Monday’s Morning Huddle is a weekly column that highlights all the teams from across the great state of Utah. Author Spencer Durrant can be found on Twitter @Spencer_Durrant
With BYU ending their regular season on a high note, the Utah State Aggies surprisingly losing to UT-Arlington, and Weber State winning an overtime thriller against Northern Arizona, there’s been plenty in the way of entertaining basketball for fans across Utah; unless of course, you happen to be a Jazz fan. While the win against Charlotte was a definite high note, one cannot ignore the immense problems facing the Jazz right now.
These problems have been discussed as if they’re the state budget and Jazz fans are the Utah State Legislature – that’s to say, not one person agrees on what needs to be done. Some senators are screaming for Governor Herbert to be more liberal and give everyone a fair chance (see the #FireTy hashtag on Twitter), while representatives are demanding an even more conservative, education-friendly spending plan (see the folks over in the “Core Four” camp).
Maybe I took that metaphor a little far, but I hope you get my point. The Jazz really are stuck between a rock and a hard place right now, especially after Enes Kanter went all 20/20 on everybody Friday night. Granted, his 23 points and 22 rebounds did come against Charlotte, but still, that’s impressive.
Right now, however, Utah is focused on keeping their playoff hopes alive. But one wonders whether or not the playoffs are the best place for the Jazz to head right now. As has been stated more times than the Utah-only phrase, “Do you want that Diet Coke caffeine free?”, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are both free agents at the end of this season. Basically, either Kanter or Derrick Favors, or possibly both kids, will be starting next season. Unless of course Dennis Lindsey somehow signs Elton Brand and coach Tyrone Corbin develops a Bronco Mendenhall style crush on him and starts him every game. That tantalizing idea aside, Utah has a big choice to make. Do they commit to the playoffs and hope to get Kanter, Favors, Gordon Hayward, and Alec Burks some post-season experience, or should the Jazz follow Golden State’s lead and tank their way to a high draft pick?
There’s something to be said for each argument. On one hand, playoff experience is invaluable and would probably do wonders for the youngsters on the Jazz roster. With the addition of Randy Foye and Mo Williams, Utah most likely won’t get swept this year, and could probably make a series with the Clippers or Thunder very interesting. But on the other hand, why bother with the post-season if you’re not already a contender? If you don’t have a chance to win a title, why bother trying to play into June? Wouldn’t getting another high draft pick be more advantageous for the future of the Jazz?
In regards to the draft pick argument, exactly how many number one picks have turned out to be studs? Is Greg Oden winning rings in Portland? And let me remind you that Marvin Williams was taken ahead of Chris Paul, at number two in the 2005 NBA draft. Also, look at Kwame Brown, Robert Traylor, Joe Smith, and LaRue Martin for further proof that draft status doesn’t guarantee that someone will be a star in the NBA. To keep things local, look at Jimmer Fredette. He obviously had a magical senior season at BYU, but he’s fizzled out and ended up as a third string guard on one of the worst teams in the NBA. Where he got drafted wasn’t his fault, but in the chances he’s had, Fredette hasn’t shown any of the flair he showed as a senior for the Cougars. Granted, he didn’t really make a name for himself until his senior season, so maybe he needs four years in the NBA before starting Jimemr-mania 2.0.
Whatever the Jazz choose to do, there’s a high amount of risk. Even if they lost every game between here and the end of the season, they wouldn’t end up with the number one pick. Even with a top five pick, the risk would be huge considering how weak the draft is this year. There’s only a few point guards that stand out in the college world at the moment, Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo being the two that really stand out above the rest. However, if Utah commits to the playoffs route, they’ll probably be able to retain both Williams and Foye, as well as Marvin Williams, if they have some success. Either way, the Jazz have a huge couple of seasons looming in front of them. Kanter and Favors are proving every day that they’re more than capable of starting, and Burks is showing that he can run the point for a team down the stretch in tight NBA games. No matter what happens, this team will be really fun to watch in the coming years.
Utah Jazz 32-27, 5-5 in their last 10
What a week for the Jazz. Following a heartbreaking overtime loss to the ageless Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett-led Boston Celtics, Utah got manhandled by Atlanta on Wednesday before finally picking up a win during a rout of the Charlotte Bobcats. Favors and Kanter got starting nods from coach Corbin due to a pair of matching left-ankle sprains suffered by Jefferson and Millsap. While the Core Four enthusiasts had a field day with the performance Kanter turned in, might I proffer the friendly reminder that he put up those numbers against the Bobcats? Putting up a 20/20 against Boston, Atlanta, or even Sacramento would be more impressive than one against the lowly Bobcats.
However, I’m not trying to take away from Kanter and how far he has progressed in his short time in the NBA. He’s making a case each and every game for himself and his competence as a starter, which could possibly be the case if Jefferson doesn’t re-sign with Utah.
