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The Oregon Conundrum

Utah cannot figure out how to win games against the Ducks and it’s very concerning. Plus, looking forward to the Utes next game against Oregon State.

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Utah Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Utes played the Oregon Ducks in basketball yesterday, which means its time to pull up the video that accurately shows the general reaction of Utah fans after every one of these Oregon games.

The Utes performance against Oregon last night was basically a living embodiment of “The Sound of Silence”. You could almost hear the music playing as Utah came out to a huge early lead only to be crushed as the Ducks pulled out a hyper-aggressive defense that resulted in a plethora of Utah turnovers and a drought of Utah baskets. A more tech-savvy person would be able to create a montage of all the Ute turnovers last night with “The Sound of Silence” playing in the background. Someone out there please do this.

As was covered earlier this week, the game last night, and the Saturday game against Oregon State make for the most important week of the season for the Utes. Utah really needed to win both of these games in order to make a strong run at being a Top-4 team in the Pac-12, and for most of the first half, it looked like Utah would be able to pull it off. With 8:29 left in the first half, Utah was up 26-13 on the Ducks. At this point, the Utes had shot 6-11 from 3-point range, had only turned the ball over three times, and had basically stifled the Oregon offense. What then followed was an utter collapse.

In the remaining 8:29 of the first half, the Utes managed to turn the ball over nine times, and ultimately finished the game with 19 of them. The team didn’t make another 3-pointer until two minutes into the second half. Ultimately the Utes shot 5-20 for the remainder of the game from 3-point range, and two of those makes came in the last two minutes when the game was pretty much out of hand. Oregon was never that efficient on offense, but then again, they didn’t have to be with Utah turning the ball over so much and shooting so poorly in the second half.

All of this brings us to the Oregon conundrum. Since the Utes joined the Pac-12, they have been incapable of figuring the Dana Altman coached Ducks out. Utah has played Oregon 16 times as a Pac-12 member. Their record in those games is 2-14. In the Pac-12 tournament, things just get worse for Utah. In the seven appearances Utah has made in the Pac-12 tournament, they have been knocked out by Oregon in four of those tournaments. Utah has never won a game against Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament, going 0-4 in the process.

Utah, and more specifically Larry Krystkowiak, has a problem with Oregon. The Utes knew exactly what was coming Thursday. Coach K said in his post-game press conference that they were well aware Oregon would use their press defense and that the Utes had practiced all week for it, they just couldn’t handle it. Utah lost their poise as they repeatedly threw the ball away, struggled to get it inbounds, and got more 10-second violations than a team should have all year (they had three on the night). For all the practice Utah did to prepare for Oregon, the team still looked as if the press defense was something they had never encountered before in their lives. The Ducks defense crushed them for it and Utah left with another loss to Oregon.

If Utah wants to become a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 again, they’re going to have to figure Oregon out at some point. Oregon is well prepared to contend for the next few years. Right now, they have the 8th best recruiting class in the nation, and it has the potential to get better depending on where some prospects sign. Utah has a young team this year and a strong recruiting class as well (30th in the nation), so it’s not unreasonable that they’ll be a legit threat in the Pac-12 again in the next year or two.

The last time Utah was making runs at Pac-12 titles and playing in the NCAA tournament was during the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 seasons. The 2014-2015 season was the year that Utah made the Sweet 16 and almost beat Duke in the NCAA tournament. 2016 was the year that Utah was finally able to beat Arizona in one of the loudest games the Huntsman Center has ever seen. These teams were backed by several future NBA players such as Delon Wright, Jakob Poetl, and Kyle Kuzma. Both seasons will go down in history as some of the best that Utah basketball has ever seen. But during that time, there was only one team in the Pac-12 that Utah didn’t beat in at least one of those two seasons. Do you want to guess which team it was?

Oregon.

Also, Utah was knocked out of the Pac-12 tournament each of those two years by the same school. Who do you think it was?

Oregon.

