It’s Time to Talk About Utah’s Non-Conference Schedule

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 22nd, 2016

Utah has not won a game by fewer than 43 points this season, and yet, thanks to some conservative scheduling practices by head coach Larry Krystkowiak, the Utes have already hurt their NCAA Tournament chances. At 3-0, Utah is officially tied atop the Pac-12 standings, a hilarious result given that its first two opponents, Division II members Northwest Nazarene and Concordia (Oregon), considered the games exhibitions. The Utes finally played their first Division I opponent Friday night, smoking 0-5 Coppin State in a game that KenPom gave Utah a 98.7 percent chance of winning. With the victory, Utah earned its initial placement at #289 in the RPI rankings.  There is no unbeaten team from a Power 5 conference with a worse RPI than Utah, and there isn’t a lot of helium left in the Utes’ non-conference schedule to carry it up.

Larry Krystkowiak Mimicking Utah Fans' Reaction to the 2016-17 Schedule. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Krystkowiak Mimicking Utah Fans’ Reaction to the 2016-17 Schedule (Deseret News)

Utah plays Butler at home on November 28 and travels to Xavier on December 10. Aside from those two games, each of the Utes’ remaining non-conference opponents is ranked 227th or lower by KenPom, not including a potential matchup with San Diego State in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic. Quality opponents from last season such as San Diego State, Wichita State, BYU and Duke have been replaced by UC Riverside, Montana State, Utah Valley and Prairie View A&M. A team that last year barnstormed across America from Puerto Rico to Wichita to New York City will only leave the Beehive State twice before the new year.

What’s worse is that this season’s pillow-soft schedule has been some time in the making. To his credit, Krystkowiak has been relatively open about the logic behind his intent, essentially telling ESPN Radio that a friendly schedule would be more beneficial for an inexperienced team. This is understandable. Confidence is important for young collegiate players, and if the current version of Utah had played last season’s schedule, there might not have been much confidence to go around. Similarly, Krystkowiak is hardly the first Power 5 coach to weigh the quality and depth of his roster when putting together a schedule. But there is a big difference between throttling back and throwing it in reverse.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: How Does Utah Replace Its Entire Roster?

Posted by Adam Butler on November 7th, 2016

Replacing Jakob Poeltl, of course, is the biggest challenge facing Utah, but such would be the case for any team that loses a conference Player of the Year. We can’t dwell on that. What we can turn our attention to is the team’s high roster turnover and that the Utes lost six scholarship players following a second place Pac-12 finish. That’s a lot even in today’s transfer-heavy climate. Of course, the roster turnover is mixed with the natural losses of Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge – two veterans who were with the program throughout its recent return to relevance. As a result, head coach Larry Krystkowiak finds himself with one of the more unique coaching challenges in the conference this season.

Larry Krystkowiak And The Utes Got To Celebrate On BYU's Home Floor Last Season (Hugh Carey, Deseret News)

Larry Krystkowiak has built a big-time program in Utah. (Hugh Carey, Deseret News)

It’s important to note that he hasn’t left himself with absolutely nothing. The Utes have won more than 21 games in each of the last three years — to be clear, this is a program and not just a team. Lorenzo Bonam and Kyle Kuzma are two fine Pac-12 returnees, the latter of which CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander thinks could be an NBA Draft pick (scroll to the Utes at #73). Those veterans (the only ones left?) will be supplemented by a top-100 recruit in Jayce Johnson, who actually joined the Utes in the middle of last season. Considering that Johnson had half a year to compete in practice with Poeltl and Krystkowiak’s proven ability to develop bigs, it would be fair to place relatively high expectations on Johnson.

