Utah Basketball: The Process of Rebuilding a Program

Utah’s move into the PAC-12 has been well documented locally and it seems to be getting to the point of being overstated. Yeah the schools are more prestigious, the athletic programs are at a much higher level, and yes, we know that the conference is home to much better athletes than the Mountain West Conference. We get it. It’s time for a new storyline to take place and there are plenty of other things that could be talked about. One subject that has been interesting to watch is the improvement of Utah Men’s Basketball.

The University of Utah has seen basketball played at a high level for many years. When I was growing up Utah’s appearance in the NCAA Tournament was a given, it was just part of the season. The question wasn’t can they get in, but how many games will they win this year? Since their last conference tournament championship and NCAA tournament appearance in 2009, it has gone downhill quickly for the Utes. With the hiring of Larry Krystkowiak, the program has continued to struggle. Last year the Utes won 6 games the entire season. 6 games!! That is so incredibly awful it’s hard to adequately describe. The lowest moment had to have been when the Utes went up to Eugene, Oregon and were embarrassed 94-48 by the Ducks.

Going in to this season the Utes were a punch line, an absolute joke. The nonconference schedule was comical as the Utes put together a few games that would help them get some wins and build their confidence. The two key non-conference games Utah scheduled were a home game against an emerging Boise State team and their hated rival, the BYU Cougars. The game against the Broncos was the first after legendary coach Rick Majerus passed away. For a few hours it
seemed like Majerus’ Utes were out there playing. They played a complete game and won by the score of 76-55. The game against BYU was an interesting one as well. BYU is a team that has owned the Utes for several years, and Utah has been at the receiving end of several beat downs. My honest expectation was let’s just keep it within 10-15 points and get out of there before it gets too ugly. The Utes controlled much of the game and put themselves in a position to pull the upset. The Utes would cough up the lead and lose the game in the final minutes. Despite the record the Utes have improved a lot from last year.

On Saturday night the Utes took on the Washington Huskies, a team that had started 4-0 in conference play and has looked like one of the better teams in the conference. A loss and possibly a blowout looked imminent. The Utes started strong and played a really good first half. This sentence could be said about most of Utah’s losses this year so there were plenty of reasons Utah fans were skeptical about the second half. Brandon Taylor, the young freshman point guard, put together his best game as a Ute. He played 30 minutes, scored 19 points, grabbed 2 rebounds, had 2 steals, and dished out 6 assists as the Utes were able to withstand a Husky run down the stretch and get an impressive 74-65 win.

The topic of discussion on twitter among Utah fans is whether Utah basketball is back or not. It
obviously depends on your definition of “back”, but my guess is most fans would say not quite yet. Is there reason for hope? Yes. Is there reason why Utah fans should be excited about the future? Yes. There are several signs to me that Utah basketball will soon be “back” with Coach Krystkowiak at the helm. One of the key reasons why I think Krystkowiak is the right fit for Utah is the improved play of Cedric Martin and Jason Washburn. Two seniors that have done great things for the Utes this season, and credit for their improved play should be given to Krystkowiak and his staff. Another reason why I believe in Krystkowiak is how well the young guys have been playing. Jordan Loveridge has been a beast for the Utes all year, Brandon Taylor is looking like the future starting point guard and guys like Justin Seymour and Dakari Tucker have also had moments where they have played well.

The Utes are getting better and there is reason for hope up on the hill. Talented recruits like Delon
Wright, Parker Van Dyke and Ahmad Fields are on their way, and the Utes should be more improved next year. Turning around a program that is in as bad of shape as Utah’s is doesn’t happen overnight or in a season and a half, it’s going to take time. Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer), who is the senior correspondent for PAC-12 Digital summed up my thoughts last night by saying, “Utes playing teams close though, very much following Bowden-ism and losing close after losing big last year.” Utah played a horrible game last night and lost by 5 to a decent Cal team. Most of the losses this year have come when Utah coughed up a second half lead and/or couldn’t convert crucial possessions down the stretch. All of these things are expected with a young team working to rid itself of its losing culture. There is going to be inconsistent play when the team leaders are freshmen. Support the team and watch a program return to relevancy. This season will continue to have its highs and lows but it’s all part of turning the ship around and beginning to win again. Go Utes!


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