Dick Harmon: Utes, Cougars fine-tuning heading into hoops showdown

Published: Friday, Oct. 9 2015 9:40 p.m. MDT

Utah Utes guard Jarred DuBois (5) and Utah Utes forward Renan Lenz (10) fight with Brigham Young Cougars forward Nate Austin (33) for the ball in Provo Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Utes guard Jarred DuBois (5) and Utah Utes forward Renan Lenz (10) fight with Brigham Young Cougars forward Nate Austin (33) for the ball in Provo Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

BYU coach Dave Rose and Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak are still tinkering.

They’re both preparing for conference play.

Whittling things down.

Fine-tuning from A to Z.

But they're also gearing up for a rivalry game Saturday that is extremely important to many, even if it's lost some of its powder-keg factor after both programs left the Mountain West to go separate ways.

I miss the home-and-home series. Each got their chance in their own tent and they were always fun, intense affairs.

These coaches are busy trying to cut through the myriad important little things that could make a huge difference down the line.

The track both took to get to this point couldn’t be more different.

Krystkowiak created a schedule to enable his team to experience how to win, how to get over the hump at crunch time, how to confidently manage a lead, and how to finish strong in the final minutes. His prime objectives have been to manufacture confidence and chemistry. Thus, the Utes have an RPI of 121.

Rose, whose team is picked to finish second in the WCC, needs his players to develop chemistry, establish roles and build confidence. The Cougars are fighting to establish a resume that will propel Rose's club into a solid seed come NCAA tournament selection day. Thus, the Cougars have losses to ranked Iowa State, Wichita State and UMass, and an RPI of 8 heading into Saturday's big game.

Where can we expect the most improvement from these two teams in coming days?

For the Utes, Krystowiak has repeatedly said his bigs will determine the success of his team and how it fares in the Pac-12. He must get consistent play from Renan Lenz, Jeremy Olsen and Dallin Bachynski.

Second, the Utes are on a mission to find wins. It’s about establishing runs, stopping runs and playing better defense. Polish and execution equal wins.

Third, Krystowiak knows the Utes have been on a roller coaster. There’s more talent on the team than there has been in years. One of his prime objectives is to establish stability and experience. You get that with the emergence of leaders and young players who confidently follow. And stay.

The most improvement Rose can make with his team in coming days?

The Cougars must improve their free-throw shooting. With the style of play they’ve deployed, they are going to get to the line. Shooting 69.1 percent as a team a year after posting a 72.8 mark shows how far the Cougars have to go. Team free-throw accuracy is skewed because Tyler Haws is shooting 87 percent. Without his boost, the team is shooting a very poor 63 percent.

Second, the Cougars' 2-3 zone has had its moments, but it’s well-scouted and when faced with great penetrators/dishers and talented 3-point archers, it’s not enough. A mixture of a well-executed 1-3-1 or switch-up man defense could be the answer.

Third, the Cougars love to run, but they’ve got to find more set plays in the half court when that isn’t working.

So, the stage is set. Both are barreling down the court toward the start of league play.

Statistically, Utah’s easier schedule makes data hard to tag; BYU’s schedule absolutely makes data applicable and interpretative.

Saturday’s showdown in the Jon M. Huntsman Center features an intriguing matchup between Ute and Cougar scoring leaders. BYU junior Haws and Utah JC transfer Delon Wright are game-changers. They can score, but they also rebound, pass, steal and fill out a box score. Some folks believe newcomer Wright might be the best player in the state.

Haws may beg to differ.

It is uncertain if Haws and Wright will guard one another, but the measuring tape of how each guy produces will be a worthy feature of this game.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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