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I knew the last EuroBasket qualifying window was coming up. I had a vague idea Finland would be playing. I knew Mikael Jantunen was part of the Finnish national team player pool.
It never crossed my mind that the University of Utah sophomore forward could be summoned back to Europe to suit up for Finland in a must-win EuroBasket qualifier early Friday morning against Switzerland. We are, after all, in the middle of the college basketball season.
Twenty minutes before the Utes tipped off at Stanford on Saturday night, the announcement came that Jantunen will “miss the next few games” while playing for Finland in Georgia. What “the next few games” means is open for interpretation. At a minimum, he will miss trips to Oregon State on Thursday and Oregon on Saturday, with Monday’s home game vs. the Beavers also likely to be missed.
To be clear, this has everything to do with COVID-19, which postponed and backed up EuroBasket qualifying windows. Furthermore, Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak promised while he was recruiting Jantunen that he could play in national team events, so credit to Krystkowiak for holding up his end despite the crummy timing.
To be even clearer, it is hard to imagine a scenario where Krystkowiak wasn’t giving Jantunen permission to go play for his country, even in the middle of Utah’s season. The optics of such a denial would have been rough, and one could argue that it would have had an impact on future recruiting in the Scandinavian part of Europe.
From all indications, Jantunen was torn on what to do, but at least he had the option to choose, which brings me to one key point.
As this was unfolding Saturday night, there was a good amount of social media fodder, serious and joking around, in regard to what would happen if Utah was fighting for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, or even fighting for a high seed. To paraphrase some fans that reached out to me, would Jantunen have been given permission? Would he have gone back to Europe?
The answer to those questions is very likely, yes. Even if Utah was fighting for the NCAA Tournament, Jantunen probably goes back to Europe anyway. Maybe there is a deeper discussion among Krystkowiak and those running the Finnish national team, a group that includes former Utes star Hanno Mottola, but Jantunen would have gone because this is all a big deal for him and his country.
A veteran of two FIBA Under-18 European Championships, plus the Under-17 World Cup in 2016, Jantunen potentially making a dent with the senior national team for the first time this weekend is a big deal.
Finland, ranked 34th in the world and only 17th in Europe according to the latest set of FIBA world rankings, has never been confused with a basketball power. Qualifying for EuroBasket, an event whose basketball importance on a global scale is surpassed only by the Olympics and the FIBA World Cup, for a fourth straight time would be a big deal.
Yes, Jantunen had a choice on what he wanted to do about this, but in the end, there really was no choice at all.
What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise
• Relax, Utah fans. You could be Boston College fans, watching your athletic director, Patrick Kraft, fire your basketball coach, Jim Christian, with only a handful of games to go in the middle of a global health crisis. Trust me, it could always be worse, if not stupider.
• Do you want the good news or the bad news first with Utah volleyball? The bad news is matches on Thursday and Saturday vs. Oregon were canceled on Wednesday morning “due to COVID-19 protocols within the Utah program.” The good news is, after clarifying the situation with an athletic department spokesperson, the Utes are not on a COVID pause, so practice may continue. The seventh-ranked, unbeaten Utes are at No. 10 Washington next Thursday and Saturday for matches that could go a long way to deciding who wins the Pac-12 title.
• Craig Smith’s contract extension at Utah State, of which details came trickling out this week, means the same to me as any other hot-commodity mid-major head coach getting an extension, little to nothing. Aggies athletic director John Hartwell is wisely doing everything he can to hold on to his basketball coach, but if a Power Five school really wants to hire Smith this offseason, it will get it done, including dealing with whatever the buyout figure is. It’s a tale as old as time.
• This H.B. 302 situation is going to be interesting from the standpoint of, what are the ramifications if it gets all the way through the Utah Legislature? I outlined that situation earlier this week.
• John Canzano’s assertion Tuesday that Gonzaga and BYU are considering opting out of the WCC tournament is interesting for a number of reasons. One, neither of those teams NEEDS the WCC tournament as both are NCAA Tournament-bound. Two, eliminating the league’s two-best teams, one of which is a national championship contender, makes the WCC tournament quite a snooze. Three, and this is the part that has people perturbed, without the Zags and Cougars, the winner of the WCC tournament would give the league a third NCAA tournament team, which would mean more money for the league. This situation bears watching.
Q: “How much do you think Cam Rising missing spring ball will impact the fall QB competition?” — @Greg_Dart
A: It will have a huge impact.
As Greg alluded to, Rising has been ruled out of spring practice with the shoulder injury suffered 15 offensive snaps into Utah’s Nov. 21 opener vs. USC. Kyle Whittingham has said at least once that he hopes to have Rising cleared for fall camp, which will begin in late July or early August with the opener set for Sept. 2 vs. Weber State.
Let’s say the timeline holds and Rising is indeed ready for fall camp. He will have missed all of spring practice, which means all opportunities for live reps. Meanwhile, Charlie Brewer, Ja’Quinden Jackson and Peter Costelli will have had the entire offseason, not just the spring, to learn the playbook and get comfortable with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.
Rising will be at a significant disadvantage, maybe one that reasonably cannot be overcome, by the time fall camp starts.
Yes, Rising missing spring practice will have a significant impact on Utah’s impending quarterback competition.
Q: “Do you think there are any future NBA players on this current Utes team?” — @amccray33
A: At present, no, but I do think this current Utes team has a handful of guys that can make some money outside the United States.
That said, NBA personnel guys know who Timmy Allen is. Had the COVID-19 pandemic not hit and we were working under a normal NBA draft calendar, he may have scored a group workout or two last spring after tossing his name into the underclassman pool.
I don’t know that we’re going to be dealing with a normal draft calendar in 2021 with COVID still a thing, so Allen declaring for a second time this spring may not yield much in the way of workout opportunities, but I digress.
Allen’s game has noticeably progressed since last season. He plays defense, he is versatile enough to play and defend multiple positions, and personally, I think his craftiness and footwork around the rim are underrated parts to his game. Yes, the set shot is unorthodox. No one is going to deny that, but he has worked hard at a cleaner shooting motion.
Q: “How is Pac-12 handling seeding for the conference tournament with unequal games played? Has that been announced? The WCC just adopted a KenPom model for seeding, which is a good idea. How SHOULD the Pac-12 do it in your opinion?” — @Utebuntu
A: As far as I can see, the Pac-12 has not made seeding information for the conference tournament public, but a league spokesman told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month that the plan is to seed based on conference winning percentage, which is the norm.
One caveat here is that to be crowned the regular-season champion, a team would need to play within three games of the average number of games played. As of Thursday morning, the average number of conference games played is 13.8. League-leading USC (12-2) and second-place UCLA (10-3) are lined up to easily be within three games of the average.
I agree that the WCC going with a KenPom model for seeding based on adjusted winning percentage is a good outside-the-box idea during this unprecedented virus-impacted season. It feels like the most-equitable answer to a question that is absolutely not straightforward.
Different leagues are going with different ideas to seed their respective conference tournaments. Who’s to say that one idea is better than the other as leagues scrap, claw, and in some cases, probably fail to get every game played, but yes, I like what the WCC is doing.
Q: “Do you think there will be an NIT this year?” — @OuterDarknezz
A: Yes, I do.
Even before John Feinstein reported some key NIT information on Monday morning, things appeared headed toward the NCAA-run event being played come March
Details and format are officially TBD, but if what Feinstein reported is correct (16 teams instead of the usual 32, New York-based bubble), then there is going to be intrigue for what is always considered a “consolation event.”
The one negative, per Feinstein, is that regular-season conference champions that do not win their conference tournament will not be guaranteed an NIT spot. That has been a boon specifically for low and mid-major regular-season champions, not to mention one of the best elements of the NIT since the NCAA took it over in 2005.
People laugh at the NIT. I was one of those people, but then I covered a program that went to the NIT a couple of times. The NIT is not the NCAA Tournament. No one’s goal is to wind up in the NIT, but if you win the thing, or at least make a deep run, objectively, you probably had a pretty good season.
• If I willingly moved to a place where it snows, am I still allowed to complain when it snows?
• It’s almost time for The Jerome. #IYKYK
• The Jazz are just never losing again, right?
• The Donald Trump Era in Atlantic City effectively came to an end Wednesday morning when long-closed Trump Plaza was demolished. That got me thinking what a dump that casino was when it was still open, especially toward the end of its run in 2014. The 34-story tower had become an eyesore over the years, so good riddance.