Utah Utes basketball: Runnin' Utes have piled up patsies on this year's preseason schedule — with good reason
SALT LAKE CITY — You may have noticed the other night that the Utah men’s basketball team defeated Willamette University by 57 points, the Utes’ second-largest margin of victory in the last half century.
Considering the Utes' abysmal 6-25 record last year, the margin might have been surprising. On the other hand, Willamette is a Division III school that went 5-20 last year and is picked to finish dead last in its conference this year. The Utes might have gotten a better game from Lone Peak High.
Following the worst season in Utah history, the Utes are playing arguably their worst non-conference schedule in history this year — at least since World War II when the Utes had to fill their schedule with the likes of the Hill Field Fliers, Ecker Studio and the Wendover Bombers.
And it’s not like the Utes had a difficult time finding opponents.
“We didn’t have a hard time getting anybody to play us — they all wanted to play us,’’ said coach Larry Krystkowiak, referring to the Utes’ sorry record last year.
Rather, the Utes have chosen to play the least-demanding schedule possible in an effort to instill confidence in their young team and, of course, to get some victories.
Of their 11 preseason opponents, just one — BYU — had a winning record last year. Several were picked last in their respective conferences in preseason polls this year and none — except BYU — were picked to finish in the top half of their leagues.
On Friday, the Utes play Sacramento State, picked to finish eighth in the Big Sky, and next week they get Idaho State, picked for ninth in the Big Sky, and Central Michigan and Wright State, each picked for last in their leagues.
A recent story on ESPN.com broke down the various schedules of Pac-12 schools and the Utes’ non-conference schedule was ranked last in the league and among the 10 worst in the nation among major colleges. On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the best, Utah’s was ranked a 1, a schedule the writer called “atrocious.”
However, any suggestion that the Utes have a lousy preseason schedule doesn’t faze second-year coach Larry Krystkowiak in the least. After all, he’s coming off that 6-25 season with almost an entirely new group of players. Accordingly, he wasn’t about to load up this year’s schedule with tough opponents.
“We’re doing what we think is good for our team,’’ he says. “I know from the outside, everybody says it’s an easy schedule, but there are no easy games for the University of Utah.’’
Krystkowiak says, “We’re not going to be a favorite in a lot of our games and we’re going to have to scratch and claw and put it all together. I’m not going to buy into this whole ‘it’s such an easy preseason schedule, you guys should be 10-2.’ It’s a bunch of bunk.’’
Last year, Krystkowiak inherited a schedule mostly put together by Jim Boylen’s staff, which only included six preseason home games and a tough tournament in the Bahamas, along with road games at Boise State, Fresno State and Weber State. Along with Washington State, the Utes had the most road games of any school in the Pac-12 Conference.
Krystkowiak says he’s not necessarily trying to pad his record with wins or trying to get on a winning streak going into conference play.
“I’d like to not have our psyche broken mentally, like we were a year ago with the games we played,’’ said Krystkowiak. “It was like going into a gunfight with a knife.’’
So he and director of basketball operations Norm Parrish devised a schedule they thought was best suited for their young, inexperienced team.
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