Like Colorado, Utah is a new and relative unknown quantity in the Pac-12. Beaver Nation at least got to know the Utes, Salt Lake City, and even Sean "JazzyUte" over at BlockU.com during football season, but we thought we would get an update from Sean before the Beavers' visit to the Huntsman Center (its that domed building that's next to Rice-Ecles Stadium).
Utah is struggling this year, and everyone expected that to some degree, given the player turnover and the coaching change. But the Utes do already have more wins, 5, than many thought they would get, including a pair of Pac-12 wins. When they win, they have been able to really hold opponets' scoring in check. What's made the difference? Can it be duplicated against an athletic team like Oregon St. that wants to push the tempo?
I really don't know what's been the difference. I think if that was known, they'd apply it more in other games. I guess you could say the common factor in all those wins is that they came at home and I guess, even if we have no fans showing up to games, there is some home court advantage there. I'm sure it's also a bit of luck, or bad luck, if you will, from the opposing team. Arizona State was without its best player and Utah shot phenomenally - while in other wins, the free throw shooting by the opposition has been down right awful.
Ultimately, I think it just takes the perfect storm for the Utes to win: a home game against a team that shoots poorly, might be without its star player and can't hit from the free throw line. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's glorious!
Of course, it doesn't hurt when your players actually, you know, play.
"Jiggy" Watkins was the Utes' leading scorer, and seemed to be their best offensive option by a large margin. What's the story around his dismissal? Was it ultimately a good thing, or did it finish off the season for the Utes?
No one knows the whole story and I don't know if we ever will. He was suspended earlier in the season for showing up to practice late and I can only assume it has something to do with that. Krystkowiak runs a tight ship and it doesn't seem like he's too keen on giving players a third chance. If you mess up twice, you're done - even if you are the best player.
Who "runs the team" now, especially on the offensive end?
That's yet to be determined, unfortunately.
7 foot Jason Washburn looks like he should be a matchup problem for a lot of teams. Assess his play for us.
He's soft at times and his play is inconsistent. You'd expect more out of a tall player like Washburn, and he certainly has delivered in some games, but overall, he's too inconsistent and it's cost the Utes. In their ugly loss to USC Saturday, he was a non-factor, especially on the glass. But if he does well, Utah generally plays better (no science there).
Ultimately, its going to take talent to turn Utah basketball around. Is there young hope on the bench, or will it take more recruiting cycles to even get started on rebuilding the program to what it once was?
Utah has signed Jordan Loveridge, who's the best recruit out of Utah and a McDonald's All-American nominee - though, who knows how impressive that really is. Regardless, he's a great player and hopefully the savior of our program.
Can coach Larry Krystkowiak fix this? Is there a bigger problem that has to be addressed before he or anyone else could succeed?
I hope. But that remains to be seen. He gutted the team and now has to live with the results. He seems to be bringing in talent and I think he's a good coach, but five wins a season just won't cut it here.
He'll have time, no doubt, but at some point, he's going to have to show progress and who knows how long until that happens. Maybe it's next year, but if it isn't by year three, it's hard to imagine he'll be back for a year four.
What went wrong at the Huntsman Center? Utah basketball, and really all the schools in the valley, typically have seemed to do pretty well overall (for their levels), especially given the relatively small population base that 4 DI programs are all trying to compete for both players and fan support from. So it comes as a surprise to many of us watching from afar to see the Utes so down.
I wrote about it here. It's a lengthy article on the downfall of the Utah program. To sum it up, though: Rick Majerus was in and out as coach here, abruptly resigned and the program could never regain its footing. They replaced him with Ray Giacoletti, who had one great season and then collapsed and Jim Boylen, who just couldn't get it done.
Essentially, the way the Majerus-era ended and the subsequent hires did in the program.
Shifting to football, where Utah had some frustrations, but ultimately had a year that still exceeded most people's expectations, at least after losing their quarterback, it looks like you have landed a real good recruiting class. Grade the class, both for what they got, and more importantly how it fits with what they needed for us.
Well the class appears to be the best in school history. It could have been better (a few potential recruits signed with other schools), though. Overall, I'd give it an A-minus because it's talented, but also shores up some problem areas (offensive line, quarterback). The Utes really won the instate battle against BYU, which was unthinkable even ten years ago, and have now improved on each class the last five or so seasons (if not longer).
How much did being in the Pac-12 now play into that successful recruiting class? Will the momentum transfer to basketball, baseball, and such?
I think playing in the Pac-12 helps immensely. Utah is winning recruiting wars they wouldn't have won three years ago. This is only the second class with Pac-12 affiliation, though, so I'm sure the impact will be even greater - especially when the new Pac-12 TV deal kicks in, and, hopefully, the Utes start really contending for the conference championship.
As for basketball, I think playing in the Pac-12 played a huge role in why Loveridge picked the Utes, so there is some momentum there. Still, until the results bear out on the hardwood, it's hard to say for sure. And baseball? Well, I'll have to defer to someone who knows baseball...I follow it in passing.