Utah: Ugly Performance, Still Plenty of Upside

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 19th, 2014

Okay, right to the point: Utah fans, back away from the ledge. The Utes lost Tuesday afternoon at #16 San Diego State as part of the ESPN Hoops Marathon and they looked pretty offensively inept in doing so. But here’s the big picture. Utah’s best two players – Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge – combined to make just four of their 20 field goal attempts, and still, the Utes went on the road to one of the toughest places to play in the west and lost by just four. Better yet, there are a lot of fixable things that happened in this game that could flip the script the next time the Utes find themselves matched up with a nationally-respected team.

Chris Reyes, Along With Jakob Poeltl and Brekkot Chapman Stood Out For The Utes (Chris Detrick, Salt Lake Tribune)

Chris Reyes, Along With Jakob Poeltl and Brekkot Chapman Stood Out For The Utes (Chris Detrick, Salt Lake Tribune)

First, the good. And believe it or not, there was plenty of good. The Utes were the better team on the glass against the long Aztecs in part because the pair of frontcourt newcomers – seven-foot freshman Jakob Poeltl and 6’7” sophomore Chris Reyes – proved themselves ready to be difference-makers at this level. Poeltl, in his first match-up against big and talented players at this level, pulled down five offensive boards (plus two on the defensive end) and blocked seven shots. He only was able to attempt three field goals (in part because the Utes did not prioritize feeding the post against the long Aztecs defense), but he did get to the line six times (although free throw shooting is still a work in progress). Reyes, meanwhile, was terrific in his own part in his debut on a national stage. In just 21 minutes, Reyes grabbed six offensive boards, was perhaps the most adept Ute at feeding the post, and showed a motor and intensity that was sorely needed. He’s an asset for this team, but it will be interesting to see if his minutes remain steady as freshman power forward Brekkot Chapman emerges. Chapman, for his part, was also mighty impressive, scoring eight points on four field goal attempts in 15 minutes. As the year goes on, expect that trio to share frontcourt minutes, with senior Dallin Bachynski’s role limited to that of a fourth big.

On to the bad. Really, we’re gonna limit this section to Delon Wright. He had a bad game, that’s all. He made just two of 13 shots, had more than one point-blank look roll off the rim and appeared flustered at times by the length and athleticism of the Aztecs. And, perhaps most disturbingly, he launched five threes, missing all five of them. Sure, two of those five came in the final minute while the Utes were in scramble mode, but, while Wright has worked on his jumper, settling for deep shots was not in the game plan. Again, this was just one bad game. While the shooting wasn’t good, he’s certainly not the first big-time guard to have problems with a San Diego State defense. There was also plenty of good news as well, because despite his shooting woes, Wright still made a number of positive plays for his team, grabbing eight boards, handing out five assists, notching three steals and swatting a couple of shots. It was a testament to a player of his caliber that even when the shot wasn’t falling, he didn’t let it hamper the rest of his game.

Which leads us to the ugly. Jordan Loveridge is a junior and, having shifted over to his preferred small forward position this season, was supposed to be the team’s second-best offensive option and a leader on this team. In its first big test of their supposedly breakout season, that did not happen. Even a little. Against a team of long and athletic players, Loveridge limited himself to floating around the perimeter, hoisting the occasional bad three and turning the ball over on half-hearted passes. Let’s not kill the guy too badly for one poor game, but it was frustrating to see for a guy as talented as he is. He needs to be a prime-time player for the Utes and he clearly was not that on Tuesday. From a physical standpoint, he looks better than he has in his previous two seasons, chiseling that body down to where he can play the three spot at this level of competition. But he needs to do a better job than what he did against the Aztecs. Larry Krystkowiak should strap that guy into a chair and force him, A Clockwork Orange-style, to watch his performance from now until the team’s next game. He’s better than that and hopefully by the time Utah plays its next nationally relevant game (December 3 against Wichita State), he’ll be ready to show the country the type of player he can be.

Long story short, the Utes lost a November game on the road against a really good basketball team by four points; no need to panic here. But, still, this team is now 2-10 on the road over the past two seasons and 3-9 in games decided by two possessions or fewer. This team is going to improve and there is enough talent on it for the Utes to be in the middle of the national picture this season, but they’ve got to start turning that potential into production. The good news is that they have plenty of great opportunities to right this ship, with Wichita State at home and road trips to face BYU, Kansas and UNLV still in their non-conference future.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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