St George News

Bleeding Red: Mid-terms are out on Runnin’ Utes

After a good start they’re now in a slide
The remaining games will be a wild ride
Will they pull out of their current tailspin
They’ll have to work hard for any more wins

COMMENTARY — Utah has now made it to the midway point in Pac-12 conference play, so you all know what that means — it’s time for mid-term grades.

At first I was thinking that in today’s society it may no longer be politically correct to assign grades because someone might get their feelings hurt. But then I realized how much I hate that “you’re all winners” approach. People should get rewarded for performing well, and those who are not performing at an acceptable level need to realize that they can and should do better.

Then I was thinking that perhaps I should grade on a curve so that at least some A’s are handed out. But that was a little too liberal for my liking — if everyone deserves A’s then they should all get A’s, but if no one deserves an A then I’m not going to hand out an A just because I have to do so in order to make a curve work.

So I’m going to use good old-fashioned grades ranging from A to F. Quite frankly, I would be absolutely stunned if anyone agreed with my assessment. In fact, one of the most enjoyable aspects for me of an exercise like this is the controversy it stirs up in my discussions with my buddies.

While the potential aspects of the Utah basketball team that could be evaluated and graded are limited only by one’s imagination, I am going to stick with non-conference, conference play, defense, offense, and coaching.

The Runnin’ Utes get a B for their non-conference play and resulting 8-4 record. If the truth be told, it was not an overly challenging schedule, and yet Utah still dropped four games (two of them at home after blowing huge leads against powerhouses Sacramento State and Cal State Northridge). However, the B is primarily a reward for the vast improvement over the past few years, and my sincere gratitude that the Runnin’ Utes actually won eight of their first 12 games.

The Runnin’ Utes came crashing back to reality in conference play and currently boast a 2-7 conference record, earning them a D+. I was tempted to give them a C for similar reasons that I gave them the benefit of the doubt in their non-conference play. However, they are heading in the wrong direction, and after playing Arizona State and Arizona tough on the road to open conference play, their last three games have been less than inspired. The last home win against Colorado was eerily reminiscent of the home losses to Sacramento State and Cal State Northridge, and Utah had to pull a rabbit out of the hat to hold on for the win. Utah needs to play much better in the second half of conference play in order to prove that the program is still moving in the right direction.

Utah’s defense has been one of the few bright spots this season, and earns a B+. Defense demonstrates how hard a team is willing to work, and I love to see good defensive teams. The defense is the primary reason Utah was even close in many of the near-miss losses this season. For example, in a 4-point home loss, Utah held UCLA to nearly 20 points less than its season average of 76.8 points per game. Similarly, in a 3-point road loss, Utah held Arizona to nearly 15 points below its season average of 74.8 points a game. I wanted to give Utah’s defense an A- (and maybe even an A). However, Utah’s first seven losses were by an average of 3.7 points, but the margin of defeat in Utah’s last three losses has ballooned to 13.25 points per game, and I really don’t like the direction the defense is trending.

Utah’s offense, or lack thereof, has been its glaring Achilles heel, resulting in a C-. Utah is second-to-last in scoring offense in the Pac-12, averaging 65.0 points per game. What is truly sad is that Washington State is dead last in scoring offense in the Pac-12 and still beat Utah by 10 points. The Runnin’ Utes need to actually start running again and push the ball up the court in transition in an effort to get into the lane for some higher percentage shots. Utah also can’t be afraid to pull the trigger when a good shot presents itself early in the shot clock.

The coaching thus far only garners a C-. Larry Krystokowiak and the rest of the coaching staff have recruited well and have vastly improved the level of talent on the team. However, I am still not sold on the in-game coaching decisions, especially in the second half. The endless passing to kill the shot clock, resulting in bad shots as time expires, lays squarely at the feet of the coaches (otherwise, the responsible players should be immediately benched and replaced with players who will actually run the offense implemented by the coaches). I hate it when teams play to not lose. Instead of taking its foot off of the pedal when it has a big lead, I’d really like to see Utah put its foot on its opponent’s throat and refuse to let them get back up off the floor.

Utah still has nine more conference games to play to prove they can play with the big boys. Next up is Oregon State tonight, and Oregon on Saturday. I would love to have the Runnin’ Utes prove me wrong in my assessments above. Here’s to hoping they will do just that.

~

Dwayne Vance is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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