Sunday, December 30, 2012

Utes Beat 'Yotes: On To Pac-12 Play.

Utah closed out pre-conference play with a convincing win over the College of Idaho. The College of Idaho is an NAIA school, so there is not much to learn from the victory. So let's focus on what we have learned from the preseason.

Utah is rebuilding and struggles to score in tight games. While the Utes have had flashes of solid play, especially on the defensive end, Utah is still learning how to be a good team. In three of its four losses (Sac. State, BYU, and Northridge), Utah had big leads and failed to put away its opponent. In each of these games, the Utes went through a cold spell offensively. In these scoreless stretches, the Utes lack of leadership became apparent. While Dubois has tried to take on the leadership role, his inability to create good shots if the offense is not running well makes it difficult for him to carry the team. I don't see this problem being rectified this season. I hope Coach Krystko can prove me wrong.

Utah is strong defensively. The biggest improvement from last season (besides overall talent) has been on the defensive end. While the Utes mostly play man-to-man, they have also effectively gone into a three quarter court press and zone. This was especially effective in the win over SMU. Utah went into the College of Idaho game giving up under 58 points per game, which is 19th in the country and second in the conference. While some of this can be attributed to the schedule, Utah will win some games in the Pac 12 because of its defense.

Utah is well-coached. Utah was well coached last year as well. For that team to win three games in conference play last year was a testament to Coach Krysto and his staff. That was by far the least talented division I team I have ever seen. And this is illustrated by where some of the players from last year's team are currently playing. Utah's second game against SMU is further evidence of Coach Krystko's ability to make adjustments and coach up his kids. While Utah was outplayed in Dallas by the SMU Mustangs, Utah made several adjustments in the second game that led to the victory. I expect to see the Utes steal one or two games in conference play because of the coaches' ability to make adjustments in the second game. Coach Krstko is not perfect and will have to get better as he goes on. He certainly had no answers in the three tough losses. But he and his staff teach the fundamentals and his team respects him. That will go a long way as time goes on.

Utah needs Cedric Martin to be healthy. This may not seem obvious, but Utah is much better defensively when Martin is healthy and in the game. While not a great scorer, he also keeps teams honest with his ability to hit open perimeter shots. His absence really hurt them in the loss to Northridge as the Utes had no answer for Landon Drew in the second half.

I expect Utah to win 7-8 games in conference. This may be good enough to get the Utes into one of the lower tier tournaments (CBI). If they can do that, the tournament experience will be beneficial going into the off-season. If Utah can get to 15 wins and get a berth in the CBI, I would count that as a successful season. If they can get to 9 wins and a .500 record in conference play, then look out for the Runnin' Utes next season.

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