Now, the Jazz have four games this week, all on the road. As Jazz fans are painfully aware, this team hasn’t been quite brilliant on the road this season. However, playing at Milwaukee, then Cleveland, before a back-to-back against Chicago and New York should provide at least two wins for the Jazz. I don’t expect a sweep on this road trip, but I don’t expect the Jazz to lose every game either. While New York will do what they do and most likely stomp all over Utah, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Chicago are very beatable teams and the Jazz should be able to get at least two wins out of those three games.
BYU MBB 21-10, 10-6 WCC
The Cougars managed to end their regular season on a high note, picking up a win in a turnover filled game at Loyola Marymount. The question all season long with BYU has been whether or not they have the ability to play to the level of their talent. Tyler Haws, Brandon Davies, and Matt Carlino are all gifted players capable of 30+ point nights any day of the week, but getting those three players on the same page has been the trick for coach Dave Rose this season.
Despite this rather spotty and inconsistent play, BYU still put themselves in a very good position in the WCC tournament. The Cougars don’t play until Friday, when they take on the winner of the Pepperdine – San Diego game. BYU swept the season series against Pepperdine, but dropped a game in Provo to San Diego. In a tournament, anything can happen and the Cougars could very well be upset early on; however, the likelihood of Pepperdine or San Diego beating a Dave Rose-coached Cougars team is as slim as Rose himself winning money at a blackjack table in Vegas. The Cougars should win and face St. Mary’s on Saturday. Now, that game will be a great one to watch. Both games between those two teams have come down to the wire this season. However, on a neutral court so close to Provo, you have to think that BYU might find an advantage and squeak past the Gaels to face the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Monday. I honestly see the Cougars in the championship game, and based on their performance there, they could possibly earn an at-large bid for the Big Dance.
USU MBB 19-9, 9-7 WAC
After winning their first BracketBusters game against Illinois State, the Aggies dropped games to Louisiana Tech and UT-Arlington. Their case for an NCAA bid, and even a decent seed in the WAC tournament, is slowly slipping away from them. Doubtless, without the injuries that have plagued Utah State as if they were the Portland Trailblazers this season, things would be very different up in Logan. As it stands right now, the Aggies are fifth in the WAC and play two more games this week before starting the WAC tournament.
Texas State rolls into Logan on Thursday night, bringing with them an unsightly 9-20 record. The Aggies should be able to make short work of the Texas State Bobcats in the Spectrum and pick up their 20th win on the season.
On Saturday, UT-San Antonio comes to Logan. UTSA is 8-20 on the season, and again you have to favor Utah State in this math up, especially at home in front of their amazing fans. Now, while these two games are against teams that aren’t going anywhere soon, they are important for the Aggies in terms of confidence. Winning both those games would give Utah State 21 wins on the season, almost matching BYU’s record.
UofU MBB 11-17, 3-13 PAC-12
After an 18-point 64-46 loss to Cal, the Utes followed that up with another 18-point loss to Stanford. At this point in the season, Utah isn’t playing for anything except getting their returning guys experience. Hopefully the Utes will be able to build on the positive from this season and transfer that into a winning campaign next year.
The Utes have two games this week, against Oregon and Oregon State, both in Salt Lake City. The chances of Utah winning either of those games is slim.
WSU MBB 22-5, 16-2 BSC
The Wildcats looked poised to wrangle the Big Sky Title away from conference heavyweight Montana after this strong week. Beating Sacramento State and Northern Arizona propelled Weber State to a nine-game win streak, and the Wildcats are looking to ride their hot play into the final two games of their season and then the BSC tournament.
I’ve been saying all season long that Weber State is most likely to make the Big Dance than any other team in Utah, and they’re not showing any signs of proving me wrong. The most important part of this season, in my opinion, was the absolute slaughter that the Montana game a few weeks ago turned into. Weber State managed to dethrone the Grizzlies from their lofty perch atop the Big Sky and beat them 87-63. That win has to give Weber State immense confidence, especially going into a tournament where they know that’s the team they’ll be facing in the championship game.
Last year, when Damian Lillard was still in school, the Wildcats lost to Montana in the Big Sky title game, so Weber State has that previous game as even more motivation to win the Big Sky and make an appearance in the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats have two games this week, against Portland State and Eastern Washington, in Ogden. Portland State brings an 8-18 record while Eastern Washington has a 9-19 record. Weber State will be taking on both teams at home and should make short work of the Vikings and Eagles. Winning both of those games will give the Wildcats a 24-5 record, very impressive even for a team playing in a weak Big Sky conference. Hopefully the Wildcats can carry their regular season momentum into the post-season.
I want to know what you guys think about the situation the Jazz are in. Should they tank and aim to rebuild via the draft ala OKC, or should they attempt a playoff run? Throw your replies in the comments below or find me on Twitter.
Tune in next week for another installment of Monday’s Morning Huddle.