Jordan Loveridge

Utah forward could miss a month after knee surgery

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No. 25 Utah’s Jordan Loveridge was reportedly questionable entering last night’s thrilling, 69-68 overtime, but in all reality, that was just a cover to try and throw No. 8 Wichita State off.

Loveridge was never going to play, as he had undergone minor surgery on his knee. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Loveridge has been experiencing pain in the joint for a while, and the procedure was done to clean up some debris that was under his kneecap.

“Cleaned up some loose bodies floating around in that knee,” head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “He’s going to get that thing strong. It wasn’t really invasive.”

This is a big loss for the Utes. Loveridge was averaging 11.5 points and shooting 50 percent from three on the season. He was the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer a year ago. Krystkowiak has depth along his front line — Brekkot Chapman, Dallin Bachynski and Jakob Poeltl all played well last night — and Dakarai Tucker came off the bench to score 13 big points, but it’s Loveridge’s presence as much as anything that will be missed.

Utah entered into a vital stretch in their season with this game against the Shockers. They’re at BYU, get No. 11 Kansas at a neutral site and then host UNLV. That’s a tough stretch to play without Loveridge, making last night’s win that much more important.

Top 25 Countdown: Others Receiving Votes

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2014-2015 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

Today, we’re kicking off our Top 25 Countdown with the ten teams that just missed getting ranked, listed alphabetically.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Colorado Buffaloes

  • Last Season: 23-12, 10-8 Pac-12 (t-3rd), lost in the Round of 64
  • Key Losses: Spencer Dinwiddie
  • Key Returnees: Josh Scott (14.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Askia Booker (13.7 ppg, 3.3 apg), Xavier Johnson (12.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Wesley Gordon (5.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Dominique Collier, Tory Miller
  • Outlook: Colorado had won their first three Pac-12 games and were sitting at 14-2, ranked 15th in the country, when Spencer Dinwiddie tore his ACL last season. They finished the year losing 10 of their final 19 games, losing in the opening round of the NCAA tournament before watching Dinwiddie head off to the NBA. The trio of Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon will give Tad Boyle one of the best front courts out west, but finding a way to fill Dinwiddie’s void will be key. Askia Booker is back and Boyle brings in top 100 recruit Dominique Collier to handle ball handling duties, but the key in the back court may end up being the development of Xavier Talton (who grew three inches this summer), who played well down the stretch last season, and whether Jaron Hopkins or Tre-Shaun Fletcher make the leap as sophomore.

Dayton Flyers

  • Last Season: 26-11, 10-6 Atlantic 10 (t-5th), lost in the Elite 8
  • Key Losses: Devin Oliver, Vee Sanford, Khari Price
  • Key Returnees: Dyshawn Pierre (11.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 40.9% 3PT), Jordan Sibert (12.2 ppg, 42.6% 3PT)
  • Key Newcomers: Ryan Bass (transfer), Darrell Davis, Detwon Rogers
  • Outlook: Dayton was as good as any team in the country in February and March of last season, going 9-1 to close out the Atlantic 10 season before making a run to the Elite 8. Losing Devin Oliver will hurt, putting pressure on Jordan Sibert and Dyshawn Pierre to take on a bigger role offensively. The combination of Oakland transfer Ryan Bass and sophomore Scoochie Smith will be counted on to take over ballhandling duties. Dayton should compete for top four in the A-10.
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Georgia State Panthers

  • Last Season: 25-9, 17-1 Sun Belt (1st), lost in the first round of the NIT
  • Key Losses: Manny Atkins, Devonta White
  • Key Returnees: R.J. Hunter (18.3 ppg, 39.5% 3PT), Ryan Harrow (17.8 ppg, 4.2 apg), Curtis Washington (7.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.4 bpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Kevin Ware (transfer), Jalen Brown, Jordan Session, Jeff Thomas, Carter Cagle
  • Outlook: Ron Hunter will have himself one of the most talented back courts in the country. Former Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow finally found himself last season and Hunter will hope that he can work the same magic with former Louisville guard Kevin Ware. And here’s the scary part: sharpshooter R.J. Hunter is the best player of the three. The Panthers should roll through the Sun Belt again, and should be a trendy cinderella pick if they reach the NCAA tournament. They lost in the Sun Belt title game last season.

