Assessing The Pac-12 With One Week Left

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 1st, 2016

Way back in early November, when Pac-12 prognosticators were looking ahead to the season, there were four teams almost universally considered as contenders to win the regular season title – Arizona, California, Oregon and Utah. We’ve had all sorts of twists and turns over the past four months: USC and Washington emerging earlier than expected; California and Utah taking some time to find their stride; and of course, the assorted injuries, hot streaks, cold patches and upsets that change expectations along the way. But here we are, heading into the final week of the regular season, and those four preseason contenders are still exactly that. There’s a lot still left to be decided in the final week and into the conference tournament, so let’s go team by team and break down what’s to play for on the way in.

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title (John Locher, USA Today)

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title. (John Locher, USA Today)

Oregon – For at least a month now, anyone with a Pac-12 schedule could look at Oregon’s road trip to Los Angeles in the final week of the regular season and know it would have major ramifications on the regular season title. What nobody could really see at the start of February was both of the Los Angeles schools falling off a cliff. More on them later, but the situation is simple for the Ducks. Win one in LA and earn at least a share of the conference title. Win them both (now, suddenly possible, if not even likely) and they’ve got their first regular season title since 2002 (and only the program’s second since World War II ended). They are likely to be favored in both games — because the season is trending in the wrong direction for both opponents — and a couple of wins could see the Ducks break into two-seed territory come Selection Sunday.

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Three Things Utah Learned in Puerto Rico

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 23rd, 2015

Three games in four days in an arena in a tropical location: In college basketball this is a surefire recipe for testing the mettle of your team early in the season. For Utah, which just wrapped up a weekend in Puerto Rico with a 2-1 record and a third-place finish, there was a major wake-up call in a 24-point blowout loss to Miami sandwiched in between two less-than-stellar performances. Still, this weekend will serve Larry Krystkowiak‘s team well as it can focus on several key areas that need to improve. Below, we look at three of those areas.

It was that type of struggle for Jakob Poeltl and Utah this past week. (The Salt Lake Tribune)

It was that type of struggle for Jakob Poeltl and Utah this past week. (The Salt Lake Tribune)

  1. Keep Jakob Poeltl Involved – In case you hadn’t heard, the sophomore seven-foot Austrian is a serious player. Long, athletic, mobile and skilled, with a variety of moves in his arsenal, there are very few players in the country who can handle him in the post one-on-one. And even when the Utes run into one (such as Miami center Tonye Jekiri), Poeltl is capable of affecting the game in so many ways that it is imperative that the Utes keep him involved. In that Miami game, Poeltl picked up two early fouls and never got consistently on track in 25 minutes of action. Keeping Poeltl away from foul trouble while still maintaining his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor is a priority. But the other thing the Utes need to work on is feeding the ball to Poeltl as often as possible. Against Temple on Sunday, the Owls had no one who could pose much of a threat to him inside, and he went for 32 points on 12 field goal attempts as a result. Still, there were stretches where the Utah offense would neglect to find its big man for several possessions in a row. And even when they did look to him, the post entry passes thrown were often difficult to receive, such as in this example here. But, to Poeltl’s credit, he was able to catch that pass (and many others) and convert. The Utah offense needs to work on post entry passes for the rest of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Five Pac-12 All-Breakout Picks

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2015

It’s become a common post to write this time of year – projecting which players are going to make the jump from little-known role player to big-time contributor. And it’s probably so commonly written because it is just a darn fun thing to take a guess at. It’s not like predicting which freshmen are going to succeed, which you are basing either on performance in games played at a different level or sometimes sketchy scouting reports. And it’s not like picking All-American teams from the cream of the crop. The only tricky part about the emergent player game is that it’s a little tricky determining who is eligible for such a title. So, for the purposes of this exercise, let’s only looking at returning players who earned less than 50 percent of their team’s minutes last season. That eliminates guys like Ike Iroegbu from Washington State, who should step into a greatly increased role post-Davonte Lacy. Also gone is Rosco Allen from Stanford, who is bound to score more than the 7.3 points per game he averaged last year, if only because somebody on that team HAS to score. Also, in the interest of playing fair, we’re going to eliminate Savon Goodman (47.2% of Arizona State’s minutes) and his 11.2 PPG and 7.6 RPG averages from last season, since he didn’t gain eligibility until the semester break. Still, we’ve got plenty of candidates remaining, so let’s look at five picks to take a big leap in the PAC.

With A Boost Of Confidence, Dominique Collier Could Take A Big Jump As A Soph (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

With A Boost Of Confidence, Dominique Collier Could Take A Big Jump As A Sophomore (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Dominique Collier, Sophomore, Colorado – Collier had a frustrating freshman season. First, he got suspended for the first two games of the season for an offseason incident. Then, he struggled with a lingering ankle injury that bothered him throughout the preseason. When he finally got on the court, he occasionally showed flashes of potential before injuring his wrist and missing a couple more games. When he returned, he pressed and frittered away another month before finally turning it on down the stretch. Some of the numbers are still ugly: 9.8 points per 40 min, a nearly 1:1 assist-turnover ratio and 26.9 percent shooting from long range. But on a team lacking proven perimeter playmakers, Collier is a guy who has showed an ability to get to the rim and convert. There are definitely plenty of areas of his game to be cleaned up, but he’ll have the opportunity to earn a much bigger role this season. With a boosted confidence, he could be the missing piece that vaults the Buffaloes back into postseason contention.
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Utah Preview: Who’s Got the Wright Stuff?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 23rd, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Salt Lake City.

