The Runnin’ Utes are in the top ten
and they have proven that they belong
In March they will be dancing again
With Utah Man (not fan) as their song
COMMENTARY — Utah’s admission into the Pac-12 Conference has already proven to be a very fortuitous event for the Utes. The elevated conference status has enhanced recruiting efforts and the overall level of play on both the gridiron and the hardcourt. Utah is currently one of six programs nationwide to have both its football and basketball teams ranked in the Top 25.
The Pac-12 has proven to be a powerhouse in football, and Oregon is poised to bring yet another national title home to the self-proclaimed “Conference of Champions.” The recent bowl game results speak for themselves (but I am still going to comment on them below). I have compiled this week’s gee-whiz facts on the bowl games into the following table.
When evaluating the post-season performances of the Power 5 Conferences, the Pac-12 stands head and shoulders above the crowd. While Oregon may be this year’s crown jewel, the Pac-12 is not a one-trick pony, but rather it is deep with a number of quality teams.
Not only does the Pac-12 have the best overall winning percentage, it also has the best record against ranked opponents (which should improve even more after Oregon beats Ohio State in the national championship game). The most telling statistic for me is the average margin of victory/defeat among all conference teams in bowl games. The Pac-12 is simply dominant.
The fact that Pac-12 teams each play nine conference games cannot be overstated. In particular, the SEC is notorious for playing eight conference games, and scheduling a patsy late in the season to give each of their teams an extra win (and other P5 Conferences have followed suit). Rather than feasting on lesser, non-conference opponents in an attempt to pad their records and standing in the polls, the Pac-12 teams beat up on each other for an extra conference game, which means one of those teams is going to have a loss they could have otherwise avoided with an eight game conference schedule.
Notwithstanding this past season’s success, there are still a number of lingering questions about the future of Utah football. Fans and players are still waiting for the coaching carousel to stop spinning and shed some light on who will be calling the plays on each side of the ball next season. The frustration of the fans regarding the current status was on full display at the Running’ Utes’ conference home opener against the Trojans last Friday night as Athletic Director Chris Hill was loudly booed when he was announced at midcourt for a halftime presentation.
But the basketball program continues to give Utah fans something to cheer about. Following the example of the football team, the Runnin’ Utes beat both the Trojans and the Bruins last week, giving Utah a clean sweep over L.A. in football and basketball thus far this year (with road games at USC and UCLA still to be played at the end of the month).
Obviously it is always a lot more fun to watch a team that wins, but there is a lot about the Runnin’ Utes to like this year besides just the winning.
They are deep. Even without the talents of Jordan Loveridge for most of the non-conference schedule, Utah played well, including a big win at home over Wichita State. In the first two conference games, nine players played double-digit minutes in both games.
They are also young. Delon Wright, arguably the single best player on the squad, is the only senior starter. Dallin Bachynski is the only other senior who sees significant playing time. Five freshman, including starter Jakob Poeltl, are making substantial contributions and provide a solid foundation for continuing success for years to come.
However, most notably for me, they actually play like a team. All too often, talented college players look like they are playing pick-up ball on the playground as they predominantly look for their own shot while playing very little defense. Not so with the Runnin’ Utes. All of the players have bought into the fact that the game plan starts with a stingy defense, with very good rotation and help defense. On the other end of the court, the players are unselfish with the ball and generally make the extra pass to get a better shot.
While never satisfied, and always looking to improve, Coach Larry Krystowiak has been pleased with the performance of his team thus far.
“Everybody is really locked into the game plan, very few mistakes when we run our defense,” Krystowiak noted after the win over USC. “The guys are having a lot of fun and taking a lot of pride in playing really hard defense.”
Next up for Utah is a third straight home conference game against Colorado this Wednesday with a 7 p.m. tipoff. The real test will come the following week with the Runnin’ Utes first conference road trip against Arizona State and Arizona.
Here’s hoping they can continue to run opponents out of the gym as they prepare for a showdown with the Wildcats in Tucson.
Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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