SALT LAKE CITY —
The University of Utah men's basketball team began its season last Friday night with a resounding win against a lesser opponent, a 104-47 victory over tiny Willamette College.
Make no mistake about it, this was supposed to happen. Despite the struggles that the Utes have faced in recent years, this was a game they were supposed to win and win handily. So don't read too many big-picture things into last Friday night's win, but rather look at it as a positive step in the second year of the Larry Krystkowiak era at Utah.
I've been asked more times than I can remember this offseason, "How good will the Utes be this season?" or "What should we expect from Utah Basketball this year?"
My simple answer has been that I don't know how much better they will be. I just know that they will be better this year. I can point to three major reasons as to why I know they will be better than they were a year ago — and save the smart-aleck comments about how they can't be any worse:
1) Talent. It took me all of about 10 minutes at a pract ce to see that the talent difference between last season and this season is like night and day. For those that attended the open scrimmage, exhibition game or last week's regular-season opener, you know what I'm talking about.
Jordan Loveridge is a big-time talent who opened his collegiate career with a double-double — 18 points and 10 rebounds. Glen Dean is the first pure point guard Utah has had since possibly Marc Jackson. And Justin Seymour is a talented young shooting guard who doesn't appear to be intimidated by the big stage of Division I hoops. These are just a few examples of the talent upgrade.
2) Leadership. If talent was lacking a year ago, the only thing that was more absent was leadership on and off the floor. Look no further than Glen Dean and Jared Dubois, the team's point guards, as this year's leaders.
Dean, a transfer from Eastern Washington, had the benefit of being in the system last season, though he sat out, while Dubois spent for four seasons at Loyola-Marymount and completed his degree, which allowed him the opportunity to come play right away in the Pac-12 at Utah. These two young men are shining examples of leaders both on and off the floor.
3) Coaching. This one may be a tad more difficult to see until you begin to see more wins, but as someone who has great access to the program, I can tell you that Coach Krystkowiak, Tommy Connor, DeMarlo Slocum, Andy Hill and the rest of the staff are outstanding teachers of the game. They all understood the situation that they stepped into a year ago and choose to build a foundation, rather than try to cut corners for short-term gains. I believe you will begin to see some of the fruits of their labor this season.
Are you still skeptical? Its OK, I completely understand. This is a results-oriented business and programs are judged on wins and losses. How many wins will the Utes get this year? I still don't know.
But what I do know is that when you come to the Huntsman Center this season or watch the Utes on television, you will see a much more talented and entertaining basketball product than you've seen in recent years.
It might just be the first big step back in the right direction for Utah basketball.
Bill Riley is the co-host of the Bill and Hans Show weekdays from 2-6 p.m on ESPN 700 AM. You can follow Bill on Twitter @espn700bill.