In the first meeting of the season between No. 11 Utah and UCLA the Bruins played one of their worst games of the season, scoring 15 points in the first half and shooting 28.8% from the field in the 71-39 defeat. With the Runnin’ Utes tied with No. 6 Arizona in the loss column atop the Pac-12 standings, a win in Los Angeles would have allowed them to keep pace with the Wildcats.
After taking a three-point lead into the locker room UCLA opened the second half on a 12-0 run that gave them the working margin they needed to pick up their first win over a ranked opponent this season. Bryce Alford added 14 points and seven assists and fellow guard Isaac Hamilton, who shot 2-for-24 in the three games prior to Thursday, scored 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting from the field.
And while the return of Tony Parker, who missed both games in Oregon last week due to back issues, certainly helped UCLA so did the play of freshman center Thomas Welsh.
Welsh, who averaged 6.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in losses to Oregon State and Oregon, finished with seven points, two rebounds and two assists against Utah, holding his own against the Runnin’ Utes’ front court. Yet while UCLA’s improved play certainly can’t be overlooked, just as problematic for Utah was their own performance on both ends of the floor.
Utah shot 48.9% from the field but was far too reliant on the perimeter shot, as 22 of their 47 field goal attempts were three-pointers. Utah made just seven of those shots, and the settling for perimeter looks (due in part to the matchup zone employed by UCLA with Kevon Looney at the top of it) resulted in the visitors not taking full advantage of the opportunities inside of the arc and also losing the turnover battle.
Utah turned the ball over 14 times, with UCLA converting those mistakes into 18 points, and they also allowed 34 points in the paint. While a UCLA team desperate for a win buckled down, the effort that Utah has played with for most of the season wasn’t present Thursday night and it cost them.
“They wanted it more. There were numerous things we did poorly,” Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said after the game. “You can start with our scheme and not executing. Our personnel match ups and efforts just weren’t there. Some nights you can get away with one of those things but not all three in the same game like tonight.
“We didn’t deserve to win. They were the aggressor. Their zone screwed us up some and we didn’t do enough to put ourselves in a position to win. It’s time for everyone to look at themselves and find ways to improve.”
Brandon Taylor helped keep Utah afloat with 14 points and five assists, with Delon Wright scoring a team-high 15 while also grabbing six rebounds. But Thursday’s defeat can serve as a valuable learning experience for the Runnin’ Utes moving forward. Their role within the conference has changed, as Utah’s gone from a program looking to make its mark within the Pac-12 to a team with hopes of making a run deep into March.
With that comes the transition from “hunter” to “hunted,” a process that can at times be difficult for teams to navigate. Utah’s done a good job of this for most of the season, but they let their effort slip Thursday night and the result was their second conference loss of the season.
Player of the Year Power Rankings: A familiar face on top, but a few surprises behind him
Every Tuesday, we will be providing you with a breakdown of the top ten candidates for National Player of the Year. You can read through the older posts here.
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Frank the Tank has played like it early on this season, averaging 19.3 points, 10.3 boards, 2.8 assists, 2.8 blocks and 1.3 steals while shooting 44.4 percent from three. All of those numbers are career-highs, and while much of it can be attributed to the fact that Wisconsin has yet to really play quality competition, the fact of the matter is that you can see the improvement in Kaminsky if you watch him play. Could he make this play last season?:
2. LaDontae Henton, Providence: Buckets got buckets over the weekend, scoring 62 points as he led the Friars to a title in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. He went for a career-high 38 points in the title game against Notre Dame. I’m not sure how long Henton will remain at the top of this list, but through a week-and-a-half of the season, there haven’t been many players better than him.
3. Angel Rodriguez, Miami: Rodriguez scored 20 points in the final 6:47 — including making five threes — in a come-from-behind win at Florida. He also led the Hurricanes to a win in the Charleston Classic, but whatever. Do you realize how difficult this shot is?!?:
4. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: What’s made Okafor so good this season won’t show up in the box score. He’s averaging 15.8 points and 8.0 boards and is just 11-for-30 from the floor in his last two games. He’s not an elite shotblocker and he’s not an elite rebounder, either, but his presence in the post offensively opens up everything for Duke on the offensive end of the floor. I’ll dive into this more later in the year, but the easy way to explain it is that the myriad of talented guards and wings on the Blue Devils roster are going to get easy looks from three and opportunities to attack close-outs all season long as defenses worry about the behemoth on the block.
5. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: I know that Notre Dame lost to Providence on Sunday afternoon, but that was hardly Grant’s fault. In the last 12 minutes of that game, he was responsible for creating all 25 of Notre Dame’s points. He had 12 of his own while handing out four assists, three of which led to threes, as well as setting up Zach Auguste for the two free throws he hit. He’s averaging 18.4 points and 7.2 assists this season, but more importantly, Notre Dame has their closer back.
6. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: He’s slowed down since that monster opening night performance against Minnesota, but Louisville hasn’t played anyone since then. Does Harrell really need to be a factor when they’re winning games 87-26?
7. Georges Niang, Iowa State: Through three games, Niang is averaging 22.7 points, 8.7 boards and 3.7 assists. And he struggled in the 23-point win over Georgia State.
8. Norman Powell, UCLA: Powell spent his first three seasons at UCLA getting overshadowed by more talented teammates. That isn’t happening this season, as he’s averaging 21.3 points.
9. Jonathan Holmes, Texas: We’ve written quite a bit about Holmes over the last couple of days, from how he has used the ‘Chaminade Crew‘ to change the culture surrounding the Texas program and how important his size at the small forward spot is to Texas this season. He averaged 20.0 points and 9.0 boards in wins over Iowa and Cal.
10. Caris LeVert, Michigan: LeVert hasn’t shot the ball all that well yet this season, but he’s averaging 16.3 points, 7.0 boards and 5.0 assists for the Wolverines through four games. He’s been their best player.
OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Justin Anderson (Virginia), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Quinn Cook (Duke), A.J. English (Iona), Sterling Gibbs (Seton Hall), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Stefan Nastic (Stanford), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Shannon Scott (Ohio State), Joseph Young (Oregon)
2014-2015 Season Preview: Caris LeVert, Ron Baker highlight best off-guards in college hoops
The off guard spot is a loaded position this season, but the top of the class has gotten there in unique ways. The top two players at the position were considered mid-major recruits. The third and fourth best off guards are both from Texas but weren’t considered good enough for the best programs in that state. No. 5 redshirted his first season in college. No. 6 spent two years on a Mormon mission. No. 9 plays at a mid-major program, while No. 10 spent two seasons playing for Houston.
There’s a moral to that story, but I think you can figure it out.
1. Caris LeVert, Michigan: It’s amazing how far Caris LeVert has come since high school. A lanky, 6-foot-6 mid-major prospect, LeVert was committed to Ohio until John Groce took the Illinois job. As a junior in college, he’s a first-team all-american and the best off guard in the country. LeVert will replace some of the scoring Michigan lost with Nik Stauskas going pro as he excels in the kind of pick-and-roll actions that John Beilein gets his stars in.
2. Ron Baker, Wichita State: Another guy that was considered a mid-major recruit coming out of high school, Baker had to more or less convince the Shocker staff to take the chance on him as a walk-on. I’d say it worked out well. Baker was a huge part of their run to the 2013 Final Four, was a star on the team than started last season 35-0 and now has a chance to play his way into the NBA Draft’s first round.
3. Terran Petteway, Nebraska: Petteway is one of the nation’s most entertaining players to watch. He’s a big-time scorer for the Huskers, but he’s not exactly the most efficient player. He takes a lot of tough shots, but when he gets into a rhythm, he also makes a lot of those tough shots. You don’t want to restrict his aggressiveness, but with some improved shot selection we could be looking at the Big Ten Player of the Year.
4. Marcus Foster, Kansas State: Foster was a revelation last season, averaging 15.5 points as a freshman despite being completely overlooked coming out of high school. He’ll play with the ball in his hands a bit more this season and looked more explosive this summer when I saw him work out. With all the talent on Kansas and Texas, Foster could end up being the Big 12 Player of the Year.
5. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: The nation’s most underrated guard, Brogdon is one of the best all-around perimeter players in the country. He defends, he rebounds, he play the point if need be, he hits threes. He’s also as consistent as anyone in the ACC, as he scored double-figures in every game in league play and every game after the New Year except for one.
6. Tyler Haws, BYU: There isn’t a better guard in the country at running off of screens than Haws, who finished last season shooting 40.4% from three while averaging 23.2 points. With Matt Carlino gone and Eric Mika on his mission, there’s a chance that Haws could end up leading the nation in scoring as a senior.
7. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield was one of the most improved players in the country as a sophomore, becoming a guard that averaged 16.5 points and shot 38.6% from three in Lon Kruger’s uptempo offense. Also a terrific defender, don’t expect Hield’s development to slow down now.
8. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: I had my doubts about ranking Harrison this high, as he was a 35.6% three-point shooter that made a name for himself by hitting three big threes in the 2014 NCAA tournament. But after seeing the way he played during Kentucky’s trip to the Bahamas this summer, Harrison looks primed for a big year as he looked to be in better shape and with an improved pull-up game.
9. R.J. Hunter, Georgia State: There may not be a better shooter in the country than 6-foot-5 R.J. Hunter. The son of GSU’s head coach, Hunter is joined by Ryan Harrow and Kevin Ware in what is one of the most talented back courts in the country. He needs to get stronger and better defensively, but Hunter could be looking at an NBA career by the time he’s done in Atlanta.
10. Joe Young, Oregon: Young had a very good season for the Ducks as a junior before opting to return to school. As a senior, Oregon likely won’t win a ton of games, but expect big numbers from Young as the Ducks will have limited options offensively.
11. Rashad Vaughn, UNLV: One of the most slept-on freshmen this season. Vaughn is a big, athletic guard that can really score. UNLV likes to run, and there will be a lot of shots available. Expect big numbers.
12. Norman Powell, UCLA: Powell struggled to become known playing alongside UCLA’s talented wings the last two seasons. He’ll be needed to play a leadership role on a talented-but-young Bruin sqaud.
13. Wayne Selden, Kansas: Selden struggled with a knee issue last season that limited his explosiveness. If he can stay healthy throughout the season, you’ll see why the powerful off-guard has a chance to be a lottery pick.
14. E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: Matthews won’t get as much national attention as some of the other guys on this list, but the lefty combo-guard will be one of the best players in the Atlantic 10 this season.
15. Zak Irvin, Michigan: Irvin proved that he is a talented and athletic jump-shooter last season while dealing with bouts of streakiness. He’s not the next Nik Stauskas, not with LeVert and Derrick Walton on the roster, but he’ll be a piece stretching the floor for John Beilein.
16. Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke: Sulaimon has a lot to prove after a disappointing sophomore season that saw him lose playing time to less-talented backups. Duke needs him to be a big-time perimeter scorer to compliment Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor.
17. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: DSR has a chance to end up being the Player of the Year in the Big East this season. He averaged 17.6 points as a sophomore and will have a bigger role offensively with Markel Starks gone.
18. Michael Frazier, Florida: Frazier is one of the best shooters in the country, but he wasn’t more than just a shooter last season. Florida will have a lot of new faces, and Frazier will need to take on a more expanded role.
19. D.J. Newbill, Penn State: He won’t get much attention playing for Penn State, but Newbill is one of the best scoring guards in the Big Ten.
20. Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss: Marshall Henderson got all of the attention last season, but it was Summers (17.3 points, 3.8 assists) who was the team’s best player.
ALSO CONSIDERED: Gary Bell (Gonzaga), Jabari Bird (Cal), James Blackmon (Indiana), Kellen Dunham (Butler), A.J. English (Iona), Daniel Hamilton (UConn), DaVonte Lacy (Washington State), Rodney Purvis (UConn), D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State), RayVonte Rice (Illinois), Isaiah Whitehead (Seton Hall)