Kansas State Wildcats

  • Last Season: 20-13, 10-8 Big 12 (5th), lost in the Round of 64
  • Key Losses: Will Spradling, Shane Southwell
  • Key Returnees: Marcus Foster, Wesley Iwundu, Thomas Gipson
  • Key Newcomers: Justin Edwards (transfer), Brandon Bolden (transfer), Stephen Hurt, Malek Harris, Tre Harris
  • Outlook: Kansas State has a chance to be really good this season. Sophomore Marcus Foster has a shot to end up as the best shooting guard in the country this season, while Wesley Iwundu will be a trendy breakout candidate this year. Justin Edwards was a very productive player in his two seasons at Maine and will compete with Malek Harris for minutes on the wing. Stephen Hurt and Brandon Bolden will help add height inside to the muscle-bound duo of Thomas Gipson and D.J. Johnson. The biggest question mark is at the point. Can Jevon Thomas or Nigel Johnson embrace the role?

Memphis Tigers

  • Last Season: 24-10, 12-6 American (t-3rd), lost in the Round of 32
  • Key Losses: Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford
  • Key Returnees: Austin Nichols (9.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Shaq Goodwin (11.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Nick King (4.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Kedren Johnson (transfer), Calvin Godfrey (transfer), Dominic Magee, Trahson Burrell, Chris Hawkins, Avery Woodson
  • Outlook: Last season, Josh Pastner’s team was built around a talented, veteran perimeter attack. This season, all four of those guards are gone, meaning the strength of the Tigers will be their young, talented front line of Austin Nichols, Shaq Goodwin and Nick King. The perimeter is a massive question mark, however. Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson, who sat out the 2013-2014 season, is the only guard on the roster that has played Division I basketball, and it’s still unclear whether he is going to be cleared to play this season. Pookie Powell, Dominic Magee and Markel Crawford, who is coming off of an injury, are expected to see big minutes at the guard spot.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Last Season: 19-13, 11-7 Big Ten (3rd), lost in the Round of 64
  • Key Losses: Deverell Biggs, Ray Gallegos
  • Key Returnees: Terran Pettway (18.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Shavon Shields (12.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Walter Pitchford (9.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 41.0% 3PT), Tai Webster (3.9 ppg, 2.0 apg)
  • Key Newcomers: Jacob Hammond, Tarin Smith, Moses Abraham (transfer)
  • Outlook: The Huskers were one of the most surprising teams in the country last season, coming out of nowhere to finish fourth in the Big Ten. They return three of their top four scorers — leading scorer Terran Petteway, wing Shavon Shields and stretch four Walter Pitchford — and also get back Tai Webster, a talented guard who played for New Zealand in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. They won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year, but good luck trying to get a win at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Last Season: 25-10, 10-8 Big Ten (5th), lost in the Round of 64
  • Key Losses: Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr.
  • Key Returnees: Sam Thompson (7.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg), Shannon Scott (7.5 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.0 spg), Amir Williams (7.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Anthony Lee (transfer), D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, David Bell, Kam Williams (redshirt)
  • Outlook: Ohio State is going to be very young as they kick off the post-Aaron Craft era, but there is talent on their roster. Shannon Scott will not replace the intangibles that Craft brought to the floor, but he should be able to replace his ability to be a lock down defender at the point. The addition of Anthony Lee up front will bolster a front line that will include Amir Williams and Marc Loving, who should be in line for a big jump in production, while Sam Thompson will once again provide aerial acrobatics and stalwart perimeter defense. The x-factor is going to be D’Angelo Russell. He’s got a reputation for being a big-time scorer on a team that will be lacking offensive firepower, but it’s not easy being a freshman scorer in a league as good as the Big Ten.

