Pac-12 Team Preview: Utah UtesPosted by Andrew Murawa on October 24th, 2013
Strengths. Balance. The fact that it is hard to pin down one specific strength for this team should not be taken as a strike against the squad. As opposed to Utah teams in recent years, there are a lot of solid options here, and on both ends of the court. Sure, sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge is the kingpin here, an inside/outside threat who is just scratching the surface of his potential, but this Ute team has a lot of good things going for it. They have size, with the ability to start a frontline of a couple 6’10″ big guys alongside the 6’”7 Loveridge, and a 6’5″ man running the point. They have a healthy contingent of player capable of knocking down shots from three, alongside a group of players who will be most comfortable in the paint. And in the backcourt, they have a group of three players in particular – Delon Wright, Brandon Taylor, and Parker Van Dyke – who can mix and match between themselves at the two-guard spots. When all is said and done, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see maybe six players average better than eight points per game for Larry Krystkowiak.
Weaknesses. The biggest strike against this squad is inexperience. There isn’t a guy on this roster who has more than a single season of experience in a Ute uniform. Given the rampant roster turnover in Salt Lake City in recent years, this shouldn’t be a surprise, but it does limit the total upside from the program. On the plus side, there are quite a few older players on this team, either transfers or guys who have taken their LDS mission, meaning there are eight guys on the roster old than 20 – some of them significantly older.
Non-conference Tests. The bulk of the Utes non-conference schedule is dreck. Two match-ups against non-Division I schools, an exempt round robin event at the Huntsman Center that features no noteworthy opponents and various other games against the back end of Division I. But there are three somewhat worthwhile games in the beginning of December which should give us an idea where Utah will stack up: at Boise State, home against Fresno State, and then a week later at home against BYU. The Utes can absolutely not go oh-fer in this trio of games and a couple of wins here would be ideal.
Toughest Conference Stretch. Over the course of two weeks in late January and early February, the Utes will play three consecutive road games at Arizona State, at Arizona, and then at Colorado. The Utes were competitive against all three of those teams last season (they lost to Arizona by three on the road and by four at home, lost to Arizona State by one in OT on the road and then won by five at home, and beat Colorado by three at home before losing by 10 at the Coors Event Center) and have a good chance to be rolling into this stretch at or above .500 in conference play, so just how competitive the Utes are on this road trip will have a lot to say about how their season goes.
If Everything Goes Right … Jordan Loveridge takes a step forward and averages 16 points and 10 boards. Delon Wright is a commanding presence at the point throughout the season, while Brandon Taylor and Parker Van Dyke provide some scoring punch off the ball. Guys like Dakari Tucker, Kenneth Ogbe, and Princeton Onwas help up the overall athleticism. And in the middle, Renan Lenz, Dallin Bachynski, and Jeremy Olsen are capable of holding down the fort. Along the way, they string a few conference upsets together and when you look up come March, they are, somehow, right around .500 in the league.
If Nothing Goes Right … The Loveridge we see this year isn’t all the different than the Loveridge we saw last year (which is still pretty good). The backcourt remains ordinary and while the athletes on the wing are an upgrade, they’re not particularly polished players yet. And, up front, the trio of bigs combine to average the 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds they averaged last year. Along the way, while the Utes ugly things up when necessary and play in a lot of close games, they also lose a lot of close games and slink into the Pac-12 tournament with just four conference wins.
Projected Starting Lineup
- PG Delon Wright (Jr, 6’5” 180 lbs, transfer from City College of San Francisco)
- SG Brandon Taylor (So, 5’10” 162 lbs, 6.9 PPG, 2.0 APG, 42 3P%)
- SF Dakarai Tucker (So, 6’5” 190 lbs, 3.1 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 39.4 3P%)
- PF Jordan Loveridge (So, 6’6” 218 lbs, 12.4 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.0 APG)
- C Renan Lenz (Sr, 6’9” 221 lbs, 2.3 PPG, 1.6 RPG)
Yeah, the five projected starters return less than an average of 25 points per game from last season, but Wright should be an upgrade over the mismatched players that ran the point last season, including Taylor, who should now be more comfortable playing off the ball but helping out with the ballhandling. Tucker could be interchangeable with reserves like Kenneth Ogbe and Princeton Onwas while Lenz figures to be part of a three-man platoon in the middle with Olsen and Bachynski. But, the real key here is Loveridge. He needs to grab the role of team leader and number one option and never look back, while the rest of his teammates need to maximize his opportunities.
- SG Kenneth Ogbe (Fr, 6’6” 190 lbs)
- SF Princeton Onwas (Jr, 6’5” 210 lbs, 11.5 PPG last year at Navarro College)
- SG Parker Van Dyke (Fr, 6’3” 185 lbs)
- PF Jeremy Olsen (So, 6’10” 228 lbs, 3.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG)
- C Dallin Bachynski (Jr, 7’0” 250 lbs, 3.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG)
And between these five key reserves (other guys like Marko Kovacevic and Ahmad Fields could earn their way into the rotation as well), there is little history of production. But between Olsen and Bachynski, there is plenty of potential. Bachynski looked good enough early last season to earn the starting center spot over senior Jason Washburn, so there’s something going on there, but he also dipped deep enough in the middle of the year that his future with the program was in doubt. Meanwhile, Van Dyke should slide into a backcourt rotation with Wright and Taylor. And, for that matter, even Ogbe can help out with the ballhandling.
Previous Pac-12 previews
11. Washington State – Is this Coach Bone’s last season in the Palouse?
12. USC – Enfield brings new flavor to Hollywood.