This article originally appeared in the the Nov. 9, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
The Utes caught a big break when Jakob Poeltl, a 7-foot forward from Vienna, Austria, and a likely first-round pick, put off the NBA to return for his sophomore season. Poeltl averaged a respectable 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds in just 23.3 minutes last year even though he spent long stretches on the bench in foul trouble. Coach Larry Krystkowiak watched footage of every one of those fouls with Poeltl—who was whistled four or more times in nine games—and taught him to lower his center of gravity. Packing on 14 pounds of muscle (he’s up to 249) will also help. If he’s not getting pushed around so easily, Krystkowiak says, Poeltl won’t need to reach and pick up silly fouls.
While Poetl shot a Pac-12-leading 68.1% from the field last season, he relied on length and quickness to get around defenders; the added bulk will enable him to power through them. He also spent the summer learning to take more balanced shots (so that he’s in position to rebound his own misses), improving his form at the foul line (where he shot a team-worst 44.4%) and perfecting two go-to moves (a skyhook and a simple counter).
The Utes lost their other experienced big men when 7-foot Dallin Bachynski graduated and 6'10" Jeremy Olsen retired