The madness of March is firing up with conference tournaments in swing and teams fighting for invitations and/or positioning in the NCAA Tournament. The Ute men faced the biggest week they’ve had in years and the BYU women and men kicked off their pressure-packed conference tournament runs. All in all, it was a busy week for sports fans in Utah with the Jazz continuing their wild illogical ride, BYU baseball annihilating Utah and throwing a no-hitter, conference player of the year awards, high-profile high school championships, a win over a No. 1 team, Real Salt Lake starting its quest to repeat as Western Conference champs, Jabari Parker going off on North Carolina and the Lakers losing 142-94 to the Clippers.
Discover what’s up, where it’s at, who’s hot and what’s going down with your weekly dose of the Utah Sports Ruckus.
Next: “The madness continues for Jazz”
After the Jazz made an 11-47 team look like a 47-11 team last Monday night, I heard some troubling commentary the following day.
I heard local media guys (owned by the Jazz) chastising Jazz fans that were disturbed by the 26-point loss to one of the worst NBA teams in recent memory; using the logic that if you are cheering for the Jazz to lose this season (to get a better draft pick) then you cannot turn around and make negative comments when they do lose — regardless of how pathetic they look in the process.
That commentary is false.
Even the logical Jazz fans that are happy to see the team lose this season still realize that if the Jazz are to contend in the future, several of the young players on this year’s team will need to step up and be major contributors on those future teams. The Jazz are not the Lakers — a team with a bunch of non-foundational players that needs to start completely over from scratch.
The Jazz are a franchise with a young foundation made up of two No. 3 overall picks (Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter), two No. 9 overall picks (Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward) and a No. 12 overall pick (Alec Burks). The Jazz are heavily invested in these players; and their performance, development and confidence matter a great deal in the Jazz’s plan for long-term success.
Jazz management had one simple overriding job this season — give their young core lottery picks 36 minutes per game, allow them to make mistakes and develop, and let the chips (standings) fall where they may.
If, under these circumstances, the Jazz had a winning season, then team management would know they were well on their way with this young core and could merely seek to retain these players and add or maintain complementary pieces around them in the years to come.
If, on the other hand, the team finished last in the NBA by playing those guys 36 minutes per game, then management would know they still needed to add at least one other foundational piece, and would have a phenomenal asset to do just that — a top-3 pick in a draft loaded at the top with players widely believed to be franchise, game-changing players.
Jazz leadership, from top to bottom, has blown it this season.
Team executives blew it big-time right from the start by being noncommittal about their coaching situation. There is no excuse for management not knowing prior to the season whether Tyrone Corbin was the man they wanted leading the franchise long-term or not. Corbin had been the Jazz’s head coach since February 2011 and had been an assistant coach with the franchise since 2004.
You’re telling us, Jazz management, that you couldn’t sufficiently analyze Corbin’s coaching ability in nearly a decade with him before the start of the season? Instead you had to leave him in limbo to coach out this season — an extremely critical season in the Jazz’s progression — in uncertainty? You should have either extended his contract or cut him loose before the season. More time for evaluation should not have been necessary.
No wonder Corbin is passing that uncertainty on in his minute distribution and coaching to the players.
Against Milwaukee last Monday, former No. 3 overall pick Enes Kanter, whose minutes have been wildly inconsistent all season, scored 27 points on 16 shot attempts and had 14 rebounds in 35 minutes. In the 13 minutes Kanter was not on the court vs. the Bucks, the Jazz were outscored by 21 of the 26 points they ultimately lost by. Kanter was the most effective player on the court that night for the Jazz — by a mile.
How was the 21-year-old, third-year player rewarded for his efforts and performance? By averaging just 25 minutes in three games the rest of the week, despite continuing to outperform most other players on the team.
The team has been riddled with inconsistent, irrational minute distribution all season across nearly the entire roster. Is it that difficult to just identify your core guys and give them starter's minutes each game? If there was ever a season for an NBA team to do exactly that, regardless of the outcomes of the games, it was this season for the Jazz.
