jordan Loveridge had talked about becoming a leader and Thursday night he showed us he can be. I like to be process oriented and we’ll learn a lot more about these Utes in how they react to this game. Should they lay an egg on Saturday, drop one to Oregon State, well we can start to make some different assumptions.
But a seemingly jovial K suggests he knows how his team will react. He expected that performance. He expected to win but he didn’t.
Sometimes that happens.
AND NOW THE THOUGHTS FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE’S OTHER FOUR GAMES:
- Washington State scored .46 points per possession. Washington State scored .63 points per minute. Washington State put the ball through the basket 14 total times. Washington State scored one touchdown in the first half. All of this is to suggest that Washington State did not score. Arizona won. Contextually, Colorado State scored 18 points (matching WSU’s second half output in Tucson) in 2:52 at the New Mexico bowl [insert too soon BOOs here].
- I suppose it wouldn’t be the start of conference play if we didn’t have a WTF moment. That’s what happened inside Wells Fargo as the conference’s worst defense naturally shut down ASU. The Huskies have been nothing short of pretty bad and they beat the Sun Devils handily. On the road. Makes total Pac-12 sense. They did this last year, too, jumping out to a 4-0 conference record, all outside Seattle. So I ask, upset alert in Tucson on Saturday?
- And while all things Tempe were unexpected, there was something delightfully expected about a depleted Cal team going into Maples and beating Stanford. Because they don’t make sense. Cal won, Stanford disappointed and now let’s talk about Justin Cobbs step-back jumpers with the clock winding down. Maybe the most perfect shot in the game.
- The return of Eric Moreland was the only game I missed and by many accounts I didn’t miss the most exciting of games. The talent level at Oregon State seems to be better than their record and trajectory indicates but such is the Craig Robinson era? Big tilt forthcoming on Sunday as we have our first top-20 matchup in the Pac-12 since Bill Walton liked UCLA!
For awhile I was hung up on Larry Krystkowiak’s comments from media day in which he called “playing hard” a talent. Sure he’s right and maybe it was just a ton of humble coach speak, but I didn’t love it. I didn’t even like it. But I understood the crux of what he was saying as he doesn’t have an Aaron Gordon, Jordan Adams, Spencer Dinwiddie, or Jahii Carson on his roster.
What he had was another brand new roster and seven new players to integrate around Jordan Loveridge. Who’s a fine player, but perhaps not immediately NBA-bound like the aforementioned. The Pac is talented.
But it’s mid-December and we find ourselves staring at a Utah team with but a single loss and an impressive holding of home court against a pretty good BYU team. That solitary loss was to Boise State on the road and late in the contest. They haven’t played the hardest schedule to be certain (ok, they’ve played the 3rd easiest schedule) so it becomes somewhat difficult to define this team. Are they talented? Are they playing hard? Are they the benefactors of playing Evergreen State, Grand Canyon, and St. Katherine (coming 12/28 to Huntsman)?
So how might we quantify this? Or, perhaps more directly asked, what’s going on?
I want to examine whether the Utes are playing hard. That’s how their coach has said they’re going to win games and without watching every minute of Runnin’ Ute hoop, I don’t really know where to start. And this is perhaps the crux of my issue with Larry K’s comments. Saying your team is good at playing hard doesn’t really mean anything.
In an effort to quantify, however, my initial hypothesis was such that the Utes perhaps are limiting shots at the rim; more effectively playing their defense and not allowing easy shots. As it were, they’re allowing more shots at the rim this season but doing a better job of contesting those. Teams are shooting just 56.7% there against the Utes and that’s well below the 60.9% D-1 average. They hold teams to the 19th lowest eFG% in the nation suggesting indeed these Utes are playing hard on defense. They lead the country in 2pt FG%. But ultimately those are just niceties.
Offensively they’ve got the 8th highest eFG% (58.3%). They shoot 77.7% from the rim and Delon Wright has been fantastic. The guard is taking nearly 70% of his shots at the rim and is making a stupid 83% of those shots(compare that to Jordan Loveridge’s 32% shots at the rim which is a bit mystifying but he still seems to be getting his; handily leading the team in usage) and putting up a talented 16/7/6. He’s been a delightful back court, transfer surprise for K and seems to have really allowed Loveridge to thrive as the primary scoring option all over the court, not just on the blocks. Now I’d love to see Jordan taking fewer threes. He’s a thicky thick body taking 40.8% of his shots from distance and making 31.4% of them. A season ago he was jacking up just 27.7% and making 36.8% of them. I like the latter stats for sustainability reasons; but it’s hard to argue against a guy with a 118.7 ORtg on team with a top-10 eFG. The Utes are doing something right and Loveridge just won Utah’s first ever Pac-12 Player of the Week Award.
