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View from the Booth: Utes' basketball program is making strong strides forward

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4 2012 8:58 p.m. MST

Seven games into this basketball season, Larry Krystkowiak's basketball team has nearly matched the win total of last year's club. This edition of Utah basketball currently sits at 5-2, while the team a year ago managed just six wins all season long.

I bring this up not to pull the scab off the wound that has nearly healed from a year ago, but rather to illustrate that strides are being made.

It's been very easy to mock and dismiss what this proud program has become over the last couple of seasons. And with the death over the weekend of Rick Majerus, the greatest coach in the long and storied history of Utah hoops, some of that dialogue has surfaced yet again.

I understand the frustration of much of the fan base about the struggles, instability and direction of the program over the last three or four years. But as I wrote in this space a year ago and have told Ute fans on more occasions than I can count, I am convinced that the right guy is heading the program and he and his staff have things moving in the right direction.

There's better coaching, leadership and, most importantly, talent in the program this season. There is a good mix of experience and talented youth, something that appears to be being built for the long haul. So how good are these guys? Good question. To be honest, I'm not quite sure just yet. The team is 5-2 and frankly should be 6-1 if not for the late meltdown against Sacramento State.

The Utes haven't exactly played a murder's row of opponents through their first seven games, but the quality of competition has slightly improved each time out — as has the Utes' level of play.

We'll certainly find out this week just where Utah is in the big-picture scheme of things. The Utes host Boise State tonight at 6:30. Leon Rice's team is 6-1, with its only loss at Michigan State.

The Broncos are far and away the best team the Utes have faced this season. Then on Saturday, it's another quality non-conference matchup against BYU in Provo.

The Utah defense, which has been outstanding in its first seven games, will certainly be tested over the next two contests. And the Utah offense, which has been inconsistent at times, will need to be at its best this week.

So the question remains: just how good is this team? Right now I can only say better, but by the end of this week we will have a better idea of where they stand as Pac-12 season sits just around the corner.

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.

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