NBA executives, like many business professionals, want/need others to believe that their jobs are much more difficult and complicated than they seem. They are prone to speak with veiled superiority and essentially tell fans that they don’t get how hard it is.
Don’t buy it, Jazz fans.
Jazz management has seriously botched this season
NEXT: March Madness firing up as best men’s team in Utah falls, BYU wins
Side note: Not to brag, but I guess I’m quickly becoming the Muhammad Ali of Utah sports predictions, having now gone 16-1 in predicting men’s basketball games for the University of Utah and BYU since I started this weekly column on Feb. 3 (9-0 for the U., 7-1 for the Y.) and 44-13 overall on predictions.
I continue to believe that the Utes are the best men’s team in the state, despite the fact they are likely to miss the NCAA Tournament while BYU and other teams in the state have decent chances of making it.
In addition to making BYU look like a Division II program when they played head-to-head, the Utes have more impressive wins and fewer bad losses overall than the Cougars. If BYU had played in the Pac-12 this season, the Cougs likely would have finished with a sub-.500 conference record and be fighting for a spot in the NIT.
The Cougs do not play in the Pac-12, however, and instead they finished second in their conference and just beat last-place Loyola Marymount in the quarterfinals of their conference tournament, led by their MVP Kyle Collinsworth, to advance to play San Francisco in the semifinals.
Perhaps the biggest development of the week for the BYU men was not their expected win over LMU, but rather Gonzaga squeaking by No. 9 seed Santa Clara in a shockingly close quarterfinal game. If the Bulldogs had lost that game, the Cougars would have absolutely needed to win their conference tournament to get into the Big Dance, since there is no way the West Coast Conference is getting three teams in and Gonzaga will get in ahead of BYU. John Stockton’s son, David, was the hero for Gonzaga (and BYU), hitting a last-second layup for the two-point victory.
The Utes, meanwhile, came oh-so-close once again, losing at Stanford 61-60 after winning at California earlier in the week. Utah turned the ball over with a chance to win, ending its chances for a big Pac-12 road victory, an opportunity to not play Arizona in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament and an at-large birth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Utes have just one game the entire season (at UCLA) where they have not been ahead or at least within four points inside the last six minutes of the game. Eight of the Utes’ 10 losses have been by a combined 22 points — an average of 2.75 points — with three of the losses coming in overtime.
This will be a fun team to watch next season in the Pac-12. The Utes lose only one senior, forward Renan Lenz, who plays just 12 minutes per game, while they add ESPN-100 prospect Brekkott Chapman and another four-star prospect, Kyle Kuzma.
Keep an eye on coach Larry Krystkowiak. Will other college program start to come calling after this season? Or maybe the Jazz?
NEXT: Tyler Haws was not the WCC player of the year or even the MVP of his own team
Tyler Haws last week was named WCC Player of the Year, essentially saying to all future basketball players: “If you shoot more you will get more recognition.”
While Haws is good at moving without the ball and is a great shooter, there is no way he was more valuable to BYU this season, in conference or out, than Kyle Collinsworth.
Collinsworth, just counting conference games (which is all the Player of the Year award is based on), averaged 14.1 points (No. 13 in WCC), 7.6 rebounds (No. 5), 4.6 assists (No. 4), and 2.1 steals (led WCC), while shooting 51.4 percent from the field (No. 9).
Haws averaged 23.5 points (led WCC) on 48 percent shooting (No. 15), 87 percent on free throws (No. 5) and 46 percent on 3-pointers (No. 5), while failing to register as a top-15 player in any other category.
Over the whole season, in comparison to Haws, Collinsworth is averaging more than three times as many assists (Haws had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio), more than double the rebounds and nearly double the steals and blocks, while shooting a better field goal percentage (49.8 to 47.5) and nearly an equal percentage from the 3-point line (38.1 to 41.3). Haws destroyed Collinsworth from the foul line of course (57.1 to 86.6), which remains the most glaring weakness in Collinsworth’s game.
