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Kragthorpe: Bleak winter for Beehive college hoops, but it will get better

First Published      Last Updated Apr 24 2017 09:43 pm

When longtime Utah State basketball coach Stew Morrill announced his retirement, then-USU president Stan Albrecht thanked him for making Cache Valley's winters "much more bearable."

Two years later, there have been record snowfall amounts in Logan and historic volume of losses, combining the Aggies' records in Mountain West football and basketball. A rather harsh winter remains in place for Utah's Division I men's basketball programs, with only Big Sky Conference leader Weber State exempt.

What if I had told you the state's six teams would have a collective 31-32 record in league play as of early February and that Weber State would be the only NCAA Tournament qualifier? Well that's exactly what I wrote in November, promising that next season would be much better, with Utah, BYU and Utah Valley in the 2018 NCAA field.

Many fans expected more right now, which is fine. They're the ones buying tickets and investing in programs. So it is understandable that everyone outside of Ogden is disappointed. Yet other than Utah Valley, which played much better vs. in-state opponents than against Western Athletic Conference rivals, these teams basically are right where they belong in the standings.

Here's my view of where each fan base's satisfaction level realistically should reside, on a 1-100 scale:

Utah

Standing sixth in the Pac-12, the Utes (6-5) have competed favorably in losses to three teams in this week's AP Top 10: Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. Maybe that's a partial indictment, considering last week's defeats at California and Stanford.

If they could submit an audition tape, the Utes would look like an NCAA Tournament team. They just don't have the supporting credentials. And they likely would have to go through Cal or USC, then Oregon and Arizona to win the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.

Otherwise they'll settle for the NIT, bringing a potential meeting with BYU into play. The NIT field is seeded and is not regionally oriented, so I don't see any chance of that matchup happening in the first round, if at all. It would be fun, though.

Fans' Reasonable Satisfaction Index • 83.

BYU

The Cougars are 8-4 in the West Coast Conference and should finish third, behind top 20 teams Gonzaga and Saint Mary's. That seems acceptable, except losses to Santa Clara and San Diego have made BYU look bad, especially after USD lost 71-27 to Saint Mary's.

Nick Emery has been a disappointment in WCC play, amid injuries and illness. He clearly misses Kyle Collinsworth, who was capable of getting 10-plus assists in any game. I knew it would take a year for this team to come together, though.

FRSI • 67.

Utah State

Morrill's success made Logan's winters more tolerable and he propped up USU's entire athletic department during the football program's long struggles. But after the football team regressed in 2016, finishing 1-7 in MW play, the basketball team is 4-8. USU stands ninth among 11 schools after a 69-52 loss Tuesday at Colorado State, where the Aggies looked so disinterested that coach Tim Duryea said, "I felt like I was begging them to play."

USU's schedule will ease now. That's good because the Aggies have hit their lowest two-sport point in nearly 60 years. In 1957-58, the football team went 1-5-1 in the Skyline Conference and the basketball team was 3-11.

There's hope for the future in basketball, with freshman guards Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill (although they shot a combined 6 of 19 at CSU). And football coach Matt Wells said that in recruiting, "One down year didn't get people discouraged one bit about Utah State. People see the consistency of the program." That may or may not be universally true.

FRSI • 53.

Weber State

Even having lost Joel Bolomboy, a second-round pick by the Jazz and an NBA Development League star, the Wildcats (9-1) will be favored to make a repeat NCAA appearance by winning the Big Sky tournament in Reno, Nev. Senior guard Jeremy Senglin needs three more 3-pointers to break the Big Sky career record of 308.

FRSI • 95.

Utah Valley

Boosted by a 13-point win at BYU, the Wolverines had only a minus-3 scoring differential in four in-state games. Yet they're 2-5 at the halfway mark of WAC play, having missed a great chance to beat league-leading New Mexico State in Orem.

FRSI • 42.

Southern Utah

SUU was picked last in the Big Sky, and the Thunderbirds (2-9) are living down to expectations. Randy Onwuasor is threatening to shatter the school's season record for field-goal attempts, which is not a fully redeeming quest.

FRSI • 50.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt




 

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