By now I've almost quit trying to figure out Jim Boylen's blueprint. Actually, I think I know his blueprint, I just can't figure out his teams.

All I know is betting on the Ute basketball team is a little like picking my health insurance plan for next year: A whole lot of complicated maneuvering and I'm still not sure I'm covered.

I might be better off just watching a movie and checking back with the Ute basketball team in March.

Phase II of Boylen's Challenge the Big Guys Tour launched Wednesday at the Huntsman Center with the Utes throttling Michigan 68-52. What exactly that means is anyone's guess, except that his team is maturing. Does anyone really know what these guys are up to — including Boylen?

Asked if this is a team Ute fans should hang with, because it could be an entirely different product in March, he said, "I feel that way. I feel that way in my heart. I think we have a willing group and guys who want to be good players, and they want to please me, but they want to be great. But it takes time for 15 guys all to want to be great to understand how to be great as a team."

If there's anything else to conclude about Boylen's teams, it's that they seldom show their entire identity.

Are they as bad as they have seemed at times, or actually a link to the great teams of the past? Are they a disjointed bunch of mid-major players or another crop of NBA prospects?

That's probably the same questions Boylen has asked.

Bad teams you can improve. Great teams are a gift. But hot and cold teams?

They're more stress than the other two combined.

Wednesday's result was more of what has characterized the Utes since Boylen came to Utah in 2007. There are days when they have sparkle like a showroom car. In his three seasons, the Utes have defeated Washington, California, Mississippi, Oregon, Illinois, Louisiana State and Gonzaga. At the same time, they have lost to Southwest Baptist, Idaho State, Idaho, Weber State and Seattle — the last three coming this season.

Yes, they're young.

And maybe a little flaky.

"As coaches, you're always trying to accelerate the process — a guy's wisdom, a guy's experience and a guy's humility. We got some humility early, and we've accelerated that humility," said Boylen. "Now my guys understand. We're getting wisdom and we're getting experience and we're getting better."

Last year's edition was picked fourth in the Mountain West, yet tied for first. This year's team was picked fourth and has played like both a ninth-place team and a first-place team.

The one thing you can say about Boylen is that he's no wimp. He's not afraid to play big programs. You can rightfully knock his losses to small fries like Seattle (back as a Division I team for the first time in decades) and Idaho (picked fourth in the WAC), but his scheduling is fearless. His philosophy is to stick his nose where it's dangerous and see what happens.

Sometimes it gets bent, but Boylen just seems to pop it back in place.

This week alone, he plays Michigan and Oklahoma (Saturday). Phase I was earlier this year when his team beat Illinois and lost to Oklahoma State. Though neither of this week's opponents is ranked, both have been rated as high as No. 15 at one time this season.

If you have a name, he has an invitation.

"I love big games," said Boylen. "I told my team this is a game I want to play in."

This is supposed to be a rebuilding season for Utah, with the loss of it's top-four scorers. And some of the time the Utes have looked adrift. Their problems have ranged from not picking up loose balls, to turnovers, to losing intensity after leading in the second half, to not taking the opposition seriously.

But then there are the good nights. Wednesday's contest saw the Utes build their lead to 10, then slip to four, then rise down the stretch, thanks to patience and smarts.

"We respect their program," said Boylen of the Wolverines. "They're a national name, but you know what? We're a national name, too."

Speaking humbly, of course.

e-mail: [email protected]