With deep, experienced team, Ute basketball has high expectations

first_imgThat’s going to be one of the strengths of our team — our depth. We all need to play really, really hard and know there’s someone else capable to come in. – Utah coach Larry KrystkowiakSALT LAKE CITY — The Utah basketball program has come a long way since being picked for 12th place in the Pac-12 Conference just two years ago.A looonnng way.The Utes have exceeded expectations every year in the Pac-12, including last year when they were picked for ninth and ended up a game out of third place.Now the Utes are one of the teams to beat in the Pac-12, being picked for second in the league and getting a preseason national ranking for the first time in 14 years, coming in at No. 25 in the initial AP poll. The Utes are also ranked 25th in the Sports Illustrated rankings, which just came out Tuesday.The Utes will open the season with an exhibition game Thursday night (8:30 p.m.) against Pacific University of Oregon before officially beginning the season Nov. 14 against Ball State.“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it has a nice little feel to it and shows we’re going in the right direction,’’ Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said of the Utes’ preseason ranking. “It’s encouraging and it’s a good starting point for us. It’s trending upward, but I’d like to have that ranking at the other end of the season.’’Krystkowiak also knows the challenges that come with high expectations, saying, “we’re not going to be sneaking up on anybody’’ this year.The Utes have their toughest schedule in several years with three top 25 teams on the preseason schedule — No. 5 Kansas, No. 11 Wichita State and No. 16 San Diego State — not to mention the grinding Pac-12 slate including a pair of games against No. 2 Arizona. The Utes also have tough road games at BYU and UNLV.“We have a much tougher schedule,’’ says Krystkowiak, who also believes he has the players to handle the high expectations and tough schedule.Krystkowiak says his team is two-deep at every position for the first time since he’s been at Utah, and one of his biggest problems will be finding playing time for all his players.“That’s going to be one of the strengths of our team — our depth,’’ he says. “We all need to play really, really hard and know there’s someone else capable to come in.’’Leading the way for the Utes is senior guard Delon Wright, a first-team all-Pac-12 selection a year ago and a top candidate for league player of the year and even all-American honors.A year ago, Wright came in as a juco transfer and finished in the top 10 in the Pac-12 in seven categories, including second in steals, third in field-goal percentage, fourth in assists and 10th in scoring.According to Krystkowiak, Wright is even better this year.“I’m really happy with the focus of Delon, who has come back and played really hard,’’ said Krystkowiak. “He’s doing things people thought he couldn’t do. He’s shooting the ball real well and he’s really lifted his energy and he’s not deferring. He’s taking the next jump as a senior and will do some things that we didn’t see last year.’’Joining Wright as returning starters are three juniors, forward Jordan Loveridge, guard Brandon Taylor and swingman Dakarai Tucker.Loveridge averaged 14.7 points and 7.0 rebounds last year and was part of the Pac-12 team that toured China during the summer with Krystkowiak as the coach. He has changed his shooting form and believes he will be more consistent as he plays more of the small forward spot for the Utes, instead of power forward.Taylor also played on the team that went to China, and he’ll be counted on as one of the Utes’ outside shooting threats. He led the team with 64 3-point makes last year while shooting 39.8 percent from long range.Tucker was second last year with 47 treys at a 39.2 percent clip. He said he is concentrating more on defense this year, but he should still be a threat on offense with Utah’s other skilled players.The post position may be most up in the air with three solid players to choose from. Krystkowiak said this week that he hasn’t settled on a starter among 7-foot senior Dallin Bachynski, 6-10 junior Jeremy Olsen and 7-foot freshman Jakob Poeltl, who hails from Austria.Last year, Olsen started 10 games and Bachynski started nine games with departed Renan Lenz starting the remainder. Poeltl is good enough to start, and the Utes could use any of the three at the 4 position and play two of the three at the same time, according to Krystkowiak.Kenneth Ogbe, the 6-6 sophomore from Germany who shot 16-for-34 from 3-point range in limited minutes last year, will be one of the top wing reserves. Kyle Kuzma, a 6-9 freshman from Michigan, can play the 3 or 4 spot, while Brekkott Chapman, a 6-8 forward from Roy High School, will mainly play the 4 spot.Isaiah Wright, a 6-2 freshman guard from Boise, will back up Delon Wright at point guard, a position that Taylor can also play. JC transfer Chris Reyes (6-7, 230) brings a physical presence to the Utes’ frontline.With all the depth, Krystkowiak promised that Delon Wright and Loveridge won’t be first and third in the league in minutes played this year, and he expects his team to play faster.“The pace will be a little faster offensively and defensively and everyone will be called on to play and be active participants in our rotation,’’ he said. “It will have a different feel than we’ve been used to where it was more of a controlled tempo because we didn’t have some depth we have now.’’last_img

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