But lots is still up in the air. Those are lovely numbers I’ve cited and that’s really about all I’ve done. While Larry K is seemingly quick to say his team isn’t the most talented, I have no qualms in saying they’re more talented than the aforementioned Geoducks, Antelopes, and Fightin’ Firebirds.
Looming large is the first conference game when the Ducks of Oregon come to Huntsman (Thursday, 1/2). This will undoubtedly be the Utes’ first big test and telling of just how “hard” this team plays. Looking at things long term, I’ll be curious to see where this budding program takes its scheduling. First tests shouldn’t come in conference play.
But that’s where we are today: staring at a 9-1 Utes team that I haven’t quite revealed anything about. There’s nothing too shocking in the numbers besides that they’ve beaten up on some cupcakes (to jog your memory it’s the 348th most difficult). But there is no denying that the Utes are 9-1. And when that left column keeps moving, you start to believe its supposed to move.
Here’s to playing hard.
Oh you know it’s wildly early in the season and so we should judge every book by its cover, anoint a champion yesterday and fire all of the coaches. We can call this an egregious or just a Watch List. Semantics aside, here’s a little check-in on some of the conference’s best.
New-ish and very seriously in the conversation
Joseph Young – We knew that he was talented but the junior has been scintillating. I mean, his worst game has been a 12 point effort in which he still managed to piece together a 115 ORtg. Joe Young has been terrific and the Ducks are just five games away from getting better following Shoe-gate.
Jordan Loveridge – I mean no offense to Evergreen State but the Utah Utes have played absolutely no one. But SOS aside, Loveridge has been stat stuffing monster: 18 points, 12 boards, 3 assists, and a 129 ORtg. Sustainability will become the name of the game – along with whether he can do it against school’s not named after foliage.
Roberto Nelson – This Beaver has the third highest usage percentage in the nation at 39.1%. That means he’s putting up a shot four out of every ten Beaver possessions. That alone doesn’t say much beyond, perhaps, BALL HOG or duh-the-Beavers-needed-someone-to-jack-up-all-the-shots-after-Ahmad-Starks-transferred. But let’s note here what he’s doing with all those shots. His ORtg is 127.2 and his EFg is 55%. His turnover rate is sub-10% and he’s dishing assists at a top-40 clip (36.2%). The ball is in his hands and he’s doing nothing but good things. And he torched the Terps in College Park.
Chasson Randle – Long been a fan of this kid’s talent and was a little disappointed by his sophomore season. He cooled off in the shooting department, coming back down 44% shooting to 40%. He took more shots, however, and maintained his scoring average. This year, however, he’s shooting a blistering 52% and dropping 22 a game. The identity of this Cardinal team is still yet to be determined, but Randle seems to have his groove back.
The Usual Suspects
Jahii Carson – I’m not going to effuse here about how damn good this guy has been. He scored 40 points by making 14 layups. He’s 5’10”.
Kyle Anderson – Dude dropped a triple-double and is just thriving as a point guard. Slow-mo is every bit the unique talent we thought he was. His shot still hasn’t quite come around (20% from distance, 63% from the line) but that doesn’t always matter when you’re doing everything else on the basketball floor.
Jordan Adams – I think he might be my favorite player in the Pac-12. He’s just so smooth out there and he hasn’t missed a beat since last season when he unglamorously played thrived in the shadow of Shabazz. And when I say smooth, I mean he’s getting everything done. He’s the owner (producer?) of a top-100 ORtg, eFG%, and TS%. And because I just love the traditional stats, there’s this: 22ppg, 5rpg, 2apg, 3spg, 56% FG, 46% 3FG, 87% FT. Oh Jordan.