Pittsburgh Panthers

  • Last Season: 26-10, 11-7 ACC (5th), lost in the Round of 32
  • Key Losses: Lamar Patterson, Talib Zanna
  • Key Returnees: Cameron Wright (10.5 ppg, 2.6 apg), James Robinson (7.6 ppg, 4.1 apg), Durand Johnson (8.8 ppg), Josh Newkirk (4.6 ppg, 1.7 apg)
  • Key Newcomers: Sheldon Jeter, Cameron Johnson, Tyrone Haughton, Ryan Luther
  • Outlook: The Panthers will lose their two best players from last season in Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, but if there is anything that we’ve learned about Jamie Dixon’s team, it’s that they are always ready to call the next man up. With Cameron Wright out for ten weeks with a broken foot Durand Johnson (who’s returning from a torn ACL) will have to carry the offensive load, while James Robinson and rising sophomore Josh Newkirk will give Dixon a solid back court attack. The question mark is going to be in the front court. Michael Young had some promising moments as a freshman and Vanderbilt transfer Sheldon Jeter will be eligible this season. One of the trio of Joseph Uchebo, Tyrone Haughton, and Ryan Luther should be able to be effective in the ACC.

Syracuse Orange

  • Last Season: 26-5, 14-4 ACC (2nd), lost in the Round of 32
  • Key Losses: C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis, Jerami Grant
  • Key Returnees: Trevor Cooney (12.1 ppg, 37.5% 3PT), Rakeem Christmas (5.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.9 bpg), Dajuan Coleman (4.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Michael Gbinije (3.4 ppg)
  • Key Newcomers: Chris McCullough, Kaleb Joseph
  • Outlook: For the third straight year, Syracuse will enter the season with just one point guard on the roster, and for the second straight season, that point guard will be a freshman that is getting thrown directly into the fire. Will Kaleb Joseph follow in the footsteps of Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Ennis? That remains to be seen, but what we do know is that he won’t have nearly the experience around him. Trevor Cooney, an inconsistent three-point marksman, is the only one of Jim Boeheim’s four leading scorers from last season that returns, and Rakeem Christmas and Dajuan Coleman won’t exactly provide a pressure release inside. Chris McCullough is a five-star prospect, but he’s more athlete than basketball player at this point. Syracuse is going to need Michael Gbinije, Ron Patterson, B.J. Johnson and Tyler Roberson to make significant improvements if they are going to contend in the ACC this year.

Utah Utes

  • Last Season: 21-12, 9-9 Pac-12 (8th), lost in the NIT 1st round
  • Key Losses: Princeton Onwas
  • Key Returnees: Delon Wright (15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.5 spg, 1.3 bpg), Jordan Loveridge (14.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg), Brandon Taylor (10.6 ppg, 3.5 apg, 39.8% 3PT)
  • Key Newcomers: Brekkott Champman, Isaiah Wright, Chris Reyes, Kyle Kuzma
  • Outlook: I’m quite bullish on the Utes this season. In fact, I think there’s an outside chance that they end up being the second best team in the Pac-12 this season. For starters, the Utes lost so many close games last season thanks to dreadful late-game execution, and that can only get better this year as they essentially return everyone from last season, including one of the nation’s most under-appreciated stars in do-it-all guard Delon Wright. Forward Jordan Loveridge and point guard Brandon Taylor are back as well, and Larry Krystkowiak also adds a pair of talented freshman forwards in Brekkott Chapman and Kyle Kuzma, the latter of which redshirted in Salt Lake City last season. Winning is a skill and I don’t think it was a fluke that Utah consistently lost close games, but if they improve the way I think they can this year, they may not be involved in as many close games.