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Highlighted Quotes From Each Team at Pac-12 Media Day

Posted by Adam Butler on October 24th, 2016

Pac-12 Media Day, the annual effusing of excitement, promise and not caring for the media poll, was held on Friday at the conference’s network headquarters in San Francisco. There were no on-stage fireworks (there rarely are) but Allonzo Trier was replaced by Kadeem Allen as Arizona’s player representative the night before things got started. Sean Miller would not comment. There was Larry Scott’s now annual promotion of all things Pac-12 + China as well as no update on a DirecTV deal. Following each player/coach stage appearance, and wrapping the day up, was the conference’s top official, Bobby Dibler. Did you know that a Pac-12 referee (or rather a Western Officiating Consortium official) was a Naismith Men’s Basketball College Official of the Year? Quite an honor and something not held by a west coast official since 2011 or 2012 (according to Dibler). All-in-all, it was a reminder that basketball season is upon us, and that to this point, we’ve had nothing but our own opinions and perhaps some “insider” knowledge, to evaluate, predict, and feel about our favorite teams. If you’re a stat nerd, we don’t even have KenPom’s updated ratings (ed. note: KenPom released his ratings Sunday) or a Pac-12 preview from Hanner and Winn over at SI. But Media Day finally gave us some knowledge straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth! Let’s dive into some of the key quotes to come out of each team’s address:

Four years as leader of the nation's premier D1 West Coast athletic conference has earned Scott huge financial bonuses on top of an already sizable base salary (U.S. Presswire).

As the Pac-12 gets ready for the new season, so does commissioner Larry Scott, who faced some of the same questions at Media Day that has been a hot topic league-wide. (U.S. Presswire)

Washington State, Ernie Kent and Josh Hawkinson

“If there was ever a time that a team needed a summer tournament, it was us, an opportunity to go overseas.”

This was Ernie Kent’s opening line and I’d have to agree. The benefit of these trips was expressed many times over throughout the day but when you consider it’s Year 3 at Wazzu and the Cougars went 1-17 in conference last year – yeah – they could use the extra practice. The Cougs do have some seniors, experienced big men like Josh Hawkinson and Conor Clifford, but they are seniors who have won just 11 conference games in their three previous efforts. It could be another long one in Pullman. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Preseason News & Notes

Posted by Adam Butler on October 20th, 2016

Last Friday night, Arizona freshman Rawle Alkins set his coach on the block, handed him a basketball, asked him to adjust it just so, then leapt over Sean Miller for the dunk. That is how the 2017-18 Pac-12 basketball season begins. Not with letters to fan bases, sixth years of eligibility, early entries, foreign tours, or new hires — which isn’t necessarily to say that the Pac-12 hinges on Arizona’s efforts. By most accounts this is the Ducks’ conference to lose. But following a mostly disappointing end to the 2016 campaign (a really ugly performance in the Dance outside of the aforementioned Ducks, who themselves were bounced in embarrassing fashion), the imagery of fresh blood leaping over his historically serious coach in a fan-, if not recruit driven-, event, felt like the arrival of the season. Of course, if you haven’t watched it, here it is.

Sean Miller Is Looking To Break Through For His First Final Four Appearance (Ralph Freso, Getty Images)

Once again, Sean Miller and crew are expected to be right in the mix of things. (Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

The teams have been at for a couple weeks now, getting NCAA allotted hours and gym sessions since 42 days before their first game. Heck, your team might have even received a 2017 commitment in the past couple weeks. As Nike has slogan-ed, [program] basketball never stops. But at a certain point it most certainly begins. And that time is coming in hot. So while our teams practice, so must we, right? Consider this post our first practice, the proverbial Wooden sock drill. This post isn’t necessarily to preview what’s coming but to tease out – not unlike an open practice – forthcoming content, features, games, players, and so on. To help you prepare for the 2016-17 Pac-12 basketball experience. Because it’s coming. November 11 will be here soon and while it’s perhaps not the opening day romanticized in prose (that’s left to baseball), we’ve put together some Pac-12 basketball essentials. Here’s the warm-up, before we really hit the wind sprints with team-by-team previews, dives into conference newcomers and the questions burning up West Coast, high-major basketball. Read the rest of this entry »

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An Early Look at Next Season’s Pac-12

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 13th, 2016

It is never too early to predict how the Pac-12 will look heading into next season. Let’s not waste words and just get into a look at each team by projected order of finish.

