The dictionary defines a rival as "The action or process of arriving."
For this edition of the Utah-Colorado rivalry (can we please call this the Carlon Brown Series?) nothing demonstrates the process of arriving more than this Utes team that, in only three years, has gone from the Pac-12 basement to challenging the consistent persistence of the Arizona Wildcats. Utah's four years in the Pac-12 has gone like this: 6-25 (3-15 in Pac-12) with three losses to Colorado, including a 73-33 romping; 15-18 (5-13) with a deep run in the conference tournament; 21-12 (9-9) with overtime losses to Colorado, Oregon and Arizona, three of the top four finishers in the Pac-12 standings, before getting demolished by St. Mary's in the first round of the NIT; 12-2 (2-0) with their only losses coming by a combined seven points playing at #16 San Diego State and on a neutral court against #10 Kansas ... and they're ranked #9 in the AP Poll.
That consistent improvement is all too rarely seen in the college ranks and can be attributed to a determined coach, superb player development and the gift of a wunderkind JUCO. With all respect to Utah's Coach K, I'm going to save my breath, for ESPN2's broadcast crew will undoubtedly express his coaching prowess. Instead, I'll focus on the Utes' fearless backcourt duo eating planets together.
A junior now after spending his first two seasons getting over 30 minutes per game and being the perfect example of how Utah has developed great players, Jordan Loveridge isn't the typical wing that can get to the rim and shoot a bit from deep. To call Loveridge a wing would be akin to calling Yoda a Jedi. Sure, Loveridge can shoot and create buckets for himself just as Yoda can wield a lightsaber and use the Force, but Loveridge isn't limited by that definition because of what he does without the basketball. This 6'6" bombarder deforms the entire defense out of the fear of him making it rain at his season-long clip of 53% from deep. When such a great three-point shooter is out there, he doesn't need to touch the ball to be valuable to his offense. Loveridge on defense is even more impressive when you see that his Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions defended) is just below that of defensive wizard
and possible spawn of Ares T.J. McConnell. Loveridge is able to take on the strongest opposition available and render him utterly average. If this stupid analogy implies Xavier Johnson is Count Dooku, that's rad. Also, if Loveridge were to fly an X-Wing while eating hot wings, he would be a wing in a wing eating a wing.
Come Wednesday night, there will be a better player than Loveridge out on that court. If he plays for Colorado, it's because he'd be switching uniforms mid-game Coffee Black. A JUCO transfer from last year and current world beater, Delon Wright is magnificent. In my CSU preview, I described Daniel Bejarano:
"Bejarano is a rather unique player being quite good at everything, but not really great at any one skill. The preseason All-Mountain West shooting guard is a Nicolas Batum, Delon Wright-type player in that he always seems to rack up a fair share of assists, a ton of rebounds and a decent amount of points, all while stretching the defense with the threat of draining three-pointers. Besides the Brady Heslips and Bryce Alfords of the world, Bejarano seems like the perfect player to defeat the Buffs."
Though it was J.J. Avila who eventually beat the Buffs, Bejarano knifed through the defense while constantly making life easier for his teammates with his all-world versatility. There is a reason, however, that I compared Bejarano to Delon Wright, for Bejarano could only remind us of Wright's exploits on the court. Everything Bejarano does, Delon Wright is better at it, except for three-point shooting. In his two years at Utah, Wright has averaged over 15 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. No other college basketball player is close to matching those per game stats. Delon Wright is like nothing you've seen before and the chief reason the Utes are pushing for a top seed in the Big Dance.
I thought Colorado had a remotely decent chance at challenging the Utes, but that was before I finally realized both of Utah's losses were with Jordan Loveridge injured. I should also profess that Jordan Bachynski, whom I hated more than anyone in Pac-12 history including Bryce Alford, has a little brother named Dallin who happens to be a center on Utah. Did I mention this game is on national TV?