Sports editor Matt Petersen and Assistant Sports Editor Jonathan Boldt give their take on five questions about the men’s basketball team heading into conference play.
1) The Wolverines are 10-10 heading into conference play, but are they really a .500-level team?
Matt: What makes a basketball season isn’t so much how hot a team gets as much as when the team gets hot. Utah Valley looks like it’s finally finding a groove on both ends after struggling early on. The Wyoming game, like its defining offensive foul called on Keith Thompson, could have gone either way. It’s a shame it took a team with four returning starters this long to gel, but now that it’s happening they should be much better than their record indicates.
Jonathan: The Wolverines are like the 12-year-old star quarterback playing junior high football. They’ve outgrown the local competition, but aren’t quite ready for varsity. Their non-conference play suggests they just aren’t quite there yet when it comes to the likes of Arkansas, Utah State and Wyoming. They have made great strides in competing with tougher competition and now is the time to build from there and finish strong in conference as expected. The only way to be considered for another conference is to beat teams from those conferences. The bottom line is you are what your record says until you prove otherwise.
2) Who’s more valuable at this point: Geddes Robinson or Isiah Williams?
Matt: For the first 35 minutes? Robinson. The last five? Williams. That’s the kind of fear an elite scorer brings.
You can’t overestimate how many looks other teammates have gotten due to the opponents’ attention on Williams. That will only increase in conference play, as Great West teams remember all too well how Williams burned them repeatedly. The threat of him simply being on the floor keeps defenses honest, creating a trickle-down effect on the rest of the Wolverines.
Jonathan: Isiah Williams will always have a huge influence on this team. His ability to take over with his explosive offensive talents cannot be understated. That being said, at this point in the season this team feeds off the hard work and passion of Geddes Robinson.
Robinson is averaging a double-double while being in the top 20 nationally in total rebounding and is first overall on the offensive glass. His rebounds per game have gone up as well as his points per-game from last season. What sets him apart, though, is not the numbers. It’s how hard he prepares and how hard he works. His level of commitment is inspiring this team to bring their A-game every night.
3) Which player does UVU need to step up the most?
Matt: Assuming Ben Aird and Holton Hunsaker continue their recent hot streak, the bench is as good a candidate as anyone. Alfonzo Hubbard is the Wolverines’ only semi-consistent reserve at this point, as Hunsaker has opted to insert him for Aird and simply go small with Robinson playing center.
Hubbard has played well of late, scoring in double figures in three of the last four non-conference games. If he can keep up that kind of effort, an off-night from Williams might be more sufferable.
Jonathan: Over the last 10 games, Ben Aird has led the team in rebounding three times and in scoring four times. His development over the season will be key heading into conference play. When the Wolverines are able to get him involved in the passing game from the top of the key, they are able to open up scoring opportunities under the basket.
5) At this point, what’s the Wolverines’ biggest strength? Biggest weakness?
Matt: Ironically, UVU’s front line made the biggest impact after all the preseason expectations for Williams. Again, I credit a lot of that to the attention Williams draws, but the Aird/Robinson/Thompson trio has proven to be a physical and versatile force.
The biggest concern at this point? Shooting. Even after their three consecutive wins, UVU is shooting just 42 perent from the field, including 29 percent from deep. A lot of people expected those numbers to much higher with so many returning threats this season. Then again, maybe that’s why Hunsaker tried to squash those expectations in the first place.
Jonathan: Without a doubt their biggest strength how hard they work and the chemistry they have developed. There aren’t any inflated egos with coach Hunsaker’s crew and they feed off each others’ intensity. You won’t find a more humble duo than Isiah Williams and Geddes Robinson, who get so much from their teammates just by being themselves.
Finding a way to close out big games may be more of a learning process than a weakness, but to become the type of program they wish to be, this is a must going forward. A call here or there may have made a difference, but making a play would have for sure. A hot Wyoming team came to Orem shortly after beating UVU by 33 in Laramie and the Wolverines had them on the ropes in the final minute but couldn’t cash in.