1. Oregon

Assuming Brooks Returns, Oregon Will Be The Class of the PAC-12 Again. (Craig Strobeck)

Assuming Brooks Returns, Oregon Will Be The Class of the Pac-12 Again. (Craig Strobeck)

  • Who’s back: Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Casey Benson, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Dylan Ennis
  • Who’s new: M.J. Cage, Keith Smith, Payton Pritchard
  • The skinny: Assuming Brooks returns to school and Ennis is eligible and healthy enough to play a full season, the Ducks will run almost two-deep at every position. Boucher’s extra year of eligibility is also huge because it again gives Oregon two of the best rim-protectors in the country while allowing Dana Altman to space the floor. Don’t sleep on the Ducks’ recruiting class, either; there aren’t any stars here, but Cage and Pritchard will both contribute early.

2. Arizona

  • Who’s back: Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic, Kadeem Allen, Chance Comanche
  • Who’s new: Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen
  • The skinny: Simmons is the key here. If the point guard is as good as everyone seems to think he is, the Wildcats have the athletes elsewhere to be above-average offensively and elite defensively. Trier could be a Pac-12 Player of the Year contender and some believe that Smith, now healthy after missing all of last season, is the better player in that recruiting class. Sean Miller has reportedly been sniffing around the graduate transfer market as well — if the Wildcats can land an extra big man, that would help shore up a frontcourt that right now consists of Ristic and maybe Comanche.

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Pac-12 Postseason Odds and Ends

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 1st, 2016

The college basketball season isn’t quite over yet but the page has already turned for the Pac-12. Once Oregon was rudely bounced from the tournament by Oklahoma last weekend, it was time for the always exciting period when coaches are hired and fired, players declare for the NBA Draft, and some others decide on a change of scenery. The Pac-12 has been full of these changes in the past two weeks — from Stanford hiring a new coach to Washington’s precocious freshmen hiring agents to a multitude of players transferring — there’s been a lot of action.

Let’s break down some of the moves that have already been announced and what they mean for their respective teams.

Jerod Haase Hired by Stanford

Jerod Haase Has Won A Lot In C-USA But Can He Do It In The PAC-12 Too?

Stanford Coach Jerod Haase Has Won A Lot In C-USA But Can He Do It In The PAC-12 Too?

Stanford isn’t the can’t-miss job that many think it is, but it still feels like the Cardinal made a reach in its replacement of Johnny Dawkins. Haase came up as an assistant to Roy Williams and made headlines when his team at UAB beat Iowa State last season, but he has only been to the NCAA Tournament once and his three seasons of 20+ wins are as much a result of Conference USA being awful as his coaching prowess. Furthermore, advanced statistics have not been impressed with the Blazers at all despite their several-year win totals. The former Cal graduate and Bay Area native will bring energy and excitement to the Stanford program, but the jury is out on whether he can coach at this level.

Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss Declare for NBA Draft

It isn’t surprising that Murray and Chriss have decided to test the waters after excellent freshman seasons at Washington. It also wouldn’t have been surprising if they had decided to stay in the draft after gathering enough information. What is surprising is that both signed with agents almost immediately, effectively ending their college careers before March was even finished. Both players have a shot at at the lottery, which will mean that their decisions are probably good ones. But Washington could have been poised for a special season next year with the duo back in Seattle. Now, Lorenzo Romar’s rebuilding project looks to be moving a bit slower now.

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From Bad to Really Bad: Assessing the Pac-12’s NCAA Tournament

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 22nd, 2016

The dust has settled on a wild first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and guess what Pac-12 fans? All that talk about the conference being overrated and its teams not showing up on the big stage in March?

