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 getting to the rim. His incessant rimttacking and defensive length as well as Brandon Taylor’s fearlessness and three-point shooting has me digging their backcourt. The front court displays size for days between the baby Bachynski and Jeremy Olsen. There’s interchangeability at the power spot between size and skill when you consider the talents of Jordan Loveridge. Throughout the summer and into right now, I’ve been reading about his impending move to the three. I’ll believe it when I see and what I need to see is just how good noobs Brekkot Chapman and Kyle Kuzma are. The former is an athletic local product while the latter is a redshirt that I’ve been told we shouldn’t take lightly. He’s 6’8” with two-guard skill. Essentially the thing to like most about this Utah team is their size and depth. They should have the pieces to matchup however they want and force bad matchups. Olsen and Bachynski are more than capable of commanding the paint and Wright can lock down great portions of the court when atop the zone. Defense is their calling card and it projects to only get better considering they return basically the same team from a year ago that ranked 36th in AdjD.
Why I Hate Them:
I really don’t love the idea of Jordan Loveridge on the wing. Maybe he’ll be playing the role of a bullying three, something like Aaron Gordon’s role a season ago. But he shot 46% more threes his sophomore year versus his freshman year to make just eight additional treys. What I’m saying is get him on the block. His career FG% at the rim is 60%. It’s half that (30% math majors) from beyond the arc. Last season he effectively eliminated the midrange game and I’m OK with that. He took nearly 40% fewer shots from there which is a good decision considering he’d shot just 32% from mid-range as a freshman. But rather than making a concerted effort to the tin, he drifted to the perimeter where, as noted, he connected on just 30% of his three point attempts. And this is all with him presumably playing the four last season. Or at least per KenPom’s usage charts. In Utah’s final 5 games, Loveridge played at the four, 80% of the time. I don’t’ think stretching the defense is quite their game, either. Utah was 2-3 in those last five games. Loveridge shot 26% from deep in those games. Larry’s team is going to win with good defense and opportunistic scoring. They had the 15th best FG% from inside the arc last season. They were fifth best in FG% at the rim. These two stats suggest they make their shots when they’re taking good ones. Jordan could take better shots and I’m not entirely sure he’ll get them from the prototypical three spot. Could the Utes wind up being bullies?
The Stat You Must Know:
Number of wins the Utah program has won in its history. That’s better than the entire Pac-12 save John Wooden’s school. It’s the 15th most wins amongst all NCAA schools. Winning is not foreign in Salt Lake City. Getting back into the NCAA tournament is less a treat than an expectation. Larry’s plan was to get the program to where it belongs, not just happy to be there.
Top 5 Game 7s I’ve Attended
Mountain High (best possible season):
There’s a tweet floating somewhere out there where I declare Utah a 2015 NCAA tournament four-seed. That was an aggressive tweet. But if we’re talking about Mountain Top for this mountain school, I’d say that’s about right. They’re already flirting with the top-25 and with a handful of big non-conference wins (namely one of SDSU or Kansas and no bad losses), coupled with a second place finish in the Pac, a four-seed is not that wildly unfathomable. Delon Wright wins Pac-12 POY and is a first team AA. Loveridge embraces the three and rains threes and dunks. Chapman and Kuzma are good as advertised. Taylor hits threes like like the stink of the Salt Lake hits your face (often). The Utes return to the NCAA tournament as a four-seed and I’m right!
Rock Bottom (worst possible season):
The long distance woes of a team built around a bad shooting power forward and a slashing combo-guard plague the Utes. Teams manage to pack the lane and Olsen and Baby Bachynski are offensively incapable of carrying the load. Delon might get his – he’s crafty enough – but there’s just not enough scoring punch. The freshman play like freshman and the Utes ultimately underwhelm us. Larry’s plan backfires and the scheduling shoots everyone in the foot with embarrassing losses in Kansas and San Diego. Rough. Hopefully there’s March snow and everyone can take a Park City weekend.