Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
So, for the first time in two decades, the state of Utah gets shut out of the NCAA Tournament.
Call it a backhand slap, a kick in the gut or sand in the face. It is what it is.
And it stinks. Here we are hosting an NCAA Regional and we’re servants instead of performers — the orchestra instead of the actors.
Is our basketball that bad? Is it a fluke, just a run of poor luck? Or is this the beginning of a trend of some sort?
First of all, yes, our major university basketball programs struggled this year.
Second, yes, it is probably a fluke thing, since it hasn’t happened in more than 20 years. Having the state’s four major schools all get flat tires in the same season is extremely rare.
Third, no, this isn’t a trend. Basketball, unlike football, is a sport that can, and usually does, change very quickly with the right recruiting.
Weber State’s 26-6 record was the best. Randy Rahe’s bad fortune was running into Montana and losing a winnable game in the finals of the Big Sky Tournament. Montana has had the Wildcats' number the last four years. On the other hand, Weber State boasted the nation’s No. 2 shooting team with an impressive .505 accuracy from the field. He’s just gotta get another Damian Lillard and has proven he can.
Utah ended the season with the biggest splash. Credit coach Larry Krystkowiak for that big rush down I-15 as Ute fans tried to catch a piece of a very impressive run at the MGM Grand with wins over some of the league’s top squads. The Utes finished 15-18 but won four of their last five. They will return the bulk of their talented freshmen, including Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor, Justin Seymour, Dakarai Tucker and Jeremy Olsen. The Utes will miss big Jason Washburn, who came on strong at the end, and Jarred DeBois, who led the team in scoring, but the trend is positive.
Perhaps the best coaching job we’ve seen in years came from Stew Morrill with his snake-bitten, injury-plagued Utah State team. He lost six players, including some of his best, in the course of half a year. What he did without Preston Medlin (broken wrist), Kyisean Reed (ACL), Sean Harris (knee) and Danny Berger (heart condition) deserves some kind of medal.
This is Morrill at his best, taking players into his system and creating ways for them to get shots in an impressive and efficient manner. The Aggies will be very good next season.
BYU kind of never recovered after Matthew Dellavedova’s shot of his career ripped a win right out of Dave Rose’s hands on the Marriott Center floor. Two losses to San Diego and actually coming down a little in the WCC will hover around for a while as a very disappointing season, even at 21-11 and the nation’s 18th-ranked scoring offense.
Rose never found consistent help for Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws, but Haws, only a sophomore, won the league’s scoring title right off an LDS mission. It turns out BYU’s best win came over Montana, and that isn’t going to satisfy a program that is used to getting attention from the NCAA selection committee.
Like the Aggies and Utes, BYU returns good players like Haws and Kyle Collinsworth from missions and gets some key recruits, but there are too many question marks for next season to be absolutely certain if the Cougars will be better overall or make any noise with the two-bid WCC.
According to ESPN, Rose has collected the No. 15 recruiting class in 2013, but many of those players will go directly on LDS missions, including Utah’s Mr. Basketball, Lone Peak guard Nick Emery.
Basketball in this state hit a pothole. Nobody’s wheels fell off. I don’t think it’s time to panic. But it is time to reload, sign quality prospects and eliminate the gambles and misses.
Recruiting is a savior — it always has been and always will be.
We’re fortunate to have some pretty good coaching in this state at every level. Lone Peak just won a poll-oriented national high school championship and Knight coach Quincy Lewis was named the national high school coach of the year.
The entire question will be answered by how good of recruiters are Rahe, Krystkowiak, Morrill and Rose.
It’ll be interesting to see what is a trend and what is not.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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