Utah Utes

The second team up for our preseason previews is Larry Krystkowiak’s squad, fresh off a third-place conference finish and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Last season marked the third consecutive year in West Coast Coach K’s four-year tenure in Salt Lake City in which his team’s record has improved. Of the team’s 11 players who averaged better than eight minutes per game last season, nine return. However, the big one who doesn’t is point guard and All-American Delon Wright, who averaged 14.5 points, 5.1 assists, 4.9 boards, 2.1 assists and a block per game, numbers that only begin to sum up his overall importance to the squad.

With Jakob Poeltl Patrolling The Paint, The Utes Defense Is A Serious Strength (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

With Jakob Poeltl Patrolling The Paint, The Utes’ Defense Is A Serious Strength (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Strengths. As alluded to above, that experience is going to be a huge asset for the Utes. But it is just one of many areas from which this team can draw confidence. Last year the Utes were sixth in the nation in defensive efficiency, largely on the strength of allowing the fifth-lowest effective field goal percentage in the nation. Dig deeper and you also see things like this (courtesy of They were 35th in the nation in fewest three-point attempts allowed; they allowed the 25th-lowest field goal percentage on shots at the rim and were 20th in the nation at shots blocked at the rim; and, they forced their opponents to take the 25th-highest percentage of two-point jumpers. To sum it up, this was a team that closed out on shooters at the arc, forced opponents inside the three-point line, and then used their front line size (highlighted by freshman center Jakob Poeltl) to greatly inhibit shooters’ effectiveness around the rim. Utah loses one of the nation’s elite perimeter defenders with Wright now gone, but the guys expected to take over for him are athletic and long wings. If Krystkowiak’s perimeter defense can be roughly equivalent to last year, scoring against the Utes in the paint will likely be just as difficult. On the other end of the court, the team’s biggest strength last season was its three-point shooting. Three different players – Brandon Taylor, Jordan Loveridge and Dakarai Tucker – shot at least 37 percent from three on at least 108 attempts. They all return, but again, Wright’s ability to penetrate and draw multiple defenders certainly opened up clean looks for them around the arc. If they can again find good looks, the Utes should be able to maintain one of their biggest strengths. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the Rise Of Utah Basketball

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 26th, 2015

On Saturday, Arizona will travel to Utah for a game with major implications to the Pac-12 regular season title picture. Any casual basketball fan knows the general story of Sean Miller and his refresh of the Wildcats program – a program with a proud history returned to elite status following the bumpy ending of the Lute Olson era. What many may not recognize is that the Utes are following a similar path. Following the stability and excellence of the 14 years of the Rick Majerus era (which featured no losing records, 10 seasons with at least 24 wins, a Final Four and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances), the Utes burned through two coaches in seven years and suffered four losing seasons over that volatile stretch. Compared with Arizona’s post-Olson struggles, Utah’s downturn was far more pronounced. But through the combination of the right hire, rampant roster revamping and, let’s face it, some good luck, the Utes have come out the other side of their dark period as a member of a power conference and back to national contention.

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place (Utah Athletics)

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place. (Utah Athletics)

The 2010-11 season was a great example of mixed emotions around the Utah basketball program. There was the excitement that the Utes were headed to a new conference – the newly named Pac-12 – in the following season. But at the same time, the current edition of the team was struggling to a tie for sixth place in the Mountain West as head coach Jim Boylen wrapped up his four-year stint with a third losing conference record. The program was coming off a season in which five players (including some guy named Marshall Henderson, and another one named Carlon Brown – who went on to be a Pac-12 Tournament MVP in leading Colorado to an NCAA bid in 2012) had transferred out of the program. Boylen was subsequently fired, and after a search that included St. Mary’s Randy Bennett and former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried as candidates, Montana’s Larry Krystkowiak was named the new head coach on April 2, 2011.

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Utah vs. Kansas: Three Keys on Each Side

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 12th, 2014

One of the bigger games of the weekend takes place in Kansas City on Saturday, with Utah riding its recent success to take a shot at the Jayhawks. Below, Pac-12 microsite writer Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) and Big 12 microsite writer Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) break down the keys for the Utes and Jayhawks, respectively.

Three Keys for Utah

The Glass. Given recent history and if you didn’t know anything about these teams’ current rosters, you’d figure that the Kansas roster is filled with glass-eating big men while the Utes were made up of undersized, scrappy kids along the front line. Instead it is Utah that has the seven-footer in the middle, long and athletic wings littering the roster, and a 6’5” future pro running the point. Freshman center Jakob Poeltl is the best offensive rebounder in the nation (grabbing more than 20 percent of his team’s misses when he’s on the floor), while the rest of the Utah bigs go equally hard to the boards on offense, and their guards even chip in a bit too. Priority one, as Utah faces a Kansas team with its own future lottery pick in the middle (Cliff Alexander), is to continue to outrebound its foe, especially on the offensive end. Guys like Poeltl and Chris Reyes and Brekkot Chapman (to name just a few) may not be all that polished on the offensive end, so getting easy hoops in the paint will be a prerequisite to any hopes of a Utah win in Kansas City.

