2008-09 Utah Basketball Preview: #88
Overall Rank: #88
Conference Rank: #5 Mountain West
2007-08: 18-15, 7-9, 6th
2007-08 postseason: CBI
Center Luke Nevill did not follow up his great sophomore campaign at Utah with anything special as a junior. He still managed to led the team with 15.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, but those numbers were worse than his 2006-2007 production. Even if Nevill does not live up to the lofty expectations set upon him, the 7-2 Australian will be a senior leader who can score consistently under the basket. Having Shaun Green by his side makes the frontcourt even more dangerous. Green is tough enough to battle on the glass, but he also has a nice touch on his outside shot and can stretch out the defense by stepping beyond the arc. That opens up plenty of space for Nevill and Kim Tillie in the paint.
Johnnie Bryant, Chris Grant, Sayre Brennan and Stephen Weigh are not returning to the Utes’ sideline this season. However, Bryant was the only one who saw any significant playing time last year. Bryant, Utah’s highly effective sixth man, ranked second on the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game and third in the conference in three-point shooting percentage.
It is hoped that incoming freshmen Jordan Cyphers and Jace Tavita can help replace Bryant’s productivity. Cyphers can score in a variety of ways and once he gains a little strength, he will be a tough match-up for most wings in the Mountain West Conference. Tavita is a superb athlete, but not the outside shooter that Cyphers has become…at least not yet. Chris Hines will add some depth at the point. He is not a scorer, but he is a decent ball handler and a solid defender who should find his niche this year off the bench or even as the starter. At 6-7, Josh Sharp has the size and skills to provide depth at both forward spots. Yet, it is 7-0 center Jason Washburn that has the Utah fans most excited. The Battle Creek, Michigan product will block a ton of shots before his collegiate career is over. Washburn is mobile for his size and has no problem playing from one end of the floor to the other. His outside shot is decent and his developing jump hook is tough to stop. Once he adds a few more pounds of muscle, Washburn will be the next in line of talented Utah big men.
Who to Watch:
The point guard situation has not been very pretty lately in Salt Lake City. Hines might not be the answer right away, but he could work his way into the starting lineup if Luca Drca struggles. However, now as an upperclassman the versatile 6-5 Drca should be a little better at running the show. Tyler Kepkay could also play the point, but he is better off at the shooting guard spot, especially now that Bryant is not around. Kepkay will compete with Lawrence Borha and Carlon Brown for a starting gig on the wings. Kepkay and Borha are both consistent outside shooters and should have very productive seasons if they can take over some of Bryant’s outside shots and continue to shoot over 40 percent from long range. Brown had a good freshman campaign and started 29 games. He is not a good shooter by any means, but he is very athletic and can do plenty of damage around the rim and adds a major rebounding threat to the perimeter.
Coach Jim Boylen took the Utes to the postseason in his first year with the team. It was only the CBI, but the team at least got some experience and a taste of postseason life. Yet, without a solid point guard and proven depth up front, not to mention the importance of Bryant scoring off the bench, the Utes might be about where they were last year. The potential is there for Utah to make a run in conference play and pull a few upsets, but a lack of consistency might negate any good wins with a bad loss soon after.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Luka Drca, Junior, Guard, 5.3 points per game
Lawrence Borha, Senior, Guard, 7.6 points per game
Carlon Brown, Sophomopre, Guard, 4.4 points per game
Shaun Green, Senior, Forward, 7.6 points per game
Luke Nevill, Senior, Center, 15.2 points per game