As another disappointing season likely comes to an end for the Utah Utes men’s basketball team next week, it’s time to start looking ahead to 2013-14.
As Winston Churchill once stated, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Here’s a few reasons to be both optimistic and pessimistic about next season:
While you may not think much of the talent on Utah’s team now, they are losing a few key players at the end of the year.
Most fans won’t be too disappointed with the loss of Jarred DuBois given some of the untimely misses he had this season, but he does lead the team in both scoring and assists. The transfer from Loyola Marymount averaged 12 points to go along with three “dimes” a game. DuBois’ points and assists average dipped slightly in conference play when Brandon Taylor was inserted into the starting lineup and Jason Washburn stepped up as a scoring threat.
Did I mention Jason Washburn? Yes, he’s gone at the end of the year as well. I’ve already gone on the record to say that Washburn should be an all-conference candidate. Washburn lead the Utes in scoring during conference play averaging 13 points a game. He also pulled down the most rebounds for the team in PAC-12 play at nearly eight boards a game.
Cedric Martin played in all but two games and started all but two of those. Martin lead the team in steals while averaging just a shade over four points a game.
With those three departures, Larry Krystkowiak will need to replace 43% of the team’s points on what was already a low-scoring club, 33% of the teams rebounds and 39% of the team’s assists. Krystkowiak will also have to find regular starters at center, small forward and shooting guard.
Jason Washburn is the most significant loss of the three players and will be difficult to replace. Dallin Bachynski started nine games this season but was briefly released from the team and never seemed to return to form. Jeremy Olsen is more of a four than a true center, but the redshirt freshman earned valuable experience playing behind and alongside Jason Washburn. Olsen improved with each game this season and should be even better prepared to compete at this level next year. Utah also added a junior college player in the 2013 recruiting class that could help fill Washburn’s void. Marko Kovacevic stepped away from basketball this season after academics cost him a chance to play Division 1 basketball for Montana. The 6’11” Serbian has an inside-outside game similar to Washburn’s but one has to question if the layoff will leave him too rusty to compete in his first year on the hill? At this point, I don’t see any opportunity here for the Utes, just difficulty as there’s very little chance they’ll be in better shape at the center position next season.
Now to the reasons for Utah fans to be optimistic about next season:
Replacing Jarred DuBois should be an easier task for Coach Krystkowiak. LSU transfer Aaron Dotson is the most experienced player in the program though he was sidelined with injuries most of this season. Some even question if Dotson will be in the lineup next season given the returning players and incoming talent. That leaves Justin Seymour who played in 24 games as a true freshman this year including two starts. The Wheeler High School product struggled to find his touch, though, shooting just 36% from the floor and 18% from three-point range. Still, the experience can only help the young player grow. Fellow true freshman Dakarai Tucker can play either the two or three and had some nice games for the Utes this season. Tucker shot 55% from the field including 44% from distance. Then there’s the newcomers. Will incoming freshman Parker Van Dyke play alongside Brandon Taylor as a shooting guard or challenge him for major minutes at point guard. The East High School standout can certainly score the basketball and will find the floor wherever Coach K needs him. One of the top junior college prospects will join the Utes next season. Delon Wright currently plays for undefeated San Francisco City College. He can play any position one through three. Most expect him to earn a starting role immediately with the only question being which position. Either way Coach chooses to draw it up, expect the Utes to be better at the two next season.
Many of these players will also be in the conversation to replace Cedric Martin which may prove Krystkowiak’s easiest task in the offseason. I expect this is the position where we’ll see Delon Wright emerge. Dakarai Tucker proves a more-than-serviceable backup to Wright, that is if the younger brother of the Philadelphia 76ers Dorrell Wright lives up to the hype. Cedric Martin’s defense will be missed as he accumulated the most steals of any player on the team. Again, I see opportunity for the Utes to improve at the small forward/wing position.
Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor and the rest of Utah’s young nucleus will all be better next season which means the Utes will improve at four of the five positions.
Several questions still remain going into next season including just how much Utah will feel Jason Washburn’s loss. And, will all these upgrades translate into more wins? I’m cautiously optimistic the Utes will be more competitive in conference play next season but I suggest all fans temper those expectations. I think the real growth comes the following year despite the likely departure of Parker Van Dyke on an LDS mission. Will Chris Hill be patient enough with Coach Larry Krystkowiak or will he panic and hit the abort button as some fans are already suggesting? There’s real danger in making a change, as I wrote in a previous article, because you never know which athletes will pack up and leave. Krystkowiak started this journey with just four players, two of which didn’t even finish that first season. A fair shake, in my opinion, would be three seasons after the throw-away year that was 2011-12.