Ready or not and it's entirely possible they're not - the University of Utah Runnin' Utes will meet their first Division 1 opponent of the season, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, tonight in Milwaukee (tipoff: 6:30 MST).
Utah is 2-0, having beaten two Division II opponents by a total of 61 points, but Coach Rick Majerus says the Utes are still "light years away" from peak form, largely because numerous preseason injuries cost them practice time.Still, the Utes must play two difficult road games this week, against Milwaukee-Wisconsin and Michigan, and Majerus knows well what he's up against. While his players are strangers in this part of the country, he isn't. Majerus graduated from Marquette High School and Marquette University, where he also spent 12 years as an assistant coach and head coach. He later served as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks. There has been much fanfare surrounding his return home.
Majerus complained earlier this week that he has been inundated with requests for media interviews and ticket requests. He has more immediate concerns - such as his youthful team and tonight's opponent. The Panthers are 2-0, with wins over Illinois Institute of Technology and Tennessee-Chatanooga.
"Their whole team is made up of four-year transfers and JUCO transfers," says Majerus. "They've got a good team. We could get our ---- kicked."
The Panthers' lineup consists of 6-7 Randy Doss and 6-8 Joe Schultz at forwards, 6-8 center Craig Greene, 6-4 guards Deon Edmonds and Von McDade. They also are no strangers to Majerus. He recruited Doss and McDade while coaching at Ball State. He also coached against Schultz when the latter played for Kent State.
As for the Utes, starting forward M'Kay McGrath is still bothered by shin splints, which limited him to 15 minutes of play in Monday night's game against Seattle Pacific. Phil Dixon's year-old leg injury forced him to sit out the second half of that game.
What concerns Majerus most heading into tonight's game is the Utes' poor rebounding and their showing at the center position, where he has starter Walter Watts, Paul Afeaki and Larry Cain. Afeaki, who has practiced just five days this year, is still out of shape, and Cain is still a developing player. Watts is a senior, but he was something less than impressive against Seattle Pacific (two points, four boards, 1-for-5 shooting).
"It's time for Walt to step forward," said Majerus Monday night. "If he doesn't, we'll use (walk-on) Sean Mooney. We're taking him on this trip."