Utah uses Navy SEAL training to improve toughness, teamwork

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Utah was a much-improved basketball team in 2013-14, finishing the season with a 21-12 record (9-9 Pac-12) and earning a trip to the Postseason NIT in what was the program’s first postseason appearance since 2009. However things could have been even better for Larry Krystkowiak’s team, and while their non-conference slate (non-conference strength of schedule ranking: 341, per RPI Forecast) certainly didn’t help matter there was another issue for the young Utes.

Of Utah’s 12 losses eight were by four points or less, and in those tight games mental and physical toughness are critical for a team. With the goal of changing his team’s fortune in those contests and turning a group led by Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor into a Pac-12 contender, Krystkowiak added some activities to the team’s offseason training regimen.

During the spring the team took up boxing, and last week the Utes went through a Navy SEAL training course with that particular activity becoming more popular in college basketball in recent years. Kyle Goon of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote a story about Utah’s experience last week, with the exercise designed to not only get them tougher individually but also help them improve the way in which they work together.

The drills focused on cooperation, which Taylor thinks will help translate to the court this season. One of his big takeaways from the training was a traditional military axiom: “Two is one and one is none.”

“Basically everything we did made you depend on your teammates, because you couldn’t do anything without them,” Taylor said. “Them getting us out of our comfort zone and us being able to push through it was amazing. It’s just like the season.

The season is tough, at the end of the day, you gotta push through it with your coaches and your teammates.”

Thanks to the work of Krystkowiak and his staff, Utah enters the 2014-15 season in a better position than they’ve been in at any point during their short time in the Pac-12. More will be expected of this group, and in order to reach the NCAA tournament they’ll need to be better in close games. And if their offseason training methods have the desired effect, Utah should hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

Foul shooting, turnovers cost Utah shot at marquee victory

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Larry Krystkowiak’s Utah Utes entered Wednesday’s home game against No. 4 Arizona in need of a resume-building victory. With their non-conference slate consisting of a home win over BYU and little else of value, Utah will need a strong finish to Pac-12 play in order to have a shot at reaching the NCAA tournament. And after falling at UCLA last Saturday, a shot at the Wildcats on their home floor represented an opportunity the Utes could not afford to let slip from their grasp.

Unfortunately for Utah that turned out to be the case, and their foul shooting was the biggest reason why. Utah shot just 13-for-22 from the foul line, falling 67-63 in overtime despite grabbing 13 offensive rebounds and scoring 13 second-chance points. If anything the fact that Utah had a chance to win the game was a surprise, considering how poorly Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright played.

Loveridge shot 1-for-12 on the night, losing patience in the second half and forcing up some shots he didn’t need to take. Finishing the game with seven points and five rebounds, the sophomore put forth his worst effort of the season. As for Wright, while he didn’t shoot as poorly as Loveridge (4-for-9 FG) he struggled to have the impact that makes him one of the most versatile players in college basketball.

Wright finished with 12 points, five rebounds, two assists and six turnovers, and like Loveridge he ran into trouble against one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Arizona forced 16 turnovers and limited Utah to 43% shooting from the field, and defense will continue to be the key for the Wildcats as they look to make a deep tournament turn sans Brandon Ashley.

Offensively there was a positive development for Sean Miller’s team on Wednesday, and that was the performance of guard Gabe York. York made his first start of the season on Wednesday, replacing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the starting lineup with Arizona looking for an offensive spark. York provided that, scoring ten of his 15 points in the first half and finishing the game shooting 6-for-10 from the field. And Hollis-Jefferson played well in his return to a reserve role, adding 13 points and four minutes.

Already two key players for Arizona, Hollis-Jefferson and York became even more important when Ashley was lost for the remainder of the season. Can both, especially York, build on their performances against Colorado on Saturday night? And can Arizona do a better job rebounding the basketball? If Arizona gets positive answers to those questions they’ll have a good chance of retaining sole possession of first place in the Pac-12, with UCLA currently making a late charge.

But this result, and its impact, is more about Utah than Arizona. Remove BYU and Boise State and just one of Utah’s remaining non-conference opponents didn’t have an RPI of 200 or worse, Texas State. With this being the case the Utes not only needed to get hot down the stretch but they also needed a marquee victory.

