Bleeding Red: Runnin’ Utes already looking to conference tourney

Inconsistent, yes, but still quite a show
Not hotter than fire nor colder than ice
As Elvis sang so many years ago
So close, and yet so far from paradise

COMMENTARY – Utah basketball coach Larry Krystowiak made it clear during his weekly Coach’s Show that one of the primary goals of the Runnin’ Utes right now is to win the Pac-12 Tournament. This is a proverbial good news/bad news type of statement.

The good news is that the Runnin’ Utes still feel like they can play with, and beat, any team in the Pac-12. At first blush, that may appear to be an impossible dream in light of Utah’s 3-10 conference record. However, if you look at the actual games that Utah has lost to the top conference teams, it may not be so far-fetched after all.

Oregon and Arizona are currently the top two teams in the Pac-12, and the only two nationally-ranked teams from the conference.  Admittedly, Utah lost by nine to Oregon on the road. However, Utah will have another shot at Oregon at home in the season finale. In two games against Arizona, Utah has only lost by a combined 7 points – recently by 4 at home, and by only 3 on the road.

Utah’s average margin of defeat in five games against the next four teams rounding out the top half of the conference – UCLA, Arizona State, California and Colorado – is only 2.4 points (with one win and four losses).

Notwithstanding the somewhat similar conference records, this year’s team is dramatically different than the teams that have taken the court the past two years. This year’s team is not getting blown out of the gym on a consistent basis, but rather they are very close to making just one or two more plays a game in order to turn the corner and beat some top-notch teams.

In making the conference tournament a primary goal, Utah is being realistic about what they can accomplish over the remainder of the season. Even if Utah wins out, it is still going to be in the bottom half of the conference, with no shot at either the NCAA tournament or even the NIT without winning the Pac-12 tournament. Utah has drawn a line in the sand and is ready to make one final stand.

The bad news is that while the Runnin’ Utes are very close to turning the corner, they still have not actually turned that corner. In order to win the Pac-12 tournament, they are going to have to win four games on consecutive days. Utah has yet to win even two consecutive games against Pac-12 opponents since they joined the conference.

While Utah appears to still have an abundance of untapped potential, potential doesn’t win games. If Utah can’t figure out how to actually win during the regular season, how are they going to find a way to win during the conference tournament?

I’m a little troubled by the early focus on winning the conference tournament. True, the only way the Runnin’ Utes are going to make it into the post-season is to win it all in Vegas. However, Utah still has five conference games left before they even board the plane for Vegas.

If Utah isn’t focused on the task at hand and sleepwalks through the last five games of the season, I simply do not see how they can suddenly flip a switch and reel off four straight wins over teams they couldn’t find a way to beat during the regular season.

Utah has been able to play good teams close on the road. I am very curious to see how they play on a neutral court. But like the Runnin’ Utes, I am getting ahead of myself with the tournament still weeks away.

While I have taken one statement from Krystowiak’s weekly Coach’s Show and held it under a microscope, I do not believe that winning the conference tournament is the only goal the Runnin’ Utes are currently trying to accomplish. The coach recognizes deficiencies in Utah’s game that he continues to try and correct on a game-to-game basis.

As Utah gears up for a road game against Colorado on Thursday, I am sure the coaches will have the players focused on the task at hand – beat the Buffaloes, and in turn sweep a season series against a Pac-12 opponent for the first time in Utah history.


Dwayne Vance is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.


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