Tag Archives: Runnin Utes

LoveridgeFOY

Getting to know Utah: Playing hard

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:

40

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?

Quotable:

“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.

TGOJG

Ghost Blog: Jack Gardner on Utah v. Arizona

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.

Arizona rolls.

JordanLoveridge

Utah Utes: The Pac-12 Fat Kids

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.