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10 Days ‘Till OSU Basketball: Utah Utes Preview

It’s a rebuilding year for the Utes.

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Southern California Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Utah Utes

  • Head Coach: Larry Krystkowiak (9th Season) I Overall: 155-111
  • Last Season: 17-14 (11-7) I Post-Season: NIT Championship Game
  • Pac-12 Preseason Poll: 9th (131 Points)

Projected Starters

  • Rylan Jones (Guard - Freshman)
  • Brandan Wenzel (Guard - Senior)
  • Both Gach (Wing - Sophomore)
  • Timmy Allen (Forward - Sophomore)
  • Riley Battin (Forward - Sophomore)

The Skinny

Utah Men’s Basketball has been extremely consistent in eight years under head coach Larry Krystkowiak. Not very good, mind you, but consistent.

Out of eight seasons, the Utes have reached the postseason five teams, thrice to the NIT, twice to the Big Dance. Such was the case last year, as Utah managed to make it all the way to Madison Square Garden before falling by double digits to Penn State in the NIT Championship. This off-season did a lot to shatter that picture of consistency, however.

Utah saw twelve departures during the break, either due to graduation or transfer. Adding salt to the wound, Utah was hit with a two year probation from the NCAA due to recruiting violations.

Key losses include Sedrick Barefield, their leading scorer and distributor at 16.8 points per game and 3.3 assists per game, their two leading rebounders in Jayce Johnson and Donnie Tillman at 7.7 rebounds per game and 5.3 rebounds per game, respectively.

Entering his ninth year, Krystkowiak and his staff are left to pick up the pieces.

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Arizona State
Utah’s Both Gach has the game (and name) to quickly becoming a stand-out in the Pac-12.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The most notable returners to the program are Both Gach, Timmy Allen and Riley Battin, all versatile wings who played significant minutes for the Utes last season. Gach and Battin are both exceptional shooters, both having shooting percentages hovering around 48% for last season. Timmy Allen is the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, averaging just over 12 points and 5 rebounds in 29 minutes. He’s sure to see an even larger workload this season. All three of these returning players are only sophomores, and this lack of experience is sure to hurt the Utes in the long run.

Filling out the roster comes the 46th best recruiting class in the nation in 2019, headlined by two Salt Lake City standouts: four star guard Rylan Jones, and 7’4” big man Matt Van Kommen. Both are expected to make immediate contributions for the Utes. I expect depth will play a large part in the Utes’ success or failure this season. As evidenced by the starting job likely being handed to a freshman, the Utes might be particularly short at the guard position. It is unclear the capacity in which players like Alfonso Plummer, a transfer from Arizona Western Community College, or returning sophomore Brooks King, will see the floor.

This looks to be like a rebuilding year for the Utes. Their non-conference schedule is very forgiving, as they only play three scheduled non-conference Power 5 games (Myrtle Beach Invitational could add more given how well they play) and fierce rival BYU. I expect two to three losses in the non-conference (one almost guaranteed loss vs Kentucky in Vegas), and many, many road losses in the non-conference. Young teams do not generally play well in conference road games, so expect three game roadtrips like they have at the very start of conference play to put a damper on what could be a relatively harmless non-con.

I expect the Utah Runnin’ Utes to finish middle of the pack in the Pac-12, likely falling between fifth and ninth. A team with this many fresh faces could either exceed our wildest expectations or fall completely flat. We’ll just have to wait and see which.

Four Non-Conference Games to Watch

  • 11/15 v. Minnesota
  • 12/4 v. BYU
  • 12/18 v. Kentucky* (Las Vegas, NV)
  • 12/21 v. San Diego State* (Basketball Hall of Fame Classic)