This Ducks problem isn’t going away, Oregon will be a major player in the Pac-12 for years to come. Coach K needs to figure it out for the sake of the Utes future contending in the Pac-12. If the goal is for Utah to win conference titles and play in the NCAA tournament, Krystkowiak can’t continue to get out-coached every single time he plays Dana Altman. Coach K has another year to try and prepare for the next time he will face Altman and the Ducks. That is, unless the Utes have to face Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament. If that’s the case, we can always pray. But to help you feel better now, I’m just going to leave this here:

Never forget.

Now that we’ve finished looking backwards, let’s turn our attention forward to the Utes game on Saturday against Oregon State. Utah has a much less complicated history with Oregon State than it does with Oregon, mainly because Oregon State has been pretty much booty since Utah joined the Pac-12. Oregon State has never finished better than 7th in the conference, though the record Utah has against them in that time is 6-5.

This year though, the narrative has changed. Oregon State is pretty decent this year. Either that or the Pac-12 is really bad this year. But luckily nobody is buying into that narrative this year, right? Right?

Anyway, Oregon State might be decent, but they figure to play into the strengths of Utah, unlike Oregon who does the exact opposite. Oregon State has a decent defense, but it’s one that is built around interior defense. Oregon State has one of the top shot blockers in the entire country, Kylor Kelley. He has the second most blocks per game in the nation with 3.5 per game. He’s a huge factor in the paint, and because of that, teams only shoot 44% from 2-point range against the Beavers. Oregon State’s weakness on defense is 3-point shooting. They allow opponents to shoot 36.4% from deep, making them the 278th best team in the nation. Or the 75th worst, depending on how you look at it.

So, the Beavers are a team that will destroy you if you try to score down-low, and they are most vulnerable if you like to shoot deep shots. Serendipitously, Utah is a team that almost completely refuses/is incapable of scoring consistently in the paint and therefore relies on shooting a ton of 3s. I don’t know if this could work out better for the Utes.

On the offensive side of the ball, Oregon State is built on three main scorers and minor contributions from everyone else on the floor. The three go-to guys are Tres Tinkle, Stephen Thompson Jr., and Ethan Thompson. Their leading scorer is Tres Tinkle, who averages 20 PPG. Tinkle does most of his scoring in the post and by getting to the line. The only place he’s not an efficient score from is from 3-point range where he is shooting less than 30% from deep.

Most of the Beavers aren’t very efficient at makings 3s. Of the three main scorers, Ethan Thompson is their best 3-point shooter, at 38% on the season, but he still only averages 2.7 3-point attempts per game. This lack of shooting means that Oregon State has to make up for it by scoring with their inside game. The Beavers try to dominate in the paint, and they scored 38 of their 76 points against Colorado in the paint. That’s going to be the challenge for Utah. It will be if they can slow down Oregon State inside and force the Beavers to take outside shots.

Against Oregon, the Utes allowed the Ducks to shoot 60% from inside the arc. That’s going to have to be better against Oregon State. It will all start with play around the rim. Jayce Johnson had moments where he actually looked decent while protecting the rim against the Ducks. It didn’t last, but a more consistent game from him or any other Utah big man will go a long way to disrupting the flow of Oregon State’s offense.

However, what gives Utah the biggest edge in this game is the home court advantage. The Beavers have struggled greatly on the road this entire season. They are 2-3 in the five road games they’ve played since the beginning of December. The three losses came against St. Louis, Arizona, and Arizona State. The two wins came against Oregon to start conference play and Colorado on Thursday night. A road win in Eugene is always impressive, as Utah can attest, but Oregon State barely won by two points against a Colorado team near the bottom of the Pac-12 standings. It’s safe to say the Beavers have really played only one good game on the road this year, so this should be as big as a homecourt advantage Utah will get all year.

The game against Oregon was a rough start to this homestand for Utah. They need to salvage this week with a win against Oregon State. It’s important to remember that Utah is still tied for third in the Pac-12 standings, and one of the teams they’re tied with is Oregon State. This game is winnable for Utah, they just can’t let their problems with schools from Oregon continue.