CJ Wilcox -
If genius is 10,000 hours. CJ Wilcox has taken 20,000 hours of jumpers
— Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) November 22, 2013
While this group doesn’t hold a candle to the collective guard talent, there are some formidable pieces. The conference has brought in solid transfer bigs and we could see a record fall in Tempe. I’ll propose the question: What is Kyle Anderson and why’d ya do it, Eric Moreland? The bigs:
- Arizona – Three five-stars that each bring a completely different set of skills to the table. You can push Aaron Gordon to the three and he can talk all about his desire to play there, but the fact of the matter is, the kid plays above the rim. That’s Kaleb Tarczewski big. The impending health of Zach Peters (recently cleared) offers another six-feet-and-ten-inches of unique skill set (shots).
- Stanford – Maybe they haven’t won much but between Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis you’ve got everything you’d want in a front court. Each has springs and can play physical. Powell can score from all over the place while Huestis is about as tough defensively as they get.
- UCLA – I already gave Kyle Anderson some back court love, but last season he was asked to be more of a forward and he excelled at that – averaging nearly a 9 boards/game. The Bruins already feature the Wear family who’s been formidable and while Travis is out injured right now, David is healthy again and should have an improved season from a year ago. The unknown to this group – and the piece that could make them a pretty scare team – is the improvement and conditioning of Tony Parker. It’s an unfortunate annual event that we discuss the conditioning of a Bruin big but if one of them ever gets it about them to be in shape, look out.
- Colorado – Josh Scott had a great first season and particularly when he had fresh legs. His output tapered some as the season dragged on but that’s what sometimes happens with freshmen. He’s now a year aged and while he lost his rebounding running mate, Xavier Johnson projects to fill in nicely at the wing-forward spot while Buffs fans are also very high on Wesley Gordon.
- Oregon – One of their starters was suspended but that’s not the key piece. Mike Moser has proven to be a terrific power forward. In 2011-12 he was amongst the nation’s best players. Then a year later he wasn’t. Who is Oregon getting? I’m thinking it’ll be a lot more of the former than the latter. If Ben Carter can recover from his salesmanship and produce, this group could be tough with all those guards.
- ASU – Depth maybe isn’t their strong suit up front but if Jordan Bachynski can replicate last season, he will be the Pac-12’s All-Time leading shot blocker. That’s saying something.
- Oregon State - Let’s note right up front that Eric Moreland will be out for 14 straight games. We’ll also note that he’s a very good basketball player and flirted with the NBA. The First Team also has Devon Collier and returns everyone’s second favorite Aussie, Angus Brandt. In most any other system, I think these guys might be a top-four front court. But this is a school averaging just 15 wins a year the past three seasons. Sigh.
- California – I’ve said it before, I like Richard Solomon. I think he could have a big year. But to this point he’s been a foul prone athlete in Cal’s paint. His services have been supplemented by a walk-on named The Thurmanator. Solomon has the skills to be great, but will he? The other big in Haas is David Kravish who has a very sound skill set, a solid big, but he’s just not that big. Front court depth will also be a Bear-issue.
- Washington – They lose their anchor in Aziz but they’re bringing in a very interesting piece that LoRo says has the “potential to lead the team in scoring.” That’s nice – and scary, frankly, considering CJ Wilcox is on the team – but what I like the most about the addition of Perris Blackwell is that he’s a big body who’s going to let all those guards run amuck. Between him and the Rain Man Jr. (along with Desmond Simmons), the Dawgs have a few guys to get dirty in their second attempt at the high post offense. And this.
- Utah – This ranking hinges squarely on the fact that Jordan Loveridge is fantastic, he’s a double-double about to happen. Maybe he’s manning the middle alone now (bye Jason Washburn), but he’s man enough to do it. Worth noting, K did mention an improved and healthy Renan Lenz.
- USC – I don’t think these two are well suited for Andy Enfield’s tempo but they are serviceable bigs. Omar Oraby and DJ Haley are just too big for Dunk City. This is an offense that needs to get out and move and 7’2″ and 7′ tends to be a bit rigid when it comes to the fast break.
- WSU – Uhhhhh. They have their full allotment of scholarship athletes?
For awhile now I’ve been stuck on this quote from Larry Krystkowiak at media day. The 6’9″ catcher of bike thieves had this to say about his program:
I think, that playing hard is a talent.
