SALT LAKE CITY — At 6 foot 9, Larry Krystkowiak appears slim and strong enough to still be playing basketball at age 49. So when he says the Utes can win the Pac-12 tournament, it’s hard to picture anyone arguing.
At least not to his face.
Everywhere else is fair game.
The Utes wrapped up their home schedule on Saturday with a 75-64 win over Colorado. That made them 18-2 at the Huntsman Center, their best home record since 2004-05 when they went 17-0. That year they reached the Sweet 16.
There’s no talk of a Sweet 16 appearance this year, not even from the Ute coach, who has raised eyebrows for saying his team can claim the conference’s automatic invitation to the NCAA tournament.
“I plan on winning the (Pac-12) tournament in Vegas and we don’t have to talk about any selection committee or anything like that,” he said last week.
It’s never too soon to get some good mojo going.
Still, Krystkowiak is fairly rare among coaches, in that he is good at directly answering questions. If they didn’t play well, he says it. Same when he’s worried about tendencies like road meltdowns.
So why tippy-toe around his aspirations?
“I’m not being boastful or anything,” he said on Saturday. “I mean, we’ve played everybody in our league, with the exception of the teams we’re going to play (this week). But I think you can get a pretty good sense league is wide open. I’ve got as good reason to believe we’re going to win it as anybody else does.”
Realistically, it has been an easy schedule outside the Pac-12. Utah’s nonconference slate was rated the second easiest in the country. His first six games were at home, so there were six wins to start. The early lineup: Evergreen State, Cal-Davis, Grand Canyon, Lamar, Savannah State and Ball State. Later came Idaho State, Texas State and St. Katherine — the school, not the person.
At least that’s the story the Utes are sticking to.
At the same time, Krystkowiak’s strategy seemed to have worked. Utah’s only home losses in conference were against Oregon and Arizona in overtime, when both were ranked in the top 10.
Barring a couple of horrendous late-game mistakes, the Utes could have had an undefeated home season.
Which brought them to Saturday’s home finale against Colorado, a nice 20-9 team, even without injured star Spencer Dinwiddie. Coming off a 23-point rout of Arizona State, the Utes should have been positively brilliant — which they were during a mid-game stretch in which they outscored the Buffaloes 23-2.
Colorado missed 10 of 11 shots and turned the ball over eight times during the same run.
Graduating big man Renan Lenz was acknowledged pregame and the Brazilian national anthem was played in his honor.
Whatever the language, the Utes were talking the talk and walking the walk.
The problem isn’t what Krystkowiak said regarding his postseason chances, it’s that often “belief” or “intention” gets interpreted as “prediction.” Krystkowiak said he expects the Utes will win the tournament, he didn’t declare it.
“I believed that way — call me crazy, but two years ago I thought we were going to win (the) conference tournament,” he said. “We played Colorado right down the wire and Colorado ended up being champs of league that year. So there’s no reason for me to believe we can’t. ... I think we’d all be in the wrong business if we can’t ... ”
If you can’t think big.
This isn’t entirely different from BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall saying he expected the Cougars to contend for national titles. He made no predictions, just announced his intentions.
That’s not the worst thing someone can do.
Thinking big is how we Americans roll.
At the same time, the Utes haven’t shown that they can win more than random road games. They are 1-8 when they leave the house. Utah reached the semifinals of the conference tournament last year, with a worse team, on a neutral court.
Sometime during the invention of coachspeak, it was decided that it’s bad to speak of the future in a truly optimistic light. Long before that, French philosopher Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.”
He should have said, “ and I’m going to talk about it, too.”
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