Wednesday night represented an opportunity to accomplish that task, but unfortunately for Utah they fell just short.

Next two games could potentially change course of Utah’s season

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Even with the loss of three starters from a team that pulled off a surprising run to the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament, the Utah Utes had the appearance of a team that could make a move in the Pac-12. Forward Jordan Loveridge and guard Brandon Taylor would be sophomores, and a group of newcomers led by junior Delon Wright would raise the level of talent at Larry Krystkowiak’s disposal.

After picking up their first true road victory of conference play on Thursday night, beating USC 79-71, the Utes are 17-7 with a 6-6 record in Pac-12 play. Given the quality of their non-conference schedule, Utah has a lot of work to do when it comes to reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. With this being the case the chances of the Utes making the Field of 68 are slim.

However, in front of the Utes are two games that could potentially change the course of their season should they find a way to win. Those games: at UCLA this weekend, and No. 2 Arizona at home next Wednesday.

Find a way to win those two, and Utah would have two much-needed quality wins on its resume. And while beating USC does little for Utah’s hopes of climbing into the NCAA tournament discussion, the fact that they were able to close out a game on the road is a step forward for a program that has struggled for much of its brief stay in the Pac-12.

Most importantly, Utah finally didn’t panic when a team made a run. Unlike Arizona, and Colorado, the Utes didn’t wilt when USC made a big push. And that’s why Utah finally can say it won a road game.

The differences against USC were three-point shooting and the way in which Utah distributed the basketball. The Utes made ten of their 19 attempts from beyond the arc, with Loveridge, Taylor and Dakarai Tucker accounting for all ten makes. And of their 24 made field goals 17 were assisted, resulting in an assist percentage (70.8%) much better than their rate for the season (58.4%).

There are areas to address however, most notably the 14 turnovers committed against USC. But Utah has a chance to turn this season into something more, a scenario few expected even after the Utes entered conference play with a gaudy 11-1 record. And even if that doesn’t result in a trip to the NCAA tournament, that’s a positive sign for Utah basketball in the future.

Utah takes another step forward in rout of rival BYU

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Before Saturday night Utah had last beaten in-state rival BYU in 2009, losing 11 of the prior 12 meetings in the series. And with talk earlier this week that the rivalry could be coming to an end in the near future, there may have been a greater sense of urgency from the folks who support the program when it came to ending BYU’s run of dominance.

In front of a charged crowd in Salt Lake City the Utes did just that, dominating from the opening tip and beating the Cougars 81-64 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final margin would indicate. Two reasons why Utah won by such a comfortable margin: forward Jordan Loveridge and guard Delon Wright, who could potentially emerge as one of the better wing tandems in the Pac-12 as the season wears on.

Loveridge, who was one of the conference’s best freshmen a season ago, hit the ground running and scored eight of Utah’s first ten points. He finished with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists on the night, with 15 of those points being scored in the first half. BYU was able to slow him down in the second half, but the problem at that point became the versatile City College of San Francisco product.

Wright (16 points, seven assists and six rebounds) accounted for eight points and five assists in the second half, with his ability to penetrate the defense and set up his teammates proving to be too much for BYU. Add in seven points from reserve center Dallin Bachynski (11 points, eight rebounds on the night) and Utah was able to increase the margin they built in the first half.

Combine those performances with their limiting Matt Carlino and Tyler Haws to 21 points on 6-for-26 shooting, and the end result was a quality victory the Utes needed based upon who they’ve beaten thus far. And that schedule may have led to many ignoring the progress made by Larry Krystkowiak’s team.

Utah finished last season with a 15-18 record, but their run to the Pac-12 tournament semifinals showed that the program was making progress, and Saturday’s win is another step in the right direction. The next step: improve their standing within a Pac-12 that’s much stronger than it was in any of the last three seasons. But with the tandem of Loveridge and Wright leading the way, Utah is capable of making a climb up the league standings.