It is all pretty much true!

Oregon is the lone remaining representative of Bill Walton’s Conference of Champions and the onus is on the Ducks to carry the rest of the conference from here on out. This is because the league didn’t just have another tough tournament; it has had a brutally bad tournament. Only Utah and Oregon made it out of the First Round and the Utes didn’t exactly do the conference proud by getting run out of the gym against Gonzaga.

In honor of all the awfulness, we ranked the performances from really bad to downright awful and went back to wishing Oregon well against Duke.

USC.

Andy Enfield's Team Choked Away A Late Lead But They Are Still Young

Andy Enfield’s Team Choked Away A Late Lead But Otherwise Actually Played Providence Team

Congratulations to the Trojans, a team that lost to Providence at the buzzer and therefore cemented its status as the Least Bad Pac-12 Tournament Team of 2016. In the interest of full disclosure, USC basically had Providence on the ropes with three minutes to play and frittered the lead away in a flurry of turnovers and missed free throws. You could therefore make an argument that thee Trjoans’ performance in this Tournament was especially bad. The team’s youth and inexperience showed through in a big way down the stretch, as it did pretty much all season long. They shot the ball well, played solid defense for the most part, and literally return everybody, so there’s no obvious reason to hang their heads. They probably would have just been blown out by North Carolina in the Second Round anyway.

Oregon State. Aside from some awful shooting from Stephen Thompson and general uselessness from Malcolm Duvivier, the Beavers actually played VCU tough. The team’s offensive struggles were expected against the Rams’ athletic defense, but Oregon State mitigated some of its shortcomings by taking care of the basketball and locking down their perimeter shooters. The moral victory, however, is limited in that the Rams shot better than 60 percent on their two-pointers and completely had their way on the offensive glass. The Beavers will miss Gary Payton II next season, but they have a solid young nucleus and should be excited about the future in Corvallis.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Gonzaga 82, #3 Utah 59

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Who Saw This Gonzaga Run Coming? (USA Today Images)

Who Saw This Gonzaga Run Coming? (USA Today Images)

  1. Domantas Sabonis/Jakob Poeltl matchup. It was a battle of true big men the likes of which college basketball rarely has these days. Both players clearly have NBA futures, but the battle was clearly won by Gonzaga’s Lithuanian big man on this night. Poeltl picked up two regrettable first half fouls and played just nine minutes in the first stanza, while Sabonis dominated regardless of whether he was in the game. Even when Poeltl returned to play big minutes in the second half, he was never a factor. In the end, Sabonis finished with 19 points (on just 12 field goal attempts), 10 boards, three dimes and even a three-pointer for good measure. Poeltl’s five points and four boards goes a long way to sum up just how effectively Sabonis dominated their matchup.
  2. Improved Guard Play. When Gonzaga was struggling to close games in the regular season against quality teams like Texas A&M, Arizona and Saint Mary’s, it was usually guard play that was the culprit. Today, the Zags’ guards were a complete strength. Redshirt freshman guard Josh Perkins was in control of the offense; Silas Melson was a terrific defender and glue guy; and Eric McClellan bounced back from a poor performance in the First Round to turn in his fourth double-figure scoring effort in March. Coupled with the group of established stars in the frontcourt, the Zags can play with anybody when the backcourt is contributing.
  3. Giving Away Extra Possessions. In their previous two games, Utah had turned the ball over 20 times each. Tonight’s total numbers weren’t so bad in that category (13), but those turnovers led to 20 Bulldog points (against just six for the Utes). Worse, the Utes compounded those struggles by allowing the Zags to outscore them 13-4 on second chance points. In a game decided by 23 points, combine the differences in points off turnovers and second chance points and you have… 23 points.

