#131 Utah Valley Men's Basketball 2017-2018 Preview

Utah Valley Wolverines
2017-2018 Overall Rank: #131
Conference Rank: #3 WAC
 Utah Valley Logo
The Utah Valley Wolverines finished the 2016-2017 season trending upward, but ultimately fell to Wyoming in the CBI final four. For many teams, making a run in the CBI would not be noteworthy, but Utah Valley returns many players who gained valuable postseason experience in preparation for this season. Utah Valley had nine players average over 12 minutes per game and six of those players return. These six returnees are joined by four key transfers meaning Mark Pope should have the luxury for mixing and matching lineups in his third season as head coach. The Wolverines are deep and experienced and have an opportunity to join the top of a top heavy Western Athletic Conference.
2016-17 Record: 17-17, 6-8
2016-17 Postseason: CBI
Coach: Mark Pope
Coach Record: 29-35 at Utah Valley, 29-35 overall
Who’s Out:
The biggest loss for the Wolverines is senior combo guard Jordan Poydras. Poydras’ role fluctuated between sixth man and starter, but he remained productive, averaging 10.7 points and 2.1 assists in 24.5 minutes per game. He is an aggressive scorer who can drive to the basket and shoot from distance. Poydras made almost two three pointers per game, but shot an inefficient 32.4% on threes. Utah Valley will have a hard time replacing his scoring acumen with a single player and will have to fill the role with multiple contributors. Ivory Young was a senior guard who came off the bench and averaged 6.2 points per game. Young actually played more and was more productive as a junior, but still played an important role in his final season with the Wolverines. Jared Stutzman was used as a backup perimeter power forward in his freshman season. Stutzman averaged 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in just under 13 minutes per game. The 6-6 forward will continue his career at Idaho State. Andrew Bastien joined the starting lineup in the middle of conference play. The redshirt senior center did not play double digit minutes against a D1 opponent until February, but provided a boost for Utah Valley down the stretch. Telly Davenport was a seldom used freshman point guard who will transfer to junior college. These losses should not be too impactful since Utah Valley has transfers waiting to fill these roles.
Who’s In:
Utah Valley is the popular destination for BYU transfers who could not crack the rotation in Provo. The Wolverines have three former BYU Cougars, two of whom are entering their first eligible season at Utah Valley. Jake Toolson and Corey Calvert both should be key rotation players off the bench. The redshirt junior wings failed to make an impact at BYU, but could thrive with a fresh start in the WAC. Akolda Manyang, as a 7-footer, brings elite size and rim protection to the WAC. The redshirt senior will have one season to play for Utah Valley and he was the 2nd ranked junior college player in the country in 2015 according to jucorecruitng.com. Manyang played one season at Oklahoma where he averaged 1.4 blocks in 8 minutes per game as a backup center. Manyang will split the center position with Isaac Neilson and he could be among the county’s leaders in blocked shots. Ben Nakwaasah will serve as the backup PG for his first season in the program. Nakwaasah, a junior college transfer, is known for his sharp shooting and will have three years of eligibility. He should be a factor in Mark Pope’s usually deep rotation. Richard Harward is a 6-10 center who will provide frontcourt depth as a freshman.
Who to Watch:
Six of Utah Valley’s key players return including leading scorer, Conner Toolson. Toolson is a junior who averaged 11.9 points per game last season, but like many of his teammates, struggled with his efficiency. He shot 31.8% from three on 55 makes. If Toolson can improve the consistency of his jump shot then it will create more spacing on offense and allow Toolson to get to the rim more effectively. One Wolverine who could benefit from more spacing on offense is redshirt senior Brandon Randolph. Randolph is an athletic 6-2 point guard who uses his speed to put pressure on the defense and score at the rim. Randolph, the Xavier transfer, is a great rebounder for his size; he averaged 5.1 per game which was second on the team. He began the year as a starter, but moved to a reserve role due to his inefficient and often out of control play. Randolph averaged 3.9 assists and 3.2 turnovers per game, which is unacceptable for a point guard at any level. He shot only 39.4% from the field and 27.1% from three which suggests that he should not have had such a green light offensively. If Utah Valley is going to challenge for the top of the WAC, Randolph needs to be a major positive contributor and successfully run the offense. The one player who showed an ability to hit three pointers with both volume and consistency was Kenneth Ogbe. Ogbe is a 6-6 redshirt senior who transferred from Utah and proved to be a prolific shooter in his short time with Utah Valley. Ogbe hit 58 threes at a 40.8% clip. Even though Ogbe is mostly a jump shooter, he showed an ability to catch the defense off guard and get to the rim when they overplayed his jump shot. Expect Ogbe, Randolph, and Conner Toolson to be more effective in Mark Pope’s dribble weave and drive and kick heavy offense since they have now played a full season together.
