Before Saturday’s tilt on the road at Utah, we reached out to our friends over at Block U, SB Nation’s Utah Utes site, to learn more about the Beavers upcoming opponent.
1. Like the rest of the Pac-12, Utah has been a mostly pedestrian team this season, with their best win probably being a road victory at Arizona State. However, unlike the rest of the league, preseason expectations for the Utes were fairly calm. Has this year’s version of Utah lived up to what was expected of this group? Or are they currently over/under-performing?
I would say so, overall. I kind of pegged this as a transition season for the Utes, and they were likely going to be a .500 team, which is about where they are right now. They have a lot of youth, and it shows at times. They’ve had some stinkers, for sure, but they’ve had some really nice games too. So an inconsistent team isn’t a big shock to me.
2. Star player Sedrick Barefield has really grown into his role as the focal point of Utah’s offense and is coming off a string of prolific outings in his last three games. Can you talk a bit about what Barefield brings to the table and name some of the other key Utes’ players to know for Saturday’s game?
He’s a flame thrower, and if he hits a couple then he’s going to hit a lot of them from deep. He draws so much attention from other teams, that at least against Oregon, he struggled finding his teammates over their pressure, but he’s had some nice play making ability when he gets double teamed. He’s not big, but he’s crafty with the ball, and he doesn’t need a lot of space to get a shot off, but he’s streaky.
Donnie Tillman has played really well the last 10 games or so, and is the punch off the bench for the Utes. He can go MIA at times, but when he’s locked in, he can beat a team in a lot of ways. He’s a bit of a tweener, size wise, but he’s really gotten into a nice rhythm from deep, and he can take it to the basket when guys run at him.
3. Freshmen swingmen Timmy Allen and Both Gach seem to be the two rookie talents who have assimilated very quickly to head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s system. What is it about both their games that have turned them into such instant-impact contributors for this group?
Timmy is a big man in a wings body, so he wants to get dirty in the paint. He’s not super athletic, but he’s craft around the rim. He’s like a college version of Paul Millsap, not big but gets boards and finds a way to put the ball in the hole. Both is like a young Delon Wright. He’s a long point guard, and is athletic and wants to defend and make plays passing the ball. He’s battled some ankle injuries that have slowed him a bit, but he’s gotten into a nice flow the last few games. I’m really excited to see him develop, because he can be really good.
4. When most fans of the Pac-12 think about Utah, they think about the big-man culture that has developed over the past decade there, headlined by legendary forwards like Kyle Kuzma and Jakob Poeltl. Would you say that this edition of the Utes models that form? Or have they had to alter and develop into new finding new styles of play with a thinner front-court?
Not really, the big men are kind of underwhelming right now. Jayce Johnson has almost no coordination and when he does his role he can be effective. That’s clog up the paint, get rebounds, and clean up on the offensive glass. For a 7-footer, he takes stiff to another level. Novac Topolovic rotates in for him, and he’s a bit more nimble but struggles too. I’d say a skilled big is what Utah is really missing right now, because it’s all small forwards and two guards for the Utes, and they’re mostly all so young that the growing pains are evident.
5. And finally, could you give your prediction for the game.
I think it’s tough for most teams on the back end of the Rocky Mountain trip to win the game, just to the short turn around and the altitude, so I’ll take the Utes in this one. I also expect them to be dialed in after the embarrassing performance against Oregon this past Thursday. I think it’s a close game, but Barefield makes some plays late in the game to make the difference.