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What We Learned From the Runnin’ Utes Non-Conference Play

NCAA Basketball: Manhattan at Utah Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

On Dec. 21, the Runnin’ Utes finished their non-conference schedule with a home win over Fresno State. This brought them to an 8-4 record with a 7-3 non-conference record. 18 games remain. Pac-12 play will resume on Dec. 30 when the Runnin’ Utes head to Corvallis to take on the Beavers. Now is a good time to take a look at what the team has shown us to this point.

Can They Beat Good Teams?

Utah has played three top 100 schools, according to KenPom. Those teams are USC (#20), BYU (#27), and TCU (#59). These three games also account for three of Utah’s four losses. Utah will have plenty more opportunities against top 100 teams as there are currently nine Pac-12 schools (including Utah - #73). Utah’s performance against these teams will be a good indicator of how long it might take for Craig Smith to bring the program back into the NCAA tournament conversation.

A Clear Top 7 Players Have Emerged

Rollie Worster leads the team with an average of 29 minutes per game. Marco Anthony, Both Gach, David Jenkins Jr., Branden Carlson, Riley Battin, and Lazar Stefanovic each averaged at least 21 minutes played. There is a significant dropoff before the next player. It is clear that these seven players have set themselves apart, both in practice and on the court. However, playing time is not set in stone, and this could change as things develop over the season.

The Emergence of Branden Carlson

Last year, Branden Carlson averaged 9.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game on his way to accumulating 2.0 Win Shares with a 19.7 Player Efficiency Rating. In the first 12 games of this season, he has averaged 13.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 2.2 blocks per game. He has already accumulated 1.5 Win Shares with a 30.5 Player Efficiency Rating. The most notable difference in his stat line is his Free Throw Percentage. Carlsen has also raised his Free Throw Percentage more than 25% to .861 while doubling his attempts per game from 1.8 to 3.6. This could result in nearly 59 more points from free throws alone if he can keep up this pace over the full season.

Defense

It is no secret that Craig Smith wants to redesign Utah basketball with a defensive style of play. This new philosophy has been on display over their first 12 games as Utah ranks in the top 100 in Opponent FG% (83rd), Opponent 3-pointers (11th), Opponent 3-point Attempts (53rd), Opponent 3-point Percentage (3rd), Defensive Rebounds (66th), and Total Rebounds (56th) per Sports Reference. These defensive stats will be something to watch as the Runnin’ Utes venture into Pac-12 play to see if the defense can stand up to more stout competition.