Pac-12 Team Previews: Utah

Posted by AMurawa on October 26th, 2011

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing each of the Pac-12 teams as we head into the season.

Utah Utes

Strengths.  Size. Oh man, does Utah have a lot of size. Start with a 7’3” behemoth in the middle in David Foster, add 6’10” junior Jason Washburn who can spell Foster or play alongside him, and toss in – well, there’s really not all that much size behind those two. But with those two prowling the lane, the Utes have an imposing frontcourt duo that are a threat to block any shot taken in the paint.

Weaknesses. Where to begin? First, this is an inexperienced squad, featuring three incoming freshman and three junior college transfers who are expected to get time. Second, while the Utes return senior Josh Watkins at the point, he struggled in his first season in Salt Lake City last year, shooting under 30% from beyond the arc while turning the ball over too much. And, lastly (for now at least), even though Foster and Washburn are big, they’re injury-prone, struggle with conditioning and are of limited effectiveness on the offensive end.

David Foster

David Foster Is An Intimidating Defensive Player, But Utah Is Missing Offensive Firepower (credit: Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Nonconference Tests.  The highlight of the nonconference slate is a berth in the inaugural Battle for Atlantis in the Bahamas, where they will open with Harvard in the first round before facing either Massachusetts or Florida State on day two, with a third opponent to be determined. Beyond that, there is the in-state rivalry game with BYU, a couple of games at WAC opponents (Boise State and Fresno State) and not much else. Which is good – this team deserves a bit of a break in the non-conference.

Toughest Conference Stretch.  They’re all going to be tough for the Utes, but they are fortunate in avoiding ever having to play more than two consecutive conference games on the road. Neverthless, the prospect of having to go on the road to Stanford and California, then getting welcomed back home with a meeting with Arizona doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.

If Everything Goes Right…  Foster and Washburrn stay healthy all season and show an improved offensive game, Watkins ups his shooting percentage and takes care of the ball better, and freshman wing George Matthews steps in for the departed Will Clyburn without missing a beat. And the Utes still probably don’t win more than five or six conference games.

If Nothing Goes Right…  This is a team capable of pulling a conference oh-fer. With the injury histories of Foster and Washburn, an erratic point guard backed by a freshman point guard, and newcomers almost everywhere else, this team may not have the intangibles to close the talent gap.

Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG Josh Watkins (Sr, 5’11” 211 lbs, 14.5 PPG, 3.5 APG)
  • SG Cedric Martin (Jr, 6’4” 200 lbs, JuCo transfer)
  • SF George Matthews (Fr, 6’5” 218 lbs)
  • PF Javon Dawon (So, 6’6” 260 lbs, JuCo transfer)
  • C David Foster (Sr, 7’3” 243 lbs, 2.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.2 BPG)

Foster is really the guy locked in stone in the starting lineup, although it is hard to see anybody pushing Matthews for a spot on the wing. Washburn could wind up starting alongside Foster, but the Utes are probably better off trying to have one of those guys in the game at all times, rather than both for shorter stretches.

Impact Newcomer George Matthews – A three-star recruit out of Arizona, Matthews is a versatile scorer who can put the ball in the net from behind the arc or on an athletic slam. He’s got plenty of talent, but he needs to dial in his effort on a more consistent basis to live up to his potential.

Key Reserves

  • C Jason Washburn (Jr, 6’10” 244 lbs, 6.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG)
  • SG Chris Hines (Jr, 6’0” 185 lbs, 4.9 PPG, 36.9 3P%)
  • PG Kareem Storey (Fr, 5’10” 184 lbs)
  • F Dijon Farr (Jr, 6’6” 219 lbs, JuCo transfer)
  • G Anthony Odunsi (Fr, 6’3” 197 lbs)

Washburn and Hines are both known quantities, and guys that have a decent shot at earning a spot in the starting lineup, while the rest remain to be seen. Storey could challenge Watkins for minutes at the point, while Farr is an athletic combo forward, but no one really knows exactly what new head coach Larry Krystkowiak is going to get from these guys. Somebody’s got to score, right?

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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