They have shored up the foundation walls
At least at home they have stood up tall
Still inconsistent night after night
But the future does look very bright
COMMENTARY — There is no doubt that the Runnin’ Utes have brought excitement back to the Huntsman Center. At the beginning of the season, the media picked Utah to finish ninth in the Pac-12. Currently they sit at No. 8. While they have more or less lived up to expectations, the manner in which they have done so is the most surprising.
There is no doubt that this year is a stepping stone to the future. Rather than viewing this team in the vacuum of a single season, putting things in context with a view toward the future paints a very bright picture indeed.
This young squad is 16-1 at home, but 0-6 on the road. Every single road loss has been by single digits, with no blowout games. However, three of their five conference home wins have been by double digits, with their biggest margin of victory in conference play being an 18-point win over Washington State last Saturday night.
In other words, this team never gives up and always gives its fans something to cheer about late into the game. That is a dramatic turnaround from the teams that took the court in previous years. Coach Larry Krystkowiak has built a solid foundation. And this team is only going to improve over the remainder of the season and into next year.
Fans are starting to sense the possibilities. This is still a young team. Renan Lenz is the sole senior on the team and recently he has rarely seen the court in conference play. Dallin Bachynski, Princeton Onwas and Delon Wright are the only juniors who see regular action. A strong group of sophomore and freshman still have years to play together on The Hill.
I know, I know, we still have seven games and the conference tournament left this season, so anything can happen, right? With an RPI dancing dangerously close to triple digits, realistically the Runnin’ Utes would have to win the Pac-12 Tournament in order to get a bid to the Big Dance. Is it possible? Sure it is. Is it likely? Even I don’t think so, but nobody would be happier than me if it did.
As Boston so famously sang, “Don’t look back, a new day is breakin’, it’s been too long since I felt this way…” Utah fans should not look back, but with the dawn of a new era in basketball on The Hill, the horizon is bright and the sky is the limit.
The existing players are only going to get better and Krystkowiak is going to keep adding additional pieces. For example, Kyle Kuzma, a four-star power forward, has already committed to the Runnin’ Utes for next year. Local product Krekkott Chapman, out of Roy High School, has also committed to Utah. A talented 6-foot-8 forward, Chapman picked Utah over Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, Colorado, Gonzaga and UCLA.
So let’s play out the remainder of this season and continue to build towards the future. Next up for the Runnin’ Utes are two more road games at USC and UCLA on Thursday and Saturday. I’m betting Utah picks up its first road win of the season as the program continues its upward swing.
One final basketball note, the Runnin’ Utes have now won 1,700 games, which places them in the top 15 of programs nationally and second only to UCLA in the Pac-12. This is a storied program with a rich history and the cream is destined to rise to the top once again.
Football Signing Day
Speaking of the future, national letter of intent day in football this past week is what sparked my interest in what might be in future years on The Hill. While the gridiron squad has had its own struggles in Pac-12 play, its future is looking bright as well.
One of the biggest weaknesses that the Utah football team has had to deal with playing in the Pac-12 is the lack of depth. The Utes are finally starting to create the depth that they have lacked in the past. In particular, Utah added much needed depth and talent in the defensive secondary, accounting for more than a third of the incoming recruits.
Coach Kyle Whittingham and his staff have also started to make in-roads into new fertile recruiting markets. In years past, the bulk of Ute recruits have either been homegrown in Utah or have come from nearby California. This year, for the first time ever, more Utes came from Florida than any other state.
Even with the addition of so many out-of-state players, Utah is still attracting the best talent to be found in-state. The three local players who signed are all top-notch talent. Jackson Barton is a four-star offensive lineman out of Brighton High School who has already enrolled in school and will participate in spring ball. Alani Havili-Katoa is a highly rated defensive tackle from Stansbury High School who has also enrolled early and will participate in spring ball. Star’s younger brother, Lowell Lotulelei, from Bingham High School, will also add much needed depth on the defensive side of the ball.
While the jury is still out, I have a gut feeling that Travis Wilson’s playing days are over, which is truly unfortunate. However, even if that turns out to be the case, I am still excited by the prospect of highly-touted Connor Manning taking over the reins of this team under a new offensive coordinator in a scheme that appears to be a perfect fit for Manning’s skill set.
Maybe I’m just a cock-eyed optimist. So be it. I still think the Utah Utes’ glass is half-full in both basketball and football. I am excited to see what these two programs can do from this point forward.
Dwayne Vance is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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