Utah Utes Basketball: The Sophomores

During player introductions Utah's Jordan Loveridge slaps hands with a group of little kids as Utah and SMU play Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, in the Huntsman Center. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

The Sophomore class is arguably the most important class on this Utah roster. Jordan Loveridge coming to the University of Utah was one of the key events to get momentum going the Runnin’ Utes way. Then look at the rest of this class and all you see are key contributing players for the Utes. The best part is that they are only sophomores. There is still time for these players to improve.

Jordan Loveridge: 6-6, 216 lbs, F

The first thing I think of when I think about Loveridge is clutch. This kid was clutch many times last year. There were several performances where he would just go about doing his thing and then explode in the 2nd half to carry the Utes. Last year, Loveridge played a lot of time at the 4 looking to take advantage of a slower defender. His 38.9 3pt% also allowed the Utes to stretch the floor and give Washburn some space in the paint. Loveridge was literally in the top of the Pac-12 in almost every category as a freshman. So, what about this year?

He is now a few pounds lighter coming into this season. He is hoping this leads to getting more critical plays that help the Utes win close games they didn’t win last year (Media Day Interview with KSL). It has also been reported on how the Utes are planning on attacking more on Offense. A more exciting style of play will help with attendance, but there are 2 changes I expect this to see in Loveridge’s game. More assists and more 3 point shots. That is the fun part of trying to play faster in transition. But, watch out on ball security. I feel with such a young team turnovers could be a problem.

The other thing I am hoping to see from Jordan is an explosion to the rim. Last year, Jordan could take his defender 1-on-1, but it wasn’t the explosively quick move you want to see from a young combo forward player. This is even more important with the loss of Jarred Dubois, the main creator on offense last year.

Overall, I enjoy watch Loveridge play. His work rate at getting rebounds was fun to watch (That’s why Jazz fans loved Millsap right?). But, how much is the subtraction of Washburn going to change things. Without Washburn getting all the attention, will Loveridge get the same type of rebound numbers?

Either way there is plenty to be excited about when it comes to Loveridge.

I don’t try to chase being a leader or any of that. I’ve been here a year, so I know my teammates look to me to make a play or get a basket. They know I can make a play. I want to lead in any way that I can so we can win games. That’s the biggest thing. I want to win games. – Jordan Loveridge (Salt Lake Tribune)

Jeremy Olsen: 6-10, 228 lbs, C

Olsen, coming off a mission last season, made the most improvement from beginning to end of the season. He came into the season expecting to be sitting behind Washburn and Bachynski. But as the season went on he continued to earn more playing time. The kid has some great moves and touch in the middle. Just imagine when he starts a season in shape?

This season should be the one. According to Loveridge everyone has been running and working hard to be ready for the season physically. I assume that includes Olsen. With better conditioning we should see a lot of Olsen on the floor. Playing time will be the biggest change in Olsen’s game this year. Last year he spent his time watching and learning from Washburn. He showed some smooth moves in the post last year that I expect to see more of. I am not calling for him to replace Washburn his sophomore year, but he should be good enough to wreck some havoc in the paint.

One of the bigger changes to the team this year is speed and athleticism. I talked about blow bys being a concern in early practices, but maybe it is because this team is just great at getting it to the hoop. If that is the case I would be smiling if I were Olsen because he will get a lot of easy buckets just hanging out in the paint for easy buckets when the hep defensive rotation fails. Add the fact that this team can shoot and you have a well spaced floor that will give Olsen room to operate.

Easy prediction for Olsen this year. His number will be much improved from 3.4 ppg and 2.5 rpg.

Brandon Taylor: 5-10, 162 lbs, PG

Brandon Taylor is one of the reasons I have come to respect Coach Krystkowiak most. Taylor averaged 5 minutes per game before January 12th last season. Then he proved his worth and became, not only a key player in the rotation, but the starter. From January on, Taylor averaged just over 30 minutes per game. A slight increase wouldn’t you say?

With increased minutes Taylor proved that he belonged on the floor. I expect he will start and average 30 minutes per game agin. His 3 point shooting is awesome. He was the 2nd best 3 point shooter in the Pac-12 (As I write more about this team, them more I see floor spacing). But, when I look at the stats there is a glaring issue here for a point guard. He averaged 2 ast/game and 1.7 TO/game. That is pretty much saying for each assist he had, he also turned the ball over.

“At this altitude, we want to run people out of the gym,” -Brandon Taylor (Salt Lake Tribune)

Taylor and team have clearly indicated that they will be speeding things up this year and trying to get into  the transition game. I expect this will lead into more turnovers to start this season just as they learn to play this style. But, as they get comfortable I think this will lead to more assist for Taylor, not just because of the system, but with the additional experience.

Dakarai Tucker: 6-5, 190 lbs

Roller Coaster. That is what Dakarai’s season was like last season. He would play 15+ minutes and lay eggs or have awesome games. Then he had games where he didn’t even get on the floor.  Unfortunately, I am not privy to advanced scouting video systems where I could look up video of Tucker and decide what kind of player I think he is. His season was just too inconsistent. But, trust me I will save all the Utah games on my DVR this year so the same problem doesn’t happen when I am previewing next season. I will say that last season he shot 39% from the 3 point line making him another shooter. He also rebounded the ball pretty well for a guard. So, take it for what it is worth . I hope this season we can truly learn who Dakarai is as a player.



About the author

Grant Bagby

Since moving to Utah in 2005, I have changed from following all sports in D.C/Virginia to following all sports in Utah. I am a Chicago Bulls fan first (Born and raised by my father), but I am also a hardcore Jazz fan with 7 years of being a season ticket holder under my belt. I started TornBySports to write about the BYU/Utah Rivalry after Max Hall ran his mouth.