A big day from Delon Wright is paramount to Utah's chances of beating Kansas tomorrow (USA TODAY Sports)

A big day from Delon Wright is paramount to Utah’s chances of beating Kansas. (USA TODAY Sports)

The Star. Delon Wright is undeniably very good. He does almost everything on the court: He scores in the paint and in transition, sets up teammates with easy hoops, rebounds the ball on both ends of the floor, grabs steals, blocks shots, provides on-court leadership, and even gets to the line and knocks in his freebies. But in Utah’s one loss this season, he was, well, not good. Against San Diego State, he made just two of his 13 field goal attempts (both in the waning moments of a comeback attempt), turned it over three times, and was generally ineffective in helping his team put points on the scoreboard. That can’t happen against Kansas tomorrow. He needs to play within himself, set up his teammates and, when the opportunity presents itself, get his own. If Wright has a subpar game, Utah cannot win. Read the rest of this entry »

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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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Season Previews: Utah Utes

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Utah.

Utah Utes

Strengths. If you’re reading this microsite, there is a good chance you already know about the Utes’ stars such as Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge, but just about every team in this conference has a star it can point to. Rather, what makes this team a sexy choice as the second-best team in this conference is not merely those two stars, but the quality of depth throughout this roster. Veterans like Brandon Taylor, Dallin Bachynski, Dakarai Tucker and Jeremy Olsen are all accustomed to big roles on this team. Add in a talented batch of newcomers, including four-star power forward Brekkot Chapman, talented JuCo transfer Chris Reyes, international recruit Jakob Poetl, three-point specialist Kyle Kuzma and floor general Isaiah Wright, and Larry Krystkowiak is swimming in talented options up and down his roster.

Larry Krystkowiak and The Utes Will Have To Deal With The Pressure Of Expectations For The First Time (Utah Basketball)

Larry Krystkowiak and The Utes Will Have To Deal With The Pressure Of Expectations For The First Time. (Utah Athletics)

Weaknesses. We’re not even going to pick nits with the roster. There are some weaknesses here which will become apparent as the season wears on, but where this squad really has to prove itself is in its ability to win games. The Utes lost all seven of their games decided by a single possession last season and, given a serious uptick in the quality of their non-conference schedule, their mettle will be tested early and often this year. Utah has plenty of guys who have been through plenty of battles, but until they can prove their ability to pull out their best effort when the chips are down, there will remain questions about the ceiling of this team.

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Welcome Back: Pac-12 Team-By-Team Offseason Wrap

Posted by AMurawa on October 7th, 2013

After a long offseason away from college basketball, we’re back. With practice underway across the country, with “Midnight Madness” events looming and with the start of the season on the not-too-distant horizon, it is time to end our hiatus and dig back into hoops. In a year where the Pac-12 seems to sport one legitimate national title contender and a healthy pack of NCAA Tournament contenders, we can finally say that the conference is back from the recent depths and ready to be a consistent contender on the national stage again. But, in taking an offseason sabbatical, we’ve missed some key storylines. So, in order to get you back in the swing of things, we’ll go team-by-team around the conference and quickly catch you up on some key offseason happenings. Later in the week we’ll break down some of these stories in a little more detail. Next week we’ll be back with our daily Morning Fives, and over the course of the next month, we’ll catch you up on everything you need to know going into the 2013-14 Pac-12 season. Without further ado, here’s what you need to know if you’ve been away from the conference for a few months.

Why Is This Man Smiling? Maybe Because He Has the Best Team in the League.

Why Is This Man Smiling? Maybe Because He Has the Best Team in the League.

Arizona – The conference’s clear preseason favorite got some good news over the offseason when 6’10″ sophomore forward Zach Peters was granted his waiver request by the NCAA for immediate eligibility after transferring from Kansas. A quality recruit in the 2012 class, Peters career never got off the ground in Lawrence largely due to injuries, including multiple concussions. If he can stay healthy, he’s a stretch-four who can provide another offensive threat for the Wildcats. Elsewhere, Sean Miller continued his hot streak on the recruiting trail, landing 2014 four-star power forward Craig Victor, while continuing his pursuit of additional heavy hitters in next year’s class.

Arizona State – It was an offseason roller coaster for the Sun Devils, with Evan Gordon opting to spend his senior season closer to home at Indiana, only to have Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall decide that he’d spend his final season of eligibility in Tempe. Marshall, who averaged 15.3 points per game for a depleted Penn State squad last season, will likely slide right into the spot vacated by Gordon’s departure. It’s not all sunshine and roses for Herb Sendek’s team, however, as Jahii Carson is dealing with a stress reaction in his right leg that will limit him in practice during the early going.

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