This is a big week for the Utah basketball program. Not because of a particular opponent and certainly not because they are in the thick of a run for the Pac-12 championship. No, this is a big week for Utah basketball because after a pair of disappointing losses, including a 31-point loss on Sunday night to Stanford, head coach Larry Krystkowiak is going to find out what kind of team he has this week.
Ten days ago things looked promising for the second year under Krystkowiak, as Utah beat a then-undefeated Washington team on the road. It was a complete win, both offensively and defensively. But in the two games since that win, Utah has played lackluster basketball and lost to Cal and Stanford at home. The latter of those two games was the blowout loss at home to a Stanford team that had just lost by 21 at Colorado three days before.
When I say that Krystkowiak will find out what kind of team he has, I'm not talking about talent. That story has been written already. What he's going to find out is just how tough his team can be and who wants to keep fighting this season.
For the first time this season, against Stanford, the Utes didn't show the fight they had throughout most the season, and looked more like the overmatched team they were a year ago. Krystkowiak and his staff are putting the team through the paces in practices this week. When I spoke with him on his radio show Monday night he told me that he will be looking at everyone, and that playing time and who starts will be evaluated this week.
So why is this week so important in the big picture? The rebuild of this Utah program is still in progress; it's only Year 2. After a promising non-conference and start to the conference season, the team has begun to slide backward during the last 10 days. While wins and losses are important, moving the progress forward is what is most important, and that can't happen without maximum effort from players on the floor. The program's future sits squarely with players like Jordan Loveridge, Justin Seymour, Dakarai Tucker, Brandon Taylor and Jeremy Olsen. If the upperclassmen aren't buying in or giving the effort necessary, the worry becomes that attitude becomes pervasive in the locker room. This can't happen.
Larry Krystkowiak and his staff have a good feel for what needs to be done to re-establish Utah as a strong basketball program. Keeping the players engaged and on task is the key. They have a full week to get their message to sink in before Colorado visits the Huntsman Center on Saturday afternoon.
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.