With high hopes Utah entered conference play
By near miss losses Ute fans were haunted
But now scores are getting farther away
One thing’s for certain – finishers wanted
COMMENTARY — The Utah basketball team isn’t the only thing that is stone cold in Salt Lake City … have you seen the weather reports lately? How did St. George escape being the epicenter of Utah society? Add in the PIBs (people-in-black) in Salt Lake for the Sundance Film Festival, and you have all the reasons you need to migrate down south to Utah’s Dixie.
I know, I know, I’m a little late this week. While not necessarily being in seclusion while I mourned five straight conference losses, there certainly has not been much cause for celebration (unless you count the buzzer-beating half-court shot to end the game by Saint Mary’s in Provo on Wednesday night).
I worried that the Runnin’ Utes’ gaudy (at least in comparison to recent years) non-conference record was fool’s gold and not a true representation of how Utah would fare in conference play. However, three very near misses to quality opponents in Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA, kept the flames of hope still burning, albeit somewhat dimmed. The next two losses to USC and Washington State were the biggest defeats of the season thus far for Utah and have definitely tempered fans’ expectations.
So how have the Runnin’ Utes gotten to where they are now, and what needs to happen for Utah to succeed?
Utah’s strength remains its defense. The Utes top the Pac-12 in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 37.2 percent shooting from the field. Utah is also second in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, holding opponents on average to 59.4 points per game.
The problem is, you don’t win in basketball with defense. Football gurus will try and tell you that defense wins championships – but that adage simply does not hold true in basketball. Unlike football, you can’t score on defense in basketball. Instead, the offense actually has to put the ball in the basket. That is something Utah has been struggling to do.
I will concede that defense can lead to offense, assuming you can actually get the ball to the other end of the floor. Utah remains dead last in the Pac-12 in turnover margin, losing on average 3.49 more turnovers than its opponent per game.
What is truly maddening is that Utah does not necessarily lack offensive firepower. Jarred DuBois and Jordan Loveridge are both in the top-20 of the Pac-12 in points per game. Jason Washburn is fourth in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage at 60.3%. Glenn Dean is in the top-10 in the Pac-12 from beyond the 3-point line.
So why haven’t Utah’s apparent talents on the offensive end translated into higher scores and W’s on the scoreboard? If I knew for certain, I would be making a lot more money than I am now. Of course, I’m going to take a shot at it anyway.
At times in years past, Utah’s offense has looked like a pick-up basketball game as players took turns going one-on-one and launching shots with no regard for whether a teammate had a better shot. At times this year, the pendulum has swung too far to the other side as the players pass almost endlessly – passing up good shots in favor of one more pass to a teammate – only to end up forcing it as the shot clock expires.
Coach Larry Krystkowiak would probably cringe if he heard me say this, but just shoot the ball! I don’t want to see Utah’s offense regress back into a pick-up basketball game, but when a good shot presents itself, pull the trigger and put the ball in the basket.
The road doesn’t get any easier for Utah. Next up is a road game against 12-5 (4-0 in the Pac-12) Washington on Saturday night. In order for Utah to have success, it is going to have to maintain its defensive intensity and loosen up on the other end of the court. The Utes can’t be afraid to take the open shot.
And now for a few, quick non-basketball thoughts:
While Brian Johnson may be young, lacks experience as an offensive coordinator, and is coming off a tough year, at least the Utah football coaching staff is not in disarray (unlike a similarly situated school down south). In fact, one of Utah’s own recently returned as Aaron Roderick flirted briefly with a coaching position at BYU. Notwithstanding their gridiron struggles of late, I look forward to a unified coaching staff building on a solid foundation moving into next season.
With the departure of Chip Kelly to the NFL, it will be interesting to see if Oregon can still continue to play at an elite level. Utah will get a chance to find out first-hand if that is the case with the Ducks on Utah’s schedule for the upcoming season. How much longer until football season begins again?
Dwayne Vance is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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