Utah basketball: Runnin' Utes weren't planning on playing all but one preseason game at home
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A non-conference slate featuring just one road game isn’t what Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak envisioned when this season’s schedule was being put together. However, that’s how things turned out. A Dec. 3 game at Boise State is the lone contest the Utes will play away from the Huntsman Center until the second week of Pac-12 competition in January.
“It’s the reality of what it is. That wasn’t the plan. We planned on playing a couple of road games early on but we had teams that we were involved with that found what they considered a better option,” Krystkowiak said. “So I think the misconception is that we just get on the phone and call whoever we want and we play them. Just to clarify the situation, scheduling may be one of the most challenging parts of the job. Scheduling and recruiting are the most challenging and also at the top of the list in terms of importance.”
There’s a lot of working parts, he continued, a lot more than people realize. That’s the nature of scheduling.
Utah’s non-conference schedule this season features home games against Evergreen State, UC Davis, Ball State, Fresno State, Idaho State, BYU, Texas State and St. Katherine, as well as a tournament with Grand Canyon, Lamar and Savannah State.
“Things kind of fell apart a little bit at the end in terms of our plan to get out on the road,” Krystkowiak said. “But certainly it’s not the end of the world that we get to play at home and try to establish a home court.”
Krystkowiak said the Utes will have six to seven new guys on this year’s team, not exactly a seasoned group from a squad that went 15-18 and reached the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.
“So it isn’t going to hurt us to try and create an identity here in the Huntsman Center,” he said.
The third-year coach of the Utes doesn’t exactly see the table as set for success, either. Krystkowiak said there’s a lot of good programs on the schedule, making mention of UC Davis, Ball State, Boise State, BYU and Fresno State.
Besides what he called “some pretty good basketball teams,” Krystkowiak mentioned that the Utes will face different styles like the athletic, pressure-type of play favored by Lamar and Savannah State.
Krystkowiak insists there will be plenty of tests along the way. He said he got a chuckle last year when everyone thought Utah’s preseason schedule was easy and it wound up ranking much higher than expected.
In the future, though, Krystkowiak said things will get better. Starting next year, he said, a couple of preseason opponents are going to be comparable to Pac-12 foes. Krystkowiak understands that people may be disappointed that teams like Indiana or Duke aren’t on the schedule. However, he said that until Utah’s program is up and running again, a loss can only hurt them.
“Hopefully we can get this thing cooking a little bit and be in some conversations with some high-caliber teams,” Krytskowiak said. “Because I think that’s important as you move into league.”
A late addition to this year’s non-conference schedule is Ball State.
“Rick Majerus is a guy who still lives around here and I thought it would be fitting to play a game against a team that he at one point coached,” Krystkowiak said.
As for getting local foes like Utah State, Weber State, Southern Utah or Utah Valley on future schedules, Krystkowiak said he’s not sure about that at this point — though he mentioned that the Aggies are back starting next season.
“It’s something that we’d like to do but at the same time it needs to make sense within our schedule,” Krystkowiak said. “As I said, there’s just an awful lot of moving parts that go into it. So it’s not like we’re not interested in doing that or shunning it.”
Krystkowiak said that the Utes are entertaining the possibility of participating in a tournament with Utah schools at EnergySolutions Arena in the future.
RECRUITING SUCCESS: Although Krystkowiak could not discuss specifics because of NCAA rules, he did acknowledge that the Utes were able to secure commitments from a lot of kids they had at the top of their recruiting list.
Krystkowiak said they were looking for core ingredients in their recruiting — solid kids, some size, skill and kids that were cut of the right cloth.
“We were fortunate to get some commitments out of those kids,” he said.
Even so, Krystkowiak vows to adhere to the blueprint he has adopted since taking the job — don’t pat yourself on the back too much, jump to the next task and hope at the end of the day you’re where you want to be when the dust clears.
This summer, the Utes picked up 2014 recruiting commitments from power forward Brekkott Chapman, small forward Kyle Kuzma and point guard Isaiah Wright.
BACK AT IT: The Utes begin practice on Sept. 27. They’ll get 30 sessions in over the 42 days before the season opener.
Utah will host St. Martin’s in an exhibition game and participate in a closed scrimmage against an undisclosed team prior to taking on Evergreen State on Nov. 8. The Utes open Pac-12 play Jan. 2 against defending conference tournament champion Oregon.
Starting that day, Krystkowiak said Utah will have 18 games that are really, really good challenges.
“I think our league is going to be better. We’ve got our hands full. It’s daunting when we look at our conference schedule,” he continued. “Hopefully, we’ll be ready to go. It’s exciting to be a part of this league, and certainly it’s challenging.”
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