While Haws deserves the recognition he gets as a shooter and mover without the ball, and deserved to be named to the All-WCC team, he should not have been named WCC Player of the Year. That honor should have gone to Haws’ stat-grabbing teammate, Kyle Collinsworth.
NEXT: Women’s college basketball
BYU’s Jennifer Hamson became the first student-athlete to win Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the same season in the history of the WCC, averaging 18.5 points (No. 2 in WCC), 12.1 rebounds (No. 2), and 4.3 blocked shots (led WCC, also led country in stat), while shooting 54.5 percent from the field (No. 3) and 78.4 percent on free throws (No. 12) in conference play.
Hamson, a senior, was joined on the All-WCC team by fellow Cougar, sophomore Lexi Eaton, who is averaging 17 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and over a steal per game.
The Cougars defeated Pepperdine 77-51 in the quarterfinals of the WCC Tournament and will take on Pacific in the semifinals on Monday.
The Utah women, who finished second-to-last in the Pac-12, got a surprise 65-53 victory over sixth-place Washington in the opening round of the conference tournament before losing to No. 2 seed Oregon State 50-35 in the quarterfinals.
The Utes lose their top player, senior Michelle Plouffe (18.4 points, 10.6 rebounds), but do return four of their top six scorers next season.
NEXT: Lone Peak wins fourth straight 5A title, Bountiful takes 4A
After needing double overtime to get past Bingham in the quarterfinals, the Lone Peak Knights defeated Davis in the semifinals and Pleasant Grove in the title game to win their fourth straight 5A state championship.
The Knights were led as usual by Tyler Haws’ little brother, TJ, also committed to BYU, who scored a school-record 42 points against Bingham, 25 against Davis and 29 in the title game, hitting eight 3-pointers.
After winning the title, Lone Peak’s head coach, Quincy Lewis, said Haws is “as good or better than any player that’s ever played this game,” speaking of Utah high school basketball players.
Lone Peak is the first team to win four straight titles in the history of Utah high school basketball.
In 4A, the Bountiful Braves finished off an undefeated in-state season (26-1 overall) with a hold-your-breath 44-43 win over Orem as BYU commit Dalton Nixon missed two free throws with a chance to win it.
After losses in the semifinals the last two seasons, it was finally Bountiful's year.
Bountiful coach Mike Maxwell lauded Utah basketball after the win, saying: “We went to that national tournament and we saw the best teams. We know who they are and we can compete. Utah deserves it. There are some great basketball players. It’s a great state for basketball.”
With Lone Peak winning the MaxPreps national championship last season and finishing No. 9 this season, and Bountiful finishing No. 21, it seems Maxwell is correct.
NEXT: The best of the rest
The BYU college baseball team got revenge on the Utes on behalf of the football team and both the men’s and women’s basketball teams by taking the Utes out to the woodshed and then taking them back a few more times, ultimately winning 20-3.
For the record, the Muhammad Ali of Utah sports predictions picked the Utes to beat the Cougars, who came into the game with a 4-8 record.
In the Cougars’ next game, sophomore right-hander Kolton Mahoney threw the seventh no-hitter in BYU history in a 5-0 shutout of Nicholls State. Mahoney threw 102 pitches with 11 strikeouts and just two walks in nine innings.
As a freshman relief pitcher in 2011, Mahoney pitched 22.1 innings with 21 strikeouts and a 2.42 ERA, and was named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American. This season he is now 2-2 with a 2.17 ERA as a starter. He has yet to give up a home run in his college career in 51.1 innings pitched.
Real Salt Lake began the defense of its Western Conference title with a dramatic 1-0 win over the L.A. Galaxy on the road. In NBC Sports’ preview of the MLS season, RSL’s Nick Rimando (who saved a penalty kick in stoppage time vs. L.A.) was named the top goalkeeper in the league, Javier Morales the No. 3 midfielder, Kyle Beckerman the No. 5 midfielder, Alvaro Saborio the No. 8 forward and Jordan Allen the No. 9 rookie. RSL was No. 6 on ESPN’s preseason MLS power rankings. The Galaxy, RSL’s first victim, was ranked No. 3.