And I don’t think he’s wrong. I really don’t. But my goodness is this the most little brother thing imaginable? I can wrap my mind around the fact that you’ve been overhauling a roster for three consecutive seasons and started with a squad capable of being one of the worst high major, D1 teams of all-time (finished 6-25). I don’t love this quote because I feel it’s a consolation; an admission that everyone is going to be better than you before anyone steps on the floor. We’re going to play harder because it’s our only shot. It’s commonplace that high motors win ball games, and so starting each game under the guise that you can only win if you play hard feels short sighted. Defeatist. But before I get too far in to one quote, allow me…
Why I love them: Jordan Loveridge. I’ve said it in a previous post that one man does not a team make but one man can redefine a program. While those statements contradict one another, Loveridge is a talented ball player; and not just because he plays hard. He’s a big body with the ability to stretch the floor and he can cause fits. Particularly with the emergence of fellow sophomore Brandon Taylor. A season ago, Taylor took his sweet time in finding the floor and perhaps letting his talents flourish. But as the season wore on, he garnered more tick and didn’t let K down – averaging 11/1/2 in the season’s final five games as the Utes closed 4-1 with a win over #19 Oregon (in which Taylor dropped 14 points). What I’m getting at is he peaked as the Utes were peaking and I like these sort of coincidences. I like maturing freshmen heading into their sophomore seasons. I like Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge. I’m beginning to like Utah’s actual talent.
Why I hate them: Once again Larry K is bringing in a fresh new crop of Runnin’ Utes. This year it’s seven noobs which means we have to call the aforementioned Loveridge and Taylor “veterans.” Laughable, no? Such is reality inside the Huntsman Center and it’s reason enough not to love this team. Continuity will go a long way in restoring what this program will become and that begins with Loveridge and Taylor.
Stat you need to know:
Percentage of returning minutes played. That’s the fewest in the Pac-12. The question, however, becomes whether or not that’s good or bad news. The perspective of the former would suggest that one wouldn’t want to return too much from a 15-18 team that finished 10th in the conference. Not returning much is another clean slate. The contrary opinion is such that 15-18 was an improvement. Losing 60% of the minutes that contributed to the Utes’ best season since 2009 is detrimental to the continued, year-over-year progress K has been making. What do you think?
“Larry Krystkowiak would back everyone down and you wouldn’t be able to keep him from scoring in the paint. Not that he couldn’t shoot. But that’s what he would do. Then he definitely would foul you every time you had the ball. So he would be tough.” – Lorenzo Romar on which Pac-12 coach wins in a 1-on-1 tournament
Outlook: It’s an improving one. The Runnin’ Utes aren’t soon to compete for a Pac-12 title or even a first round bye in the Pac-12 tournament (top-4 finish); but they’re going to be better once again and we can start to take them more seriously. Their schedule is starting to look less MWC and more Pac-12. Only St. Katherine College is a glaring blemish of childishness this season. Of note: The StK Firebirds will be taking on my Alma Mater, the UCSD Tritons, on 11/27. Larry K is building a good thing in Salt Lake but he’s taking his sweet time. That’s probably the right thing to do but with that comes with further growing pains and 2013-14 won’t soon be any different. But it will be better and they’re going to win a handful of those games you thought they had no business competing in. Because, you know, playing hard takes talent.
I’m finally over just how bad last year’s Pac-12 was and accepting the clusterbang that this final weekend is shaping up to be as competitive balance (WSU>UCLA??). But the point here is that in order for the conference to be better, it needed to have better players (Dynamite analysis Adam! Did you go to college for that one?). So I find this award particularly intriguing. Not only because there is a deep list of candidates, but because there are some damn good pups working to rebuild the monicker: Conference of Champions.
Here are the candidates:
Jahii Carson, PG, Arizona State
I’m really not going to go to deep into this guy’s merits. He’s been so good that on the ATQ podcast, when asked who my FOY pick was, I went right into talking about Shabazz because I had Carson written all over my POY notes. (Again, bang up job Adam!).
Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA
Anytime you garner non-hyperbolic or non-he-projects-to-but-is comparisons to James Harden, you’re probably pretty damn good. And it has so little to do with the lefty thing. Bazz’s time in Westwood may be short lived (duh) but it was no doubt impressive.
Jordan Loveridge, PF, Utah
I don’t love recruiting or reading into rankings and the like. It’s a necessary evil of the college basketball recruiting world and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the rumor mill gets me through much of June, July, and August. So to be honest, I didn’t think a ton of it when I continually heard just how good Jordan Loveridge was. And then he started playing. Boom, the future of Utah basketball.
