As the Utes finish the non-conference schedule going 8-4, Pac-12 play will tipoff for the Utes next week against Arizona State.
As the non-conference schedule winds down for the Utes, it is safe to say that this years team is a much more talented group than last years squad. Already surpassing last years win total of 6, the Utes will head into Pac-12 play with 8 wins , including victories over Boise State and SMU and just falling short to BYU in Provo. Sadly, mixed in with those victories there were also some games where the Utes blew big leads and ended up resulting in a loss (Sacramento State, BYU, and Cal State Northridge). The inconsistency is obviously frustrating, but if it can be fixed and the Utes can put together complete games (1st and 2nd halfs) this team has the potential to compete with nearly every team in the Pac-12.
The young group of players for the Utes have been a joy to watch this season. Led by Freshman Jordan Loveridge, fellow freshmen Justin Seymour, Brandon Taylor, Dakarai Tucker, and sophomore Dallin Bachynski have all showed promise this season. Jordan Loveridge has been everything the Utes knew he would be. Averaging 13 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists, Loveridge has been one of the most consistent players for the Utes and will continue to be a huge contributor for this team.
The play of big men, Dallin Bachynski and Jason Washburn will be something to watch as the Utes head into Pac-12 play. Facing much more talented big men than they have thus far (excluding BYU's Brandon Davies), Bachynski and Washburn will have to play tough basketball on both ends of the court for the Utes to have a successful rest of the season. Both will need to stay out of foul trouble, as this team will have a difficult time if they have to rely on the other inexperienced big men in games.
The play of Jarred DuBois and Aaron Dotson have been a little disappointing at times. These two players have a ton of potential and can be real threats for opposing teams. With Aaron Dotson coming off of an injury, the slow start for Dotson was very possible. If Dotson can get going and play the way he is capable of, he will be one of the Utes best players and will help this team out significantly. We have seen what Jarred DuBois is capable of doing as he has had some terrific games this season and lead the Utes in both points (13.5) and assists (4). The thing that has been a little disappointing for DuBois has been the consistency. The Utes will rely on DuBois in a big way for the remainder of the season and the consistency in which DuBois does play will be a big part of this teams success. While I am very picky about the play of DuBois, and the word "disappointing" is understandably unfair to many people to be used to describe the way he has played this season, I say "disappointing" because I know how good of a basketball player he can be. I am one of DuBois' biggest fans and love the way he plays the game. If he consistently plays the way I believe he can, DuBois will be this teams MVP.
In Pac-12 play this year, the Utes will face each team twice other than UCLA, USC, Washington State, and Washington which they will face once each. The Pac-12 is full of a lot of talented teams without many standouts other than Arizona and UCLA. With the exception of those two teams, I believe the Utes can compete with any team in the conference.
The Utes have proved they can compete on the road with the game earlier in the season at the Marriott Center against BYU. Though the cougars were able to get the comeback win, it was still a good sign that the Utes weren't phased by the crowd. The Marriott Center is similar to the type of environment the Utes will see when they hit the road these next couple of months. After the game in Provo, point guard Glen Dean told me that this team feeds off of the away crowds, and that the crowds do not bother the Utes. This will be very important for the Utes to have success on the road. It is very tough to win on the road in college basketball, especially so for a young team like Utah. If the younger players let the crowds get to them and are phased by the environments they will be playing in, it could be a long season for the Utes when they play away from the Huntsman Center.
From what I've seen at practices and the way the Utes have performed in games this season, the Utes will do much better than they did last year in Pac-12 play. This is a much improved team and will surprise the conference with their play. I'm not going to say the Utes will head into the McKale Center and take down Arizona, or that UCLA is going to leave the Huntsman Center with a loss to the Utes. What I will say is that this Utah team will be fun to watch over the next couple of months, and that I wouldn't be surprised a bit to see a few upset victories for Utes along the way.
Intra-Conference Play Begins For The Utes
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