Isaac Neilson is a 6-11 center who had a very productive first season for Utah Valley after transferring from BYU. Neilson, a redshirt senior, averaged 9.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in just 21.8 minutes per game. Neilson played a crucial role in Mark Pope’s offense as a screener in the dribble weave and was frequently wide open after diving to the rim. Neilson is also an aggressive rebounder who can control the glass on both ends of the floor. His shot blocking and physical presence was extremely valuable for the Wolverine defense. Zach Nelson is a redshirt senior and will start at power forward for the fourth straight season. In Nelson’s first two seasons he averaged over 30 minutes per game, but like Ivory Young’s, his minutes and production dipped. Nelson was more of a glue guy last season, averaging 7.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in just over 21 minutes. Nelson was another example of a Utah Valley player being allowed to take too many three pointers. He shot a paltry 15.9% on 69 attempts, but he is still a very valuable player who will add experience to the frontcourt. Even though Hayden Schenk is technically a walk-on, the redshirt junior wing was a reliable rotation piece for the last two seasons. Schenk could play a similar role this season, except he would be the only reserve to play meaningful minutes in his Utah Valley career making him even more important. Like Young’s and Nelson’s, Schenk’s minutes and production decreased last year. However, expect Schnek to be called upon more frequently this upcoming season since he is the most experienced reserve. Power forward Joonas Tahvanainen could not find consistent rotation minutes as a freshman and will probably play a sporadic role as a sophomore.
Final Projection:
Mark Pope ran an interesting dribble weave motion offense that allowed his guards to turn the corner, draw help defenders, and find open teammates for long range jump shots. This 4 out motion offense created so much spacing it made it easier for Utah Valley’s guards to get to the rim or cut back door. The offense also created a significant amount of three pointers since they shot 937 of them last season. Those 937 three point attempts was the 9th most in the country. Unfortunately, Utah Valley did not make these shots at a high percentage as they only shot 32% from three as a team. It also seemed like some players, especially Randolph and Nelson, had a green light that was undeserved when considering their low shooting percentages. This problem should be rectified because, for many of these players, last year was their first season playing together in Mark Pope’s offense. The returning players should have better chemistry and play more effectively with a year or two under their belt. The X-factor is clearly Brandon Randolph because if he can clean up the turnovers and put his teammates in a better position offensively then the team should collectively shoot the ball better and become even harder to guard. Depth should be an advantage for the Wolverines since Mark Pope tinkered with many different starting lineups throughout last season and has 10 or 11 quality guys at his disposal. Utah Valley’s frontcourt also is a huge advantage since they have two quality centers in Neilson and Manyang who provide high level rebounding and rim protection. Ultimately, the Wolverines should challenge for the top of the WAC due to having balanced scoring and a deep group of older, experienced players.
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI/CIT/V16
Projected Starting Five:
Brandon Randolph, Guard, Senior, 10.0 points per game
Conner Toolson, Guard, Junior, 11.9 points per game
Kenneth Ogbe, Guard, Senior, 10.6 points per game
Zach Nelson, Forward, Senior, 7.4 points per game
Isaac Neilson, Center, Senior, 9.6 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 76.9 (93rd in nation, 3rd in conference)
Scoring Defense:72.9 (197, 4)
Field-Goal Percentage: 43.7 (216, 5)
Field-Goal Defense: 41.5 (54, 3)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 8.8 (55, 2)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 32.0 (299, 8)
Free-Throw Percentage: 70.7 (155, 3)
Rebound Margin: 1.8 (124, 3)
Assists Per Game: 15.6 (50, 2)
Turnovers Per Game: 15.4 (335, 7)