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I am currently sitting in The Salt Lake Tribune’s Sugar House Bureau, aka my living room.
I am waist-deep in football recruiting, combing through 247sports, looking at Utah’s 2020 class, the vast majority of which is already signed, sealed and delivered with the regular signing period set to begin on Wednesday.
I look at 2020, and I see Kyle Whittingham’s latest class is ranked 28th nationally, fifth in the Pac-12, and has an average rating of .8686. The fact the class is 28th nationally gets my attention more than the other two figures. I’m still new around here, but Utah having the 28th-ranked class at the moment feels like a big deal.
I start going through old classes, back to 2011 when Utah joined the Pac-12. Kyle Whittingham has never hauled in the 28th-ranked recruiting class before. He got to 33rd a couple of times recently, but never 28th. Yes, these 2020 figures are being buoyed by the highest-rated recruit in program history, four-star cornerback Clark Phillips III, but so what? Every recruit is part of the equation, no matter how they’re rated.
I start thinking. Whittingham is 60, and at that age, who knows how many more years he wants to keep doing this? That’s not a knock on him, it’s a simple fact of life at his age. Whittingham, though, is under contract through 2023, and he doesn’t sound like he’s going anywhere. He certainly is not recruiting like a guy planning to walk away. He’s recruiting like a guy gearing up for another run or two at an elusive Pac-12 title.
I have one more thought: Would you rather be Utah or USC right now? The Trojans held on to Clay Helton, and their 2020 class is ranked 10th in the Pac-12 right now. Utah probably wouldn’t mind being Oregon in terms of recruiting, but you certainly do not want to be USC.
For what it’s worth, below is Utah’s 247sports figures since 2011. The order is national ranking, Pac-12 ranking, and average rating of each recruit.
2020: 28th, 5th, .8686
2019: 42th, 7th, .8612
2018: 33th, 5th, .8569
2017: 33th, 7th, .8604
2016: 37th, 8th, .8445
2015: 45th, 10th, .8465
2014: 66th, 11th, .8305
2013: 47th, 9th, 8320
2012: 38th, 8th, .8388
2011: 38th, 6th, .8555
The Runnin’ Utes don’t have many more Quadrant 1 opportunities
Utah is not on the NCAA Tournament bubble. At this point, the Utes aren’t even on the periphery of the bubble. There is still time to get back there, but they need to start making hay.
Through Tuesday’s games, Utah (12-7, 3-4 Pac-12) has a NET of 69 with five more games against current Quadrant 1 teams still to play. All five of those games, beginning Thursday night against USC at the Galen Center, are critical. The Utes are 3-0 against Quad 2s, but just 2-5 against Quad 1s. Quadrant 3 losses to Tulane and Coastal Carolina from November are not helping.
If Utah can sweep Los Angeles this weekend — it plays at UCLA Sunday — things would start looking up. That would be a Quadrant 1 win over the Trojans, a Quadrant 2 win over the Bruins, and then you’re coming home for another Quadrant 1 opportunity against Stanford on Feb. 6.
The Pac-12 is not nearly enough of a beast where Utah can’t still make something happen here, but it needs to start Thursday night.
Other hoops thoughts at the moment
• We’re starting to see more of what Branden Carlson is capable of, specifically on the defensive end. The 7-foot freshman, who is coming off a two-year LDS Church mission, had three blocks against Washington State and altered twice as many shots at the rim. A handful of in-state basketball people previously told me they thought Carlson could be a real difference maker once he returns to form, and we’re starting to see just that.
• Credit to the kids for staying the course in the wake of the four-game losing streak. The final three of those four losses were mostly one-sided, the type of stuff that can put a team permanently in the tank. To get a sweep of the Washington schools last weekend showed great resolve.
• Rylan Jones was the best player on the floor against Washington State. That’s not up for debate. He was a force that afternoon, less than 48 hours after playing the hero against Washington. It hasn’t been all roses, but it’s been way more good than bad for Jones, who is headed towards All-Freshman team honors in about six weeks.
• In a perfect world, let’s say no one transfers, no one leaves for the NBA, and Larry Krystkowiak continues to recruit at a high level. What is the expectation for Utah in 2021-22, when Timmy Allen and Both Gach are seniors, and the current freshmen are juniors?
Other things on my mind, Utah sports or otherwise
• I do not have a substantial, lasting memory that immediately comes to mind from Kobe Bryant’s career, except maybe the infamous 2002 Western Conference Finals when he and Shaquille O’Neal dragged the Lakers through the Sacramento Kings in seven games, but even that is foggy. Three things came to mind on Sunday. One, in a post-Michael Jordan NBA world, Bryant did his best to step forward and fill that unfillable void. Two, I remember being absolutely floored in July 2003 when news of his sexual assault allegation broke. Three, you’re never going to forget where you were when you found out Bryant was dead, and neither will I.
• While in Los Angeles with Utah hoops this weekend, I am going to satisfy my morbid curiosity and check out the scene around STAPLES Center on one of the two off days.
• Utah will begin its second season of men’s lacrosse on Saturday against Bellarmine (Ky.) University. Lacrosse has always been an East Coast sport, but it is slowly, steadily migrating westward. The Utes were 5-10 last season against an independent schedule that included name brands like Virginia, Denver and Duke.
• Ute hoops commit Ian Martinez is dealing with a hip pointer and is likely out for JSerra Catholic’s Nike Extravaganza contest against Chicago power Whitney Young on Friday night in Santa Ana. I’ll be honest, you guys. That puts a real crimp in my Friday night plans.
• My wife and I went to The Pie for the first time earlier this week. Pretty good for what it is, will go back, but will order differently. The Pie is a place you go late-night when you’re starving. That’s not a place I’m going for lunch at noon.
• For years, I was able to avoid covering a road game on Super Bowl Sunday. I had a few home games covering Monmouth University, but never on the road. That streak will come to an end Sunday with Utah at UCLA for a noon tip at Pauley Pavilion. Noon is workable, leaving plenty of time to get in front of a TV for kickoff. The question is, where? I have a late flight Sunday night out of LAX, so I’m thinking the move is to go right to the airport after I finish work responsibilities and find a barstool. If you have a better idea without messy logistics, I’m all ears.
• The Athletic’s Chris Kamrani on incoming Utah freshman linebacker Nate Ritchie.
• ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has five Pac-12 teams in his current bracket projection. Five feels ambitious, but nobody asked me.
• Oregon remains the favorite in the Pac-12, but may be without freshman big man N’Faly Dante this weekend in the Bay Area, says the Oregonian.
• Max Hazzard was the latest player to enter Arizona head coach Sean Miller’s doghouse, as told by Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star