SALT LAKE CITY — You'd have to think Friday night’s opening game at the Huntsman Center (7 p.m.) will be a piece of cake for the Utah basketball team when it takes on Willamette University.
Willamette is a Division III school from Salem, Ore., which finished 5-20 last year and is also playing its first game this season.
However, with the Utes coming off a 6-25 season, one of the worst in school history, they can't afford to take anything for granted. Particularly when you consider recent home-openers.
Let’s see, there was the 76-73 loss to Southern Utah in 2006, an 80-79 defeat to Southwest Baptist in 2008 and a 94-87 loss to Idaho the following year. The Utes took care of Grand Canyon in 2010, but last year, they barely squeaked by San Diego Christian, 58-55.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak knows how to say “Willamette” — emphasis on the second syllable — but earlier this week said he didn’t know much else about his opening opponent. He’s mostly concerned with his own team right now.
“This time of year has a lot more to do about your own team than the team you’re playing,’’ he said. “There are no easy games for the University of Utah.’’
The Utes, who are picked to finish 12th in the Pac-12, are basically starting over with almost a completely new roster. Just two players — seniors Jason Washburn and Cedric Martin — return from last year.
Those two are expected to start at center and wing, respectively, but they’ll be joined by a much more talented supporting cast and deeper bench than a year ago.
Jordan Loveridge, a freshman from West Jordan, quickly established himself as a starter on the front line and can play either the big or small forward spot. He was the team’s leading rebounder on its summer trip to Brazil and can score from inside or out.
Jarred DuBois is the most experienced player, having been a starter for Loyola Marymount for most of three seasons before joining the Utes this year. He’ll be joined on the guardline by Glen Dean, a transfer from Eastern Washington, where he was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year, averaging in double figures for two years.
Besides those five, the Utes have four other players who will see a lot of action and could each end up starting before the year is over.
Dallin Bachynski is a 7-foot center from Calgary who played at Southern Utah before going on an LDS mission. According to coaches, he has made steady improvement this fall and he played well in last week’s exhibition win over Simon Fraser, leading the team with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
Renen Lenz is a 6-9 JC transfer who is originally from Brazil, and he can shoot from outside as well as score inside. Jeremy Olsen, is a 6-9 forward from Atlanta who was recruited by Jim Boylen and returned from an LDS mission in the spring.
Among a talented group of freshmen, Justin Seymour out of Georgia, has been the most impressive, particularly with his outside shooting.
Another player expected to see a lot of time this year, guard Aaron Dotson, is out with a foot injury for approximately a month.
UTE NOTES: Friday’s game will be televised live on the Pac-12 Networks. ... The Utes and Bearcats have met once before, in 1941 when Utah won 41-23. ... The Bearcats’ top returning player is Terrell Malley, who scored 12.2 points with 2.6 rebounds per game last year. ... Utah’s next game is Nov. 16 at home against Sacramento State.