5 Reasons the Runnin' Utes Basketball Team Will Turn It Around in 2012-13
It's fair to deem the University of Utah Men's Basketball 2011-12 season, well, horrid.
The Runnin' Utes put up an all-time school-low record of 6-25. Amazingly, they finished second to last in the Pac-12 standings, thanks to USC.
Many factors played into the almost comically poor production on the hardwood, including a first-year head coach Larry Krystkowiak, just four total returners and the mid-season dismissal of the team's top scorer and assist leader Josh Watkins.
Utes basketball fans, who had become accustomed to perennially dominant teams, have had more than a little to be discouraged about the past few seasons.
However, sometimes it takes hitting the proverbial "rock bottom" before positive things happen.
Here are five rays of hope Utes basketball fans can look towards this upcoming season.
1. Larry Krystkowiak
There seems to be a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quality to Larry Krystkowiak's career as a head coach.
In his two years as head coach of the Montana Grizzlies in the Big Sky Conference, Krystkowiak compiled a 42-20 record, appearing in the NCAA Tournament both years—ousted in the first round in 2005 and going to the second round in 2006.
That success earned him a head coaching position in the NBA for the dreadful Milwaukee Bucks from 2006 to 2008. During his tenure, the Bucks went 31-69. However, the second year was slightly better than the first, improving by four percent in winning percentage from the year before.
Any head coach placed in the situation Krystkowiak inherited with the Utes in 2011 would have had to resign to the fact that it was going to be a lost year for all chances of winning a high number of games.
With how late in the off-season Krystkowiak was hired, Junior College players were brought in as patchwork recruits. With a full year and off-season under him, "Coach K" has been able to recruit his style of players and it's very difficult to imagine that he can't get more production with them.
2. Jordan Loveridge
Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak was quoted saying "That’s what the lifeblood of the program is going to be about, the recruiting…."
Well, he's certainly made good on his word with the recruitment of Utah's 5A Mr. Basketball Jordan Loveridge of West Jordan High School.
Loveridge is a versatile small forward that ranked 25th in the country at his position. He appears on the ESPN Top 100 list with a four-star rating of 92 out of 100.
Loveridge can hit the three and has the strength and size to take contact and stay healthy.
Lack of scoring options plagued the Utes last season, with Center Jason Washburn leading the team in scoring with a mere 11.4 points per game. Jordan Loveridge should be a lift in that regard.
3. Renan Lenz
Another newcomer to the Utes' squad in 2012 will be Forward Renan Lenz.
Brazilian-born Lenz spent his first two collegiate seasons with the Arizona Western College Matadors.
In those two years, Lenz earned First Team All Region I honors and received attention from Auburn, Gonzaga, USC, Texas and Virginia Tech among other schools before committing to Utah.
Along with his rebounding abilities (averaged 9.2 per game), Lenz can also score the basketball, averaging 13.2 points per game while leading Arizona Western to a Region I championship in the 2011-12 season.
Lenz should see starting time at the 4 spot.
4. Returning Experience at Point Guard, Shooting Guard and Center
In addition to Loveridge and Lenz, who should contribute right off the bat, Utah also has players returning in key spots; namely point guard Glen Dean, shooting guard Cedric Martin and center Jason Washburn.
Sure, Glen Dean is technically coming off a redshirt year due to NCAA transfer rules, but he did spend that year practicing and becoming familiar with Krystkowiak's system and has looked good in the preseason.
Cedric Martin is a great defender who is a very capable scorer, especially from outside the arch. Against Arizona State in one of six Utah wins, Martin went 5-for-9 in three-point attempts, finishing with a team-high 17 points.
Finally, senior Jason Washburn returns in perhaps the most important position in a rebuilding team—center. The last thing you want is weakness in what ends up being the last line of defense under the basket. Utah's claim to fame the last decade happened to be their stellar play at center, with Andrew Bogut and Luke Nevill leading NCAA Tournament teams.
Utah will have a good foundation to build on.
5. How Could It Possibly Get Worse?!
Like I said, sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you see any improvement, and for the sake of my Ute Basketball fanhood, I have to pray that the 2011-12 season was just that.
Utah is among college basketball's elite. Utah is 12th on the list of winningest programs in college basketball history and only 18 programs have more NCAA tournament bids.
Things must improve if it's to stay that way.
I believe the 2012-13 season is the most important step in that happening.