NEXT: Deep cuts
- The defending national champion BYU rugby squad defeated current No. 1 Saint Mary’s after losing to the Gaels earlier in the season.
- The second-ranked BYU men’s volleyball team went 1-1, losing to No. 3 Long Beach State and beating Cal State Northridge.
- The sixth-ranked Utah women’s gymnastics team lost to Michigan and UCLA in their combined meet on Friday.
- The Southern Utah men’s basketball team snapped a 26-game losing streak.
- Kyle Korver had his all-time NBA streak of 127 straight games with at least one 3-pointer made snapped.
- The Weber State men beat Eastern Washington to clinch the Big Sky regular season title.
- The Utah Valley men beat Cal State Bakersfield to clinch the WAC regular season title.
- The Utah State Aggie men finished eighth in the MWC with a 7-11 conference record, while the Aggie women also finished eighth in the conference at 8-10.
- The Westminster men’s basketball team advanced to the Frontier Conference title game.
- LeBron James put up a career-high 61 points vs. the Bobcats.
- The Lakers lost by 48 points to the Clippers.
- Jabari Parker scored a career-high 30 to beat North Carolina.
Utah Sports Ruckus' current overall record on predictions: 44-13
- Utah men’s basketball: 9-0
- BYU men’s/women’s basketball: 9-1
- Utah State men’s basketball: 7-2
- Utah Jazz: 11-5
- Other predictions: 8-5
- Jazz: 1-3 (win vs. Atlanta, losses vs. Dallas, L.A. Clippers and San Antonio)
- BYU men: 2-0 (wins over San Francisco and Gonzaga/Saint Mary’s)
- BYU women: 2-0 (wins over Pacific and Gonzaga/Saint Mary’s)
- Ute men: 1-1 (win over Washington, loss to Arizona)
- Utah State men: 1-1 (win over Colorado State, loss to San Diego State)
- Weber State men: 2-0 (wins at home in Big Sky semifinals and title game)
- Utah Valley men: 2-1 (wins in quarters and semis of tourney, loss in finals)
- Jimmer Fredette will play at least one minute for the Bulls this week (didn’t play in last three games with Chicago)
The college basketball shot clock:
Can anyone give any good reason why the college basketball shot clock needs to be 35 seconds? A team can pass the ball around the perimeter seven times and run four botched offensive plays and still have 10 seconds left on the shot clock to run a couple more.
It is boring!
Somebody, somewhere, please get the college shot clock reduced to 24 seconds. In an era where college sports is all about the pleasure of the viewing audience (read: TV dollars), it is beyond time to change to a shorter clock.
Who out there is honestly like, "No, I think college teams need 46 percent more time to get a shot than NBA players. I love seeing all that extra passing and re-setting"? Come on.
Wichita State Shockers
The Wichita State Shockers, who BYU led at the half and trailed by just three with 2:30 remaining earlier this season, have proven that their incredible run to the Final 4 was no fluke last season. The Shockers easily won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament final on Sunday to finish with a perfect 34-0 regular season (including the conference tournament as part of the regular season).
Sure, the Shockers only played three RPI Top 50 teams all season (BYU, Saint Louis, Tennessee) but to win 34 straight games is phenomenal for any team in any conference.
So, Jimmer, let's see if we got this: the Kings bought you out of your contract, seemingly giving you a get-out-of-hell-free card, freeing you up to sign anywhere, and the best situation you could find is a bunch of did-not-plays with the Bulls?
You couldn't find a single team in the NBA willing to let you play even a little bit right away? This is it? Do you have the worst agent in the world, or are you just not an NBA player?
I get it, Jimmer fans, that there's a lot to learn when you go to a new team but it just seems like a bad sign for the Jimmer that he hasn't even gotten onto the floor for three straight games.
Nate Gagon is the author of the weekly sports column, Utah Sports Ruckus, and a contributor for the Deseret News. He is also a tech/media entrepreneur, shoots roughly 94% from the foul line, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @nategagon.