Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
The Utah Men's basketball team completed its first season — the non-conference season — with an 8-4 record. The Utes have already exceeded their win total from a year ago — yet the eight wins in 12 games feels a little disappointing to some.
Frankly, Utah could easily be 11-1 right now, having led by double digits in three of their four losses. The woulda, coulda, shoulda game can drive you crazy, so accept this team for what it is: an eight-win squad that continues to grow and figure out who they are and what they need to do to win close games.
So the second season begins tonight in Tempe, the Pac-12 season. The next 18 games will tell us just how much better the Utah basketball program has become. There is very little doubt to anyone who has seen the first 12 games that the program has more talent and is certainly headed in the right direction.
Now Larry Krystkowiak's team will get to test itself against a much higher caliber of competition night-in and night-out.
While Utah basketball has improved this season, so has much of the rest of the league as well. Look no further than tonight's opponent in the Pac-12 opener, Arizona State. Herb Sendek's team won a grand total of 10 games all of last season. This season, much like Utah, they've already eclipsed their win total of a year ago. The Devils sit at 11-2 heading into the game, with their only losses coming against 14th-ranked Creighton and DePaul.
ASU is led by a pair of talented guards, redshirt freshman Jahii Carson and senior Carrick Felix, who combine for more than 32 points a game. The other interesting match-up in tonight's Pac-12 opener will be the Battle of the Bachynskis in the post. Utah sophomore Dallin against big brother and Sun Devil big man Jordan. The two brothers haven't faced off against each other in more than four years according to Dallin, but will get a chance tonight at Wells Fargo Arena. The younger brother will have his hands full, as Jordan Bachynski is having a breakout year ranking third in the NCAA in blocked shots at 4.5 swats per game.
Utah hasn't been blown out of any game this season and in three of their four losses controlled the game for much of the 40 minutes, plus they have been very good defensively all year so that's an encouraging sign for Krystkowiak heading into the rigors of league play.
On the other hand, the Utes have been very loose with the basketball and haven't dealt with pressure well at times. Utah will see a much better caliber of athlete and team over the next two months. In order to compete, the Utes will need great direction and leadership from their experienced players (Jarred Dubois, Glen Dean and Jason Washburn), plus continued improvement from their youngins' (Jordan Loveridge, Justin Seymour and Bachynski).
One guy has the chance to be a real "X-Factor" for the Utes, and that's Aaron Dotson. The LSU transfer has yet to find his way coming off the foot injury in late October. His athleticism and explosiveness will give the Utes something they don't have right now, if he can find it.
We already know that Utah basketball is better, just how much better?
We'll begin to find out tonight and over the next two months.
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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