After making it through conference play unschathed and finding a shiny No. 10 ranking next to their name, the Oregon Ducks begin conference play with the dreaded Mountain road trip and a showdown with the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City that features two of the highest scoring teams in the country. The Utes languished in the bottom of the conference the first two seasons, but Utah is anot a team to be taken lightly. At 12-1, Larry Krystowiak is turning the program around, and all it takes is a memory of Oregon's conference title hopes going up in flames in Salt Lake last season to remind one what this team is capable of.
Any analysis of Utah is skewed by the schedule. Yes, the Utes are 11-1, but that comes against a schedule that ranks #349 in the country. As there are only 351 teams in the country, #349 is pretty bad. All of Utah's wins have come at home, and some of the names are flat out bad: Evergreen State, Lamar, St. Katherine's, Savannah State, Idaho State. However, there are two pieces of evidence that are hard to ignore. The first is that Utah flat out wrecked BYU--the same BYU team that took Oregon to OT in Eugene--by 17 points. In their only road contest of the season, Utah lost at Boise State by a mere two points. Furthermore, while Utah has played a weak schedule, they have destroyed that schedule. The only single-digit victory in the string was an eight-point win vs. Idaho State.
It can be hard to compare the two teams because of the schedules. Oregon has the #8 RPI in the country while Utah is #161. However, the four factors tell of a more even matchup than you may expect.
Shooting (40% of winning)
Both of these teams are top five in all the country in effective field goal percentage [(FG + 0.5 * 3P) / FGA]. Utah is the top shooting team in the country at a blistering 60.4%, while Oregon is third at 58.1%. Both teams can fill it up, but Oregon does more of it's damage from long range, while Utah wants to get to the rim.This will be the Utes' biggest test, but Oregon can struggle against teams that pound it inside.
Getting more opportunities to shoot than your opponent is a big deal. Oregon ranks #80 in the country in turnovers, giving away the ball 16.8% of their possessions. Utah has a better turnover rate (14.9%), but hasn't played the caliber of defenses that Oregon has. The Ducks will press and put a lot of pressure on Utah, it will be interesting to see how they respond.
Despite being a team that is small in the post, the Ducks have been a very good rebounding team. They nab an offensive board on 34.7% of their missed shots-- a killer number when paired with how good they shoot the ball, and a number that is top-50 nationally. A lot of that has to do with how well their guards--especially Damyean Dotson--rebound the ball. Utah rebounds 32.8% of their missed shots.
Free Throws (15%)
Oregon flat out gets to the line, with a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 50.4%, good for 33rd nationally. At 40.5%, Utah doesn't really get to the line well at all.
So statistically speaking, Utah leads in the two most important of the four factors, but the playing field measuring the two teams has been unequal.
The cog that makes Utah go is sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge. The 6'6" Loveridge averages 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds for the Utes. He is a versatile offensive player, shooting 47% from the field and 80% from the line. He'll venture out the three point line, but only shoots 31% there and is much more dangerous from mid-range and at the rim. Guard Delon Wright has been outstanding despite his 6'5" frame, averaging 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting a whopping 70% from the field. That number is unsustainable, but Wright doesn't bother from the three point line and looks to get to the rim. 5'10" guard Brandon Taylor also puts up 11 points per game, and is the team's leading three point shooter at 39%. Dakari Tucker finishes out the three guard lineup, hitting on 36% from three, from where the vast majority of his shots come. Big guys Renan Lenz (6'9") and Jeremy Olsen (6'10") give Utah some beef, but are among the worst rebounders on the team. Should the game turn into a free throw contest late, the only Utah player under 65% from the line is guard Princeton Onwas, who struggles shooting in general and likely would not be in the game in such a situation.
Oregon has more talent and is more tested, but altitude is a tough place to play, and Utah is a good enough team that you need to be playing your best to get past them. Oregon's scheme needs to focus on containing Loveridge, putting pressure on Utah's less talented scorers. This is a team that wants to try and get to the rim, so a zone isn't a bad way to play in the half court. However, a big part of their FG% is their pace, and they want to get easy looks at the rim in transition. While I expect Oregon to press for part of the game, Oregon has to get turnovers in that press. Altman will face a decision in the first half as to whether he's getting enough out of the press to justify the easy transition looks that he will give up. This should be an up and down frentic game. Utah has been very good so far this season, but, much like football, I have difficulty seeing an Oregon loss against a team that wants to get in a track meet with them.