Star of the GameEric McClellan, Gonzaga. Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis were as good as they normally are, but when Eric McClellan plays like tonight, Gonzaga improves to a different level. McClellan did everything — attacking the rim and finishing in the paint; filling the lanes on the break; even knocking in some jumpers, including a couple threes. He wound up with 22 points on 12 field goal attempts and was a confident veteran presence in the half-court.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Utah 80, #14 Fresno State 69

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Utah Wasn't Impressive, But Survive and Advance (USA Today Images)

Utah Wasn’t Impressive, But Survive and Advance (USA Today Images)

  1. Utes Close Strong. After a first half that Utah dominated but only led at the break by 11, the Utes were flat of the locker room. It wasn’t pretty, but Fresno State climbed back into the game little by little, taking a 48-47 lead about midway through the second half on a Julien Lewis three.. From that point forward, though, it was all Utah. The Utes responded with a 7-0 run that turned into a 19-2 run, with all the starters getting in on the action. All told, the Bulldogs led for just 33 seconds between the Lewis three and Lorenzo Bonam putting in an end-of-shot-clock jumper to reestablish the lead. Maybe that woke them up.
  2. Not Every Game Can be a Work of Art. The two teams combined for 34 turnovers. Fresno State had at least three first half airballs. There were missed dunks, sloppy passes and just a heap of all-around ugly play. For Fresno State, these mishaps will haunt them in the future. For Utah, the general aesthetics of this game will be forgotten in the overall celebration of an NCAA win and a chance to play again this weekend.
  3. Rebounding Domination. Utah doesn’t have a ton of great athletes on this team — Jakob Poeltl can be slow and a little awkward; Jordan Loveridge is earthbound; Brandon Taylor is a 5’9” mighty-mite. But what this team has going for it is size and strength, something Fresno State learned firsthand on the glass tonight. Over the course of the game, the Bulldogs managed just 15 total rebounds. Utah grabbed 15 offensive rebounds. Poeltl had 18 rebounds all by himself. There are plenty of ways to win basketball games, and Utah just happened to pick a grinding, unlovable way to do it tonight.

Star of the GameJakob Poeltl. Poeltl was by no means dominant offensively, going for just 16 points on 11 field goal attempts. And Fresno State was able to force him into mistakes (four turnovers) when the Bulldogs doubled him in the post. Still, the Austrian big man utterly dominated the glass (those 18 boards, nine on each end of the court) and dissuaded the Bulldogs from poking around in the lane very often. Though Poeltl didn’t block any shots, he changed plenty of others and generally kept Fresno from even trying.

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@rtcMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #2 Michigan State (30-5, 13-5 Big Ten). They aren’t the top seed in the region (more on that later), but the Spartans are as hot as any team in the nation entering the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State’s only blemish over its last 13 games is a one-point loss in overtime at Purdue, a surge that may not have earned them appropriate respect in the RPI (#11) but has done so in advanced rating systems (KenPom #3, Sagarin #2). Any Tom Izzo team is scary in March, but one led by a potential National Player of the Year (Denzel Valentine) evolves into an even more frightening tier of “opponent no team wants to face.” Oh, and their most likely challenger for the title of Midwest favorite knows this reality all too well – top-seeded Virginia has been bounced from each of the last two Tournaments by the Spartans. Michigan State is #2 in seed only in this Midwest Region.

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Should They Falter: #1 Virginia (26-7, 13-5 ACC). Michigan State’s anointment as region favorite has little to do with any deficiencies exhibited by Virginia. Aside from a two-week stretch in early January in which the Cavaliers lost three of four, Tony Bennett’s team has been stellar from November to March. Like the Spartans, they too are in the top four in both the Sagarin and Pomeroy rating systems; unlike the Spartans, they have repeatedly proven capable of beating some of the nation’s best teams: Virginia owns five victories over teams that earned a #3 seed or better – four more than the Spartans. Making the Final Four could well require an exorcism of recent March demons by defeating Michigan State in the Elite Eight, but ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, and Anthony Gill form a leading trio capable of guiding the Cavaliers past any team in the field. Believe it.

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