Pac-12 Post-Mortems: UtahPosted by Andrew Murawa on April 15th, 2014
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Utah.
What Went Right
For the first time since Larry Krystkowiak took over a shell of a program from Jim Boylen, Utah basketball fans had a team that they knew could be competitive night in and night out. Of the Utes’ 12 losses this season, seven were by a single possession. The talent level is clearly back to the point where the Utes can be competitive in the Pac-12, defense has become a priority, and the future appears bright.
What Went Wrong
So, those seven losses by a single possession? Well, that’s not good, is it? Time and time again, the Utes had chances to win close games down the stretch, and time and time again they wound up with losses in those games. Their record in games decided by a single possession was 0-7. They lost all three of their overtime games. And only six times all season did they win games decided by fewer than 10 points. In other words, unless the Utes were blowing out their opponent, odds were good that they were losing. Chalk some of that up to bad luck, another portion to a young team still learning to win games, and more to some coaching breakdowns. But the good news is that if next year’s Utes can find some ways to win those close games, they should be looking at a very good record.
Prior to the official start of practice, it seemed that JuCo transfer Delon Wright had an inside track on the starting point guard spot. Within days of practice getting underway, Wright had slammed the door on the competition and had already established himself as one of the team’s best players. He took off early in non-conference play, showing a propensity for stuffing the stat sheet (how about 17 points, 10 boards, seven assists, seven steals, two blocks and 7-of-8 shooting from the field in the opener?), but it wasn’t until December — when Wright was again brilliant against quality competition like Boise State and BYU — that we really knew just how good he was. For the year, he averaged 15.5 points, 6.8 boards, 5.3 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game, and posted a 63.3 true shooting percentage on his way to first-team all-conference honors.
The only senior on the Utah squad was big man Renan Lenz. While he’ll move on, Krystkowiak still has a strong two-headed center returning in Dallin Bachynski and Jeremy Olsen. Aside from that, it looks like Utah will – in a shocking upset – actually have roster stability over the offseason.
Players Coming In
Not only does Utah return just about everybody on the roster, they’re also welcoming in a pair of big-time recruits who should get immediate playing time as well. Brekkott Chapman is a 6’9” forward ranked by ESPN as the #49 prospect in the 2014 recruiting class — a lefty who can do just about everything well (he can shoot from range, create off the bounce, pass, rebound, defend), he should step into a major role in his freshman year. The other big recruit is 6’9” wing Kyle Kuzma, who may take a bit longer to adapt to the physicality of the college game, but who has huge upside. Throw in freshman point guard Isaiah Wright, and a strong Utah team gets quite a bit deeper.
Reason for Hope
Utah fans are rolling in the hope now. Almost everybody comes back. New talent arrives. And the luck factor is bound to swing in their favor, right? Wright looks like a star; Krystkowiak appears to be the perfect fit in Salt Lake City; and there are a number of players on this squad who haven’t begun to touch their upside. Jordan Loveridge, for instance, is a name that hasn’t even been mentioned yet, but he’s a major talent who could turn into an all-conference player in due time. Not only should the Utes expect to earn an NCAA Tournament invitation next season, but this is a roster that could win a game or two.
Reason For Concern
As much upside as Loveridge has, he spends too much time floating around the perimeter and jacking up threes at a 30 percent rate. For a guy who is the second offensive option on this team, he is currently far too inefficient in his overall play. Sure, Chapman may push him for minutes and shots, but they need Loveridge to live up to his potential for the Utes to really live up to its own.
B+. That’s a mighty fine grade for a team that didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament, but the Utes deserve it this season. This program has lost something like 22 players prior to the end of their collegiate eligibility in the last four offseasons, but despite those repeated rebuildings, it looks like Krystkowiak has finally built the foundation for a new incarnation of this proud program to rise again.