Marching to Vegas: On Utah, Colorado and a Forced RivalryPosted by Adam Butler on January 31st, 2014
Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.
I want to talk about Saturday morning’s Utah-Colorado game. At first glance it’s a less than appealing game. Or I suppose that’s just on name recognition as Utah hasn’t necessarily been a program of note for some time now and Colorado is no semblance of a basketball school. To say that the newest “rivalry” game in the Pac brings something to the table is to say that The Hangover 2 is your favorite movie (apologies if it is and I’m also completely judging you). And then there’s also the fact that the two have collectively dropped nine of 16 conference games. Individually, Colorado has lost four of five while the Utes haven’t won a single road game this season. Did I mention Utah will be on the road for this one? The point here is that this game is missing the shine some other rivalry games might hold.
I really don’t think that’s the case. You’re a top Pac-12 fan so you likely agree with me; but let’s dive deeper. First, the Utes. This is like that little team that could who plowed through a bunch of teams that couldn’t (170th in SOS rankings) en route to a tidy 11-1 non-conference record. As mentioned, you’re a top fan so you’re familiar with all that. Then they jumped into the Conference of Champions and acquired a bunch of losses. But they were close losses. Defeats by a cumulative 20 points. Conversely, their three wins have come by an average margin of 11.3 points and include a signature win over then #25 UCLA. “Who are the Utes?” I often find myself wondering as well as “What is a Ute?” and many other existential questions. Are they a team incapable of winning outside of the Huntsman Center, destined to be homebodies and an also-ran while filling the isn’t-that-nice narrative but not the wins column? Because that’s who they’ve been to date. And what does it mean for these Utes? What does it mean for Saturday’s game?
To answer the former, it means we see a capable group that’s not producing. It’s a weird mix of encouraging and frustrating, a combination that ranks Utah as KenPom’s third-most unlucky team in the nation. I’ll synopsize this statistic as an examination of a team’s performance against expectations. Anecdotally, we can all agree that the Utes have outperformed expectations. Subsequently, their luck rating is such that they’re damn unlucky because they just keep losing. In the long run, this statistic suggests that the Utes have better days to come. Their actual performance will more closely align with their expected performance (according to KenPom’s stuff). In Utah’s case, this is particularly interesting because they are such a young team. A team that plays well but that has unfortunately (key word) found itself on the wrong side of the score. Utah’s record may not indicate it (at least in Pac-12 play where it’s lost all those close ones) but they have brighter days ahead (it just might be 2014-15).
And speaking of unfortunate, a torn ACL would seem the most tangible bad luck I can imagine. I hate bringing it up but it’s pretty central to the Colorado dialogue as the aforementioned 1-4 record coincides with that misfortune. Which suggests ‘gut check’ time. Good friend and Buff faithful, James, passionately explained to me from shortly after the injury that Colorado’s season would begin four games after the Washington loss (Dinwiddie down). I agreed with James as he explained to me that Tad’s boys would endure some shock as well as an adjustment period in becoming the new team they would become. Boyle isn’t soon going to change the script, although I think the Buffs need to slow things down and accentuate their half-court strengths with their transition spearhead now sidelined. But it’s ultimately Tad’s team and he’s going to be more frequently right than me. At least in these affairs.
Most importantly, if James’ theory is right, then Saturday’s game will be the game where the Buffs return to being the defensive- and rebounding-minded transition team that catapulted themselves into the Top 25. And if Ken Pomeroy’s luck can shed any insights into Utah’s forthcoming outcomes, then Saturday’s game could serve as a coming-out party. Their first road win! One team will prevail and the other, I fear, could find itself broken and caught in the narrative of their own story; believing they may not be able to surmount the perceived hurdle they’re facing. Saturday’s game might not be the sexiest, but it just might be the most important.