Bleeding Red: It’s a happy holiday season on The Hill

Seasons Greetings you will hear people say
Which season depends on the team in play
Utah has one more football game to go
While the Runnin’ Utes have plenty to show

COMMENTARY — At this point in the season it is certainly no secret that the Utes have had their most successful year yet in Pac-12 play. Utah concluded the regular season with a hard-fought win over Colorado on the road to finish with an 8-4 record, including a 5-4 mark in conference play.

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones, and I only managed to put up eight wins myself in my fantasy football league. However, when all has been said and done, I’m happy with my eight fantasy wins, and I am truly thrilled with the Utes’ eight real wins.

utesNotwithstanding impressive wins over both UCLA and USC, Utah still finished behind both teams at number five in the South Division, and number six in the overall conference standings. As tempting as it is to rehash what might have been, I am content to simply revel in what the Utes were actually able to accomplish.

After back-to-back 5-7 seasons, Utah is bowling once again during the holidays. While no invitation has been formally extended yet, it appears that the Utes may be headed to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 27. It bodes well for this year’s squad that the season finale will be played on the road. Although Utah was an even 3-3 at home, it posted an unlikely 5-1 record on the road.

One more game, hopefully one more win, and you can tie a bow on the Utes’ gridiron season as a welcome gift to faithful fans. Only Scrooge or the Grinch (take your pick) could be unhappy with the final outcome of this year’s football season, and I am neither.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Runnin’ Utes’ basketball season is just starting to heat up. Although the football team showed considerable improvement over prior years, the basketball team is poised to not only be improved over last year, but potentially challenge for a conference championship.

I know, I know, it is still early in non-conference play, and Utah’s five wins all came against admittedly inferior opponents. However, unlike last year’s parade of patsies, the Runnin’ Utes have a number of quality opponents on their non-conference schedule.

University of Utah Men's Basketball Brekkott ChapmanUtah’s sole loss to date was a three-point loss to a highly-ranked San Diego State squad. It was only the second real game of the season, with two of the Runnin’ Utes’ starters being newcomers — JC transfer Chris Reyes (a sophomore who played at Citrus College last year) and true freshman Jakob Poeltl (a true diamond in the rough out of Vienna, Austria). Two additional true freshmen — Brekkott Chapman (the top local prospect from Roy) and Isaiah Wright (last year’s Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year from Boise) — also saw significant time in the game. Redshirt freshman Kyle Kuzma (a four-star recruit from Flint, Mich.) also saw time in that game.

In other words, Utah lost by three points on the road against a very good team while incorporating a number of newcomers on a team that was still learning how to play together. I can live with that. Am I shameful apologist? Probably, so sue me.

Rounding out Utah’s starting roster are Delon Wright (a senior, who will likely join his brother, Dorell, in the NBA next year), Jordan Loveridge (a junior, and the top Utah prospect out of West Jordan two years ago), and Brandon Taylor (a junior point guard, who started the last 13 games of his freshman season and hasn’t looked back since).

Other returners who will make significant contributions off of the bench include Dallin Bachynski (a 7-foot senior backing up 7-foot freshman Poeltl), Kenneth Ogbe (a sophomore out of Germany who is one of the first players off the bench, and sometimes starts), and Dakari Tucker (a junior sharp-shooter who provides a real spark off the bench).

Kudos to head coach Larry Krystkowiak for assembling a very talented group of young players who promise to produce winning seasons for years to come.

They say the proof is in the pudding, which is only fitting with carols of figgy pudding making the rounds, as the Runnin’ Utes are about to embark on a four-game stretch against Wichita State (currently ranked No. 9 in the nation), BYU (receiving votes), Kansas (ranked 11th), and UNLV.

“The price of poker is going up here a little bit and I might play my hand a little tighter,” Krystkowiak said Monday afternoon. “It’s about survival to start with, and then you kind of try to be competitive, and the next step is winning these kinds of games. The winning is important, but it’s part of juicing up the schedule so that at the end of the day hopefully it prepares us for conference play.”

The first team up in this grueling test is the Wichita State Shockers this Wednesday night at 9 p.m. (sorry early birds, this is a nationally-televised game) in the friendly confines of the Huntsman Center. While attendance has been lackluster thus far on The Hill for the hardwood games, if the Huntsman Center is not overflowing on Wednesday night then fans just aren’t paying attention and have no idea what they are missing. Krystkowiak is expecting an electric atmosphere.

“It’s a marquee game for us,” he said. “I think the fans have identified that and we’ll have an environment here that should be pretty special that night.”

Here’s hoping for a happy holiday season, including a bowl win for the football Utes, and some early Christmas presents from the Runnin’ Utes to boot.

Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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