Pac Goes 3-0 in Tip-Off Marathon: Thoughts

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 18th, 2015

Three Pac-12 teams participated in very competitive contests in ESPN‘s Tip-Off Marathon earlier this week, each coming away with very good wins for their programs. Below let’s take a quick look at the biggest takeaways from those three performances.

Utah – Before we dig into what Monday night’s win over San Diego State means for the Utes, let’s compare that game to last year’s and see what it might mean for the whole sport. You might remember that last year the Utes and Aztecs battled to a 53-49 final in a game that only a mother could love. This year, even though both teams are transitioning with brand new point guards, the two teams combined for 53 more points. Sure, there were 14 more free throws attempted in this game (a total of 57 were attempted), but we’re already seeing an uptick in possessions per game and, as players adjust to the new whistles, we should continue to see greater flow. The rules still aren’t perfect, but all things considered, it seems like we’ve taken an incremental step in the right direction.

As for the Utes, despite losing do-everything guard Delon Wright, this team is so loaded with talent and skill that this year’s edition may be even better than last year’s Sweet Sixteen team. You know about Jakob Poeltl already, and he’s continued to be spectacular (just see above), to the tune of 20.5 points, 11.5 boards and 2.5 blocks per game as well as 70 percent shooting from the field. Plus the seven-footer who shot 43 percent from the charity stripe last year has improved to a 62 percent marksman in the early going — this will be big. Then there’s senior Jordan Loveridge, who looks poised to have the type of year we’ve been waiting on from him since his promising freshman year, averaging 22.5 PPG and knocking in 10 threes already.

But the big bust-out early has been Kyle Kuzma. In limited minutes last season, Kuzma took the highest percentage of shots (24.5%) on the team when he was on the floor. This year that number has jumped to 28.4 percent early and he’s using better than 30 percent of the team’s possessions. The good news is that he’s added to his game. His jumper looks better; he’s more aggressive inside; he’s getting on the glass; he’s finishing around the hoop; and he’s getting to the line. Team he and Loveridge up with sophomore Brekkot Chapman, another skilled combo forward (who has yet to really get rolling this year), and Larry Krystkowiak can have two of those three guys on the court at all times if needed.


Kyle Kuzma’s Length And Aggressiveness Make Him A Tough Inside-Outside Threat. (Leah Hogsten, Salt Lake City Tribune)

The backcourt struggled in the Utes’ opening game but was a key against San Diego State, with senior Brandon Taylor and JuCo transfer Lorenzo Bona both turning in solid performances. Bonam in particular was terrific defensively, flustering the Aztecs’ guards he was tasked with checking. Veterans Dakarai Tucker and Chris Reyes look locked in as key reserves, but haven’t yet adjusted to their new, diminished roles.

Oregon – The next game up for the conference in ESPN’s marathon was Oregon — without two projected starters sidelined by injury — hosting a Baylor team that had demolished mid-major darling Stephen F. Austin by 42 points in its season opener. At times, the Ducks looked phenomenal in this game, even if they struggled down the stretch to put the finishing touches on what turned out to be a seven-point win. Sophomore point guard Casey Benson has been rock solid in the absence of Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis (foot injury), while freshman Tyler Dorsey has shone off the ball, even if he’s had some (understandable) struggles in attempting to run the team.

And in the frontcourt? When they get back the services of last year’s leading Pac-12 shot-blocker, Jordan Bell, the Ducks are going to have the possibility of a nearly impenetrable front line of Bell, JuCo transfer Chris Boucher (seven blocks in 51 minutes this season) and either Dwayne Benjamin or Elgin Cook at the three. As it stands, that win over Baylor on Monday night is going to pay dividends all season long.

Tyler Dorsey's First Two Games As A Duck Have Been Very Promising (Samuel Marshall, Emerald)

Tyler Dorsey’s First Two Games As A Duck Have Been Very Promising (Samuel Marshall, Emerald)

Colorado – The other team that got some national publicity as part of ESPN’s made-for-television event was the Buffaloes, who have already played two tough games just several days into the season. The Buffs withstood Auburn’s first-half energy powered by five threes out of junior guard Kareem Canty and came away with a tough road win against a power conference team. Josh Scott was back to his typical self with 24 points on just 10 field goal attempts. Redshirt sophomore George King busted out with 27 points, including four threes and seven boards. But point guard play continues to be the big story here. Sophomore Dominique Collier got the start and, for the most part, looked good with five assists against two turnovers and eight points to boot. He’s still finding his footing but is getting enough help from Scott, King and junior Josh Fortune to mask his growing pains. Backup Xavier Talton was decent enough in 16 minutes, but Collier is beginning to separate himself, even though continued bumps are to be expected on his road to establishing himself as a team leader. Freshman Thomas Akyazali took a step back after an impressive first game and played just six minutes. A 1-1 split against two power conference teams without having played a home game yet is a promising start for a Colorado team whose best days are ahead of it.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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