Defense wins games, at least that’s how the adage goes
But you still have to score, as everybody knows
The bigs don’t always dictate if we win or lose
Because good things can come in small packages too
COMMENTARY — One of the things I love about sports in general is that no matter what the match-up looks like on paper, almost anything can happen when the game is played. That’s why they actually play the games, instead of just running computer simulations based on the respective rosters. Nevertheless, at times I simply cannot resist trying to find some rhyme and reason in the numbers to see if there are one or more indicators that can serve as a litmus test in distinguishing wins from losses.
Road games have been the obvious elephant in the room. Utah is 17-2 at home and only 1-7 on the road. But that still begs the question, how are the Runnin’ Utes playing differently on the road than they are at home?
In conference play, the one stat in which Utah has consistently excelled is scoring defense. The Runnin’ Utes almost always hold their opponent under their overall scoring average at 67.9 points per game. But that doesn’t really explain the wins and the losses because Utah has consistently played good defense in games whether it wins or loses.
In Utah’s seven conference wins, it has held opponents to an average of 67.1 points per game. However, Utah’s opponents have always scored at least 63 points. In eight conference losses, the Runnin’ Utes have given up
68.5 points per game, which is not significantly different than the points scored in Utah’s wins. Even more telling, in two of those losses, the Runnin’ Utes held their opponents to less than 60 points, and in a third loss the opponent only scored 65 points. So the losses are not really attributable to poor defensive play.
Utah’s offensive output paints a much clearer picture. In Utah’s seven conference wins, the Runnin’ Utes are averaging 80.3 points per game, but in their eight conference losses they have only averaged 63.3 points per game. That whopping 20-point difference in scoring speaks volumes. It comes as no great surprise that Utah is winning when it scores 20 points more than in games it loses.
I looked at bench points, points off turnovers, and fast-break points, but the numbers were all very erratic and there was no clear pattern in any of these categories that distinguished wins from losses.
So is there a particular player that struggles to put the ball in the basket on the road?
At first I thought it might be Jordan Loveridge, who has failed to reach double-digits in Utah’s last three losses and has averaged a mere 5.7 points per game. However, Loveridge has played well in the Runnin’ Utes other five conference losses, averaging 16.2 ppg (which is actually higher than the 15.3 ppg that Loveridge is averaging in Utah’s seven conference wins).
Delon Wright is the Runnn’ Utes’ leading scorer, and that remains to be true whether Utah wins or loses. Wright has scored in double-digits in every Pac-12 game this season, averaging 17.1 ppg in the Runnin’ Utes seven conference wins, and 17.5 ppg in their 8 losses.
It turns out that the points scored by Brandon Taylor in any given game may have the biggest impact on swinging the pendulum from the win column to the loss column. When Taylor scores in the double-digits, Utah is 4-2 in conference play, with both losses coming in overtime (which, of course, gave Taylor more scoring opportunities). When Taylor scores in the single-digits, the Runnin’ Utes are 3-6, with Taylor scoring nine points in Utah’s three wins. Accordingly, when Taylor scores nine or more points, Utah is 7-2, but falls to 0-6 when Taylor scores less than nine points. Taylor is averaging 14 points when the Runnin’ Utes win, and is only averaging 7.6 points when they lose.
Obviously, the ability of the rest of the team to score has a major impact as well. The 6.4 difference in Brandon Taylor’s offensive output between wins and losses is only a fraction of the overall 20-point difference in Utah’s offensive output in wins and losses. In order for the Runnin’ Utes to win, someone other than the big three has to step up and put some points on the board.
Utah is still a young team playing a heavy dose of sophomores and freshmen and they are learning many lessons the hard way. The ability to score consistently is one of the lessons they need to learn. However, with nearly a full season now under its belt, this young team should only be getting better and better each game.
We’ll see how far this young team has come in the final three games of conference play. The Runnin’ Utes host Colorado this Saturday in Utah’s last home game of the season. The Runnin’ Utes close out the season with road games against Cal and Stanford, two very good teams that Utah has yet to play this season.
Here’s hoping that Brandon Taylor can score at least nine points this Saturday and that the rest of the team steps up to push the total points scored closer to 80 than 60.
Dwayne Vance is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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