As the Utes trudge through their longest losing streak of the season, many questions have been raised as to how exactly they got here. It wasn't that long ago Utah looked as if they had a realistic shot at the NCAA Tournament and an even better shot at the NIT. But something went wrong along the way and Utah is now barely hanging above .500. So what happened?
Even though fans were optimistic about this year's Utes, talent has always been a big question mark. All throughout last season, Utah struggled with consistency and were often hindered by mental mistakes down the stretch. And while much of this was attributed to the poor coaching of Ray Giacoletti, the further we get beyond the Giacoletti era, it seems more and more likely talent was a major concern for that Utah team. It does not, however, justify Giacoletti as a coach, but it does suggest the talent isn't nearly as solid as Ute fans would have thought entering the season.
To compound the talent problem, Utah does not have much consistency when it comes to scoring outside of Luke Nevill and Johnnie Bryant -- who both average about 14 points per game. The next leading scorer on the Utes is Tyler Kepkay, with only 8 points per game, an average that has plummeted over the past few weeks. In the past 7 games, Kepkay is averaging a little less than 5 points per game. A number that not coincidently coincides with their losing streak.
Point Guard Play
Utah's lack of production from their point guards only intensifies the problems. As mentioned, Tyler Kepkay has not been producing, especially as of late. And Utah's other option, Luka Drca, while appearing to be better, still is not the answer here. And that ultimately solidifies Utah's problems, because without steady point guard play, the team just can't reach the level needed to be competitive in the Mountain West.
Utah is stretched thin, more so at the center spot and that's become abundantly clear more recently, especially with Nevill getting into foul trouble early in most games. Without a serviceable center to come off the bench, Utah is at a severe disadvantage, because their offense automatically becomes one-dimensional, as they're stuck playing the perimeter. And while the Utes still shoot well from outside, it has proven to be a handicap, especially when the shots stop falling.
Until Utah can get someone competent enough to come off the bench and play well in the absence of Nevill, they will struggle. You can't lose your leading scorer without replacing him with some type of production and that's what Utah has faced all season long..
Beyond the lack of depth behind Nevill, he really hasn't become the dominant player on offense many had hoped for. While I think his defense has improved under Boylen, there are issues with his inside game, where he appears to be too hesitant to really play forceful inside on a consistent basis. And it isn't as if Nevill is playing poorly, but there is potential for him to play far better than he has this season. That isn't to say I'm expecting Bogut like numbers, but his height advantage definitely positions him to dominate far more easier than most other players in the conference.
It's never easy going from one coach to another, especially when their teaching philosophies are completely different. No one can say Boylen is like Giacoletti, because he is not. Giacoletti was far more reserved and wasn't nearly as hard on the players as Boylen. Adjusting to that could take an entire year, especially when that coach is too learning the ropes. Let's remind ourselves, this is Boylen's first head coaching gig. He's going to make mistakes, just as the players are going to make mistakes as well. I think Boylen has a very astute basketball mind and when the season is over, he'll review every aspect of it and I expect he'll make the proper changes to correct the mistakes not only with the players, but within his coaching as well.
As Boylen starts bringing in his own players, I believe this team will start playing more fundamentally sound basketball. I also think adding to the depth will greatly impact the Utes, especially if Jason Washburn can be solid contributor next year. Boylen has pretty much said he's the future of Utah's inside game, but the impact he has very well could be providing assistance to senior Luke Nevill and that might be enough to dramatically alter Utah's talent structure for the better.