Jordan Adams, SF, UCLA
So damn much was made of Howland’s recruiting class but rarely did we hear Adams’ name (damn fine name). He was the afterthought to Bazz/Anderson/Carter. Well who’s laughing now? Well I guess they’re all teammates so everyone’s probably pretty stoked that he had a monster first year.
Kyle Anderson, ?, UCLA
It was abundantly clear that Anderson wasn’t going to wow anyone athletically the way so many newcomers are touted as doing. Is sometimes the first thing scouts look for (see: Moneyball). Anderson embodied the concept of a complete player, utilizing his tremendous basketball IQ to just be better than the other athletes.
Josh Scott, C, Colorado
Jelly, as they call him, came in with gaudy expectations. Like damn big expectations as it was conveyed to me. And then he lived up to them. I love that. He’s cool, calm, and collected and talks some mean (FUN) trash on the twitter. Lotta upside here.
Damyean Dotson, Ore (11/4/1); Ty Wallace, Cal (7/5/3); Kaleb Tarczewski, AZ (7/6); Brandon Ashley, AZ (7/5/1)
Pac-12 Freshman of the Year
- Josh Scott (48%, 15 Votes)
- Jahii Carson (23%, 7 Votes)
- The Field (16%, 5 Votes)
- Shabazz Muhammad (6%, 2 Votes)
- Jordan Loveridge (6%, 2 Votes)
- Jordan Adams (0%, 0 Votes)
- Kyle Anderson (1%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 31
Well, well, well. If it isn’t conference play back and in our Thursday/Saturday faces. I enjoyed a grand chunk of Pac-12 hoops this weekend and while I’m still on the fence about these Wednesday games, I can totally get behind Sunday games and I definitively don’t miss FSN. Did any of you catch the Civil War game last night? The game itself was alright, the Ducks showed off some scoring depth and acumen, while Oregon State sorta confirmed they’re defenseless. Alas, the point being, I was inundated with VALUES.com ads (are those even advertisements? PSAs?) like this one and I’m pretty certain that I now have no interest in passing anything on to anyone. Did you watch the video yet? WHAT IS THAT?
Back to the hoops because by Friday morning, every game had been within five-points with under five to play and I wasn’t hungover. By Sunday night, nearly the same! Saturday’s games had a moderate ho hum about them but offered us a glimpse into a world where maybe the Utah Utes aren’t abysmal and maybe UCLA is just a really good team that had some growing pains.
Alas, solid first weekend of conference play, let’s head to the monitors to take a look at it (too soon?):
Leader in the Clubhouse: Based on their body of work, one has to consider the undefeated Wildcats here but seeing as how this is more of a week to week commentary, I have to say UCLA was the most fear striking team out there. If we’re to take Sean Miller’s word for it and believe Arizona is approaching the number one ranking in KenPom’s luck rankings (they’re 36th), then I’m not entirely sure I’m willing to call Arizona a leader after that weekend. Not to say they aren’t good or definitely the best team in the conference, but UCLA handling the Bay schools was most impressive to me. What makes me cringe however, and gives merit to the claims that Howland’s program is a joyless one, was the expressionless Bruin faces after each victory. They appeared robotic rolling thru handshakes which doesn’t really get me feeling one way or the other, just maybe that this team makes it way through this fascinating season with mechanical efficiency. Slice it however you will and I’m probably looking far too deep into far too little. Of course, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good…
Game of the Weekend: That little tilt down in Tucson Thursday night sure was an interesting one. It was expected to be the biggest game of the first weekend on paper and lived up to the hype and would later have the sports media world abuzz. And this guy’s commentary. I’m not one for harping on officiating as it’s a difficult job, blah, blah, blah…and to blame the stripes over and over and over is without a doubt the biggest little brother move anyone can do. But man, that one sure appeared to be blown. Colorado was the benefactor of a last second officiating gaffe last year, this stuff happens. But the game itself was a tremendous display of defensive brilliance and effort by the Buffs who held Arizona’s big three of Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson, and Mark Lyons to just 2-18 shooting before the tone of the game switched and the Wildcats decided to make a comeback. That’s where we got to see Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons play like the vaunted seniors we expect them to be. They scored a combined 24 across regulation’s final nine minutes (that’s 17 more points than the team combined to score in the games first eleven minutes), and accounted for half of Arizona’s overtime output. That’s senior leadership and that’s how you do special things. The Wildcats escaped with another tight one that the Buffs just might be face-palming about later this season.
The Big Loser: The two biggest candidates here have got to be Colorado and Stanford as the only two-loss teams in the conference. I’d also consider throwing Washington State, USC and Oregon State’s names into the hat as they each now possess home losses. By my nature (grossly neurotic) decisions frighten me but I’m not inclined to call the Colorado Buffaloes losers this week. For a grand chunk of their time in McKale they were the better team and arguably had that one ripped out their hands. Their Tempe time was a little different and I really think ASU just beat them but if I’m Colorado, I have to think there are still enough positive takeaways to not be too down on this weekend. Also because Stanford kinda just got beat all weekend. They didn’t execute down the stretch against USC, a game they got 0/2/2 and 3 turnovers in just 15 minutes from Chasson Randle, and were just not nearly as good as UCLA. The Cardinal were a team I thought would be clicking a little better than they currently are. To be certain, they don’t appear to be a team all that pissed off for greatness.
What We Learned: I think this weekend went a long way in confirming the company line each coach has been pumping since August: The Conference is improved. Few if any have gone so far as to say the Pac is “good” but they can get behind “improved” which is basically saying that none of these teams historically suck again. A fact I think we are starting to see. Utah played two very tough games in Arizona and Jason Washburn and Jordan Loveridge appear to be the real deal. Arizona State took a couple shots from Colorado and, by games end, had flipped the defensive script on the Buffs and won the ball game. I have no resounding commentary on the Apple Cup rivalry other than it played out like a good rivalry game should and that those two (UW and WSU) aren’t going to be doing too much this season by way of getting the Pac considered “good.” But, on the whole, this is an improved conference.
Start of the Week YouTuber: All right, I’ll confess the following: 1) By posting a video surrounding the monitor mishap, I’m being a hypocrite and propagating an uncontrollable event from the past. But this video is great. 2) This is video is hosted by Vimeo and not YouTube. So sue me.
Arizona hosts the Utah Utes Saturday afternoon. This is a rivalry that takes me back a spell and I have some couch memories of Arizona v. some Van Horn squads. I was also in Anaheim for the first of two crushing Elite Eight losses in that arena. That’s always fun to rehash. No it’s not.
Alas, with these two squaring off again and a season removed from Utah nearly knocking off the ‘Cats in McKale…
Friends and fellow Pac-12 fans: Please excuse this interruption.
I am the Ghost of Jack Gardner. I have taken possession of Mr. Butler’s mortal body and this blog in order to share with you some thoughts about the Runnin’ Utes this year.
As you are well aware, the Utes recently suffered a narrow defeat at the hands of Arizona State. They now head to Tucson for another herculean test. In anticipation of the matchup against Arizona and in order to help you get to know this Utah team, I wanted give my perspecive.
I understand a priest is already on his way to Mr. Butler’s home with the holy water and book of ancient rites. So without further ado, here’s my breakdown:
The Utes had a tough loss against ASU on Wednesday night. Arizona squeaked out a victory against Colorado. Utah is still learning how to win close games. Arizona wills itself to win close games, even those games it seemingly has no business winning. I would be shocked if the Utes give Arizona much trouble. But if the game does happen to be close, I don’t see Utah having the “clutchability” to defeat a more talented Arizona team. In all of Utah’s losses this year, except for the road loss at SMU, Utah’s offense broke down when the game tightened up. So what do I expect to see Saturday afternoon?
Andre Miller is not walking through that door. Utah is a much better team than it was last year. Jordan Loveridge is a good-looking freshman who will have a great career at Utah. Senior Jason Washburn had 19 points, 18 rebounds, and 4 blocks against ASU on Wednesday night, and Cedric Martin is a “glue guy” who plays tough defense. But this is not Majerus’ Utes. Utah does not have the talent to stay with Arizona. Not even the triangle and two can save the Utes this year, especially in Tucson.
Utah plays tough defense. Utah has played an inside-out man-to-man about 85-90% of the time this year. Utah is one of the few teams that switches most screens, which can create mismatches inside. But then it sags its bigs inside where Washburn and the other big guys can help. Most of Washburn’s blocks last game came out of this scheme, coming over to help an over-matched teammate. This worked well against ASU because the Sun Devils couldn’t shoot well from the outside (4-18 from three) and Utah could suck everyone in around the basket. But when teams hit their outside shots, then the Utes have to extend the defense. When the Utes are forced to extend its defense, this opens up driving lanes and teams have hurt the Utes with driving layups and drives and kick-outs for open threes.
When Utah doesn’t go man-to-man, it plays a tight two/three zone and dares teams to beat them from the outside. The Utes don’t press much, though they did effectively implement a 3/4 court trap in the second game against SMU, which changes momentum and helped Utah beat SMU in the second game of their home and home with the Mustangs (yes, Utah played SMU twice). I don’t expect Utah to try to press Arizona.
Utah doesn’t have a go to guy. The Utes don’t have a single go-to guy when the game tightens up. In close games, the offense tightens up and the Utes struggle to get good shots. And Utah does not have a single player who can create his own shot. In the ASU game, Utah went to Washburn twice in its final possession and he threw up a couple of 12 foot hook shots in the middle of the lane. Jarred DuBois, a senior transfer from Loyola Marymount, has tried to take over in close games. But he has not been successful in trying to carry that load. Loveridge has the potential to be “the guy,” but he isn’t there quite yet.
Utah is successful when it controls the tempo. If Utah can control the tempo and keep the game in the 50s or low 60s, it has a chance to keep the game close. Utah did a good job controlling the tempo in its overtime loss at ASU. But Arizona knows how to win games. Utah doesn’t. Even if Utah manages to keep the game close, these simple facts will make the chances of a Utah victory in the range of slim to none.
You are invited to follow more of my ghostly rantings at my blogsite: www.tgojg.blogspot.com. But for now I must be going before I end up in a herd of swine.
So yeah while the Utes did give Arizona some fits last year in both contests, they are a far different team now and they’re coming off a game that I think just might light a fire under their arse.
When I was twelve years old I attended a one week session of the Lute Olson Basketball Camp. Like any Tucson boy following the spring of 1997, I’d essentially arrived at the land of Milk and Honey; ecstatic to be playing games on the same floor as Bibby, Dickerson, Simon, and even Bramlett.
I was the stout kid, oversized and undercoordinated, but goodness I was excited to be there. Over the span of that one week camp, I managed to garner myself an award. Yes, I was awarded Most Improved which is kind of like giving me the “You-were-so-bad-on-Monday-but-managed-not-to-hurt-yourself-or-anyone-else-by-Friday Award.” I’d go on to play baseball.
The sample set for my awarding was limited, centered on an established base whether fair or not. The eyeball test set the precedent for, let’s call it, room for improvement.
NOTE: The same session in which I won the Most Improved Award I was also awarded the Best Attitude Award. I was the ultimate fat kid.
Well just a season ago – heck, just eight months ago – the Utah Utes and Coach Krystowiak, were a six-win team which included a win over San Diego Christian. At one point during that campaign, the Utes were considering opening the roster to the student body. To call 2011-12 a learning year is a disservice to learning years.
Again, we can call it, room for improvement.
That season solidified the Runnin’ Utes’ place as conference fat kids – devoid of expectations and engendering our sympathies – a lot bit like me at camp.
Well this may still be the case – they have yet to play a BCS opponent and have not played a ranked opponent since the 2010-11 season – but the Utes have quietly surpassed last season’s abysmal win total and are looking increasingly good doing so. The crown jewel of their recruiting class, Jordan Loveridge, has been terrific (12/7/2) on the wing-hybrid while Jared DuBois has been a pleasant scoring boost in his first and only year in Salt Lake. Additionally, Dallin Bachynski is following in the surprising footsteps of his brother, Jordan of ASU, and giving the Utes further front court depth (senior Jason Washburn is off to a slow start). As a team, they’ve jumped more than 100 spots up the ORtg and DRtg rankings and are in the top 50 of making and defending 2-point buckets.
Suffice to say, the Utes are beginning to fill the improvement space.
It’s still early, equatable to a week long basketball camp, and so it’s fair to call the kids who began as the undisputed chubsters with nothing to lose exactly that. But I recognize the progress, applaud the effort, and appreciate the wins. Improvement doesn’t always have to be measured in progress from rock bottom but the Utes have shown a decisive change from one season ago. Just run the math:
6-wins in 31 games < 7-wins in 10 games.
For such, and all things considered, I toss an empathetic arm around the collective Ute shoulder and offer my own Most Improved Award. Keep it up.