Utah had a great year in 2008-2009, ending up tying for the Mountain West Conference championship and making it to the NCAA Tournament. But now the Utes top four scorers, including superstar Luke Nevill, are gone and Coach Jim Boylen has a much tougher task during his third year with the program than he did last season.
Key Losses: G Lawrence Borha, F Shaun Green, G Tyler Kepkay, C Luke Nevill
Despite the absence of the top four scorers, Utah does return three starters and two of them are on the perimeter. Carlon Brown has turned into a steady point guard who can do a lot more than just pass. He is not much of a shooter, but Brown will finish around the basket and is the team’s top returning scorer after averaging 9.3 points per game last year. He is also a great rebounder for a guard and that might make a big difference without a great rebounder like Nevill on the team. Luka Drca will turn into the teams outside shooter, but he can also handle the ball and will occasionally get to the basket. Jace Tavita and Jordan Cyphers did not play too often last year, but the 6-4 wings will battle it out with the newcomers for playing time.
It was the 6-11, 230 pound forward Kim Tillie who often created space for Nevill to dominate the paint. Tillie is not much of a scorer, but he is a solid rebounder and will do all the dirty work around the basket. Tillie should step back into his starting role at the four spot, but the big question is just who is going to replace Nevill? Washburn is an option, but so is 7-3 center David Foster. Foster played as a freshman for Utah a couple of years ago before going on his LDS mission. He showed promise during that season, but was really only in the game when Nevill was in foul trouble. Now Foster needs to show that he can be a consistent force under the basket.
Who’s In for Utah:
But Coach Boylen has brought in a great recruiting class and that should keep Utah towards the top of the of the conference. Junior college transfers Matt Read, Jay Watkins and Ricky Shoff should all have the experience to make an immediate impact. Center Jason Washburn was a highly touted recruit and is ready to contribute after a year of gaining strength on the bench. Fellow big men Shawn Glover and Jeremy Olsen will provide even more depth up front. The Utes need some depth on the perimeter as well and Marshall Henderson and Chris Hines should be able to provide that.
The Utes need to get production out of their newcomers or it could be a long season in Salt Lake City. Obviously the junior college transfers are the best bets to play early and it could end up being combo forward Jay Watkins that makes the biggest impact. The 6-7 Memphis, Tennessee native spent one year at San Francisco before heading to the College of Southern Idaho and finally ending up at Utah. His ability to hit the glass will give the team another strong rebounder, but Watkins can also use his size to get to the basket and could turn into a consistent scorer.
Final 2009-2010 Utah Projection:
This Utah team has potential, but potential is always a little dangerous. If Foster or Washburn can turn into something that even slightly resembles Nevill then the team will be in good shape. But that might not even be enough to reach the NCAA Tournament. The backcourt does not have a ton of firepower and they need to find another scorer to compliment Brown.