Utah Valley MBB: Non-conference roundup

Reading Time: 4 minutes Utah Valley Men’s Basketball has had a rollercoaster of a year. Losing five of their last eight. What do they need to do to get back on track?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As of Jan. 8, the Utah Valley University Men’s Basketball team sits at 8-7, losing five of their last eight matches. 

The first loss started in a 65-53 shocking fall apart to Utah Tech in St. George on Dec. 2. UVU would return home to dominate Weber State 70-54, then faced a gauntlet of a schedule. 

They would be tasked to travel to Corvallis, Oregon to face the Oregon State Beavers, ranked in the 300’s in the NET rankings before the matchup. Then the Wolverines would travel to Salt Lake to take on the Utes who are receiving votes in the AP Top 25, then face an incredibly good Liberty team, who is ranked in the top 75 of the NET. To finish off their non-conference slate, the Wolverines traveled to Boise State to face the Broncos. 

It did not all start off badly, Utah Valley was in contention to beat the Beavers in Corvallis, but a controversial no-call on a goaltend allowed Oregon State to pull away. Utah Valley would then lose their next three games by 13 points, 16 points, and 22 points, respectively.  

To clarify, this is a good Utah Valley team. Is it as wonderful as last year’s NIT team? Probably not. But it does not need to be. 

Utah Valley lost just about everyone and everything from last year’s team including head coach Mark Madsen.  

It does not help that prized transfer, Drake Allen, has missed time due to illness and a sprained ankle after landing on a ball during shoot around. 

New head coach, and former assistant, Todd Phillips said the schedule is supposed to be this way. 

“These five games are a tough stretch. I look around the country and I think ‘Who is playing these tough five games? Nobody,’” Phillips stated after the loss to Liberty. “Look at the Utah schools. Utah is not, BYU is not. Good for them they are playing every game at home, but they are playing 300+ (NET) teams. It is Utah Valley and maybe dumb on Coach Phillips part to schedule these games, but I also think it gets our guys ready to go and our league is really good.” 

Phillips did not mince his words. According to KenPom rankings, Utah Valley is nearing top-50 in strength of schedule. They have played two Q1 teams, and two Q2 teams. Despite being 0-4 in those games, it adds to the difficulty of this non-conference schedule, but it does not get easier. 

The WAC is an incredibly solid conference for basketball and has been for years. Grand Canyon took down No. 25 San Diego State just this season and they are 12-1 up to this point. Southern Utah took Utah down to the wire in Salt Lake earlier this year. 

There is a lot of competition in the WAC and the league winner is easily a potential upset in any NCAA Tournament game. 

What are the positives of Utah Valley’s rough mid-season stretch? 

Caleb Stone-Carrawell has been phenomenal. He is averaging a career-high 11.9 points, which leads the team, and 2.7 rebounds a game. His shooting numbers are okay at 40/32/73 splits, which need to be higher but have been solid. 

Tanner Toolson has also been a good addition for the Wolverines. Though streaky at times, when the redshirt freshman is on, he is on. Though with any shooter, when he is off, he is off.  

Utah Valley has also recieved great minutes from role players including Osiris Grady, Trevan Leonhardt, and Jaden McClanahan who has spent time in the starting rotation and leads the team in assists with 3.5 a game. 

Some of the negatives of this mid-season stretch have been the 3-point shooting. As a team, the Wolverines are shooting a collective 26% from three. The 26% is just the second time in program history the team has shot under 30% from the field, 26% would be the lowest ever. (29.9% 2014-2015) 

In addition to the low 3-point percentage, the Wolverines are also shooting just 67.9% as a team from the stripe, which is also an incredibly dwindling number. 

Despite that, there is still plenty of time to turn that number around. But the direction its heading is not good. 

The Wolverines also have a somewhat crowded forward room. K’mani Doughty, Osiris Grady, Nate Tshimanga, and Ethan Potter are all fighting for minutes which can add to the severity of getting the right guys in at the right time. 

And while all this sounds like a piece to criticize UVU, the truth is, Utah Valley is better than what their record shows. And despite that record, Phillips has done a solid job in his first season managing his bench, rotations, and getting guys to buy-in to what they are doing which is a key reason he was promoted from assistant to head coach this year. 

Utah Valley has started their conference slate after splitting the two-game conference series earlier this season, defeating Seattle U and falling to Utah Tech. 

After defeating California Baptist and Southern Utah this past weekend, the Wolverines will be tasked with a three-game road stretch against UT-Arlington, UTRGV, and Grand Canyon before returning home for one game against Utah Tech. Following the game against the Trailblazers, UVU will head on the road again for a two-game trip against Seattle U and Stephen F. Austin. 

Utah Valley has a test ahead of them. The program has the coaching, talent, and the skills to be one of the best teams in the WAC, how they adapt in conference play will display what they are truly capable of.