TEMPE, Ariz. — These aren’t the best of times for Pac-12 basketball. Months after not winning a game in the NCAA Tournament, conference play opens without a single team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. Embarrassing non-conference losses including UCLA falling at home to Belmont and Liberty; Santa Clara knocking off Washington State and USC; Oregon getting beat by Texas Southern; and Princeton upsetting Arizona State.
Despite all the negativity surrounding the league, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak has a positive outlook as the Utes open Pac-12 play Thursday (6 p.m., P12N) at Arizona State.
“I’m excited to be a part of it. It’s an elite league in the country and I’m kind of tired of the narrative of . . . we seem to be getting bashed and that stuff,” Krystkowiak said. “But it’s not going to diminish how excited I am to be coaching in this conference and at our school.
“There’s an awful lot of people that would like to be in our position and the slate is wiped clean here and let’s get after it and compete,” he continued. “So I’m not into past tense or what the rest of the country thinks. I’m excited about our team and we got to get after it starting Thursday.”
Krystkowiak noted that not many Pac-12 teams played common opponents in non-conference play, thus making it hard to crunch the numbers and such. However, he’s confident if a poll were conducted now Arizona State would be considered one of the teams to beat. The Sun Devils did take down No. 1 Kansas, 80-76, last month.
“But it’s not like there is a clear-cut favorite, in my mind, and so it’s kind of like where we were with a lot of unknowns early on,” said Krystkowiak, who acknowledged that no one really hit it out of the park in non-conference play.
As for the Utes (6-6), he added that conference is what it’s all about to try to “stabilize the ship a little bit.” There’s work to do and a lot to be determined.
“We haven’t played close to our best basketball. But I love coaching this group and our coaching staff is committed,” Krystkowiak said. “We had a heck of a team meeting (Saturday) watching the Nevada tape. The one thing I can say about conference play for us is that between playing Kentucky and Minnesota on the road, Nevada at home, that we’ve had as tough a preseason schedule as anybody. So it’s not like we’re really walking into unchartered territory.”
Krystkowiak noted that the Utes have a sense of confidence that they can have some success in the Pac-12.14 comments on this story
“But I think more importantly is the talk is all pretty cheap at this point and we need to start doing some tactical things far better than we have been,” Krystkowiak said. “Players need to start stepping up and making some plays. That’s the one thing I’m encouraged about. We’ve had individual performances that have been pretty special, but nobody’s really exceeding expectations and really played out of their head. And if you want to do that, now’s the time to do it — in conference play.”
Utah (6-6) at Arizona State (9-3)
Wells Fargo Arena — Tempe, Ariz.
Thursday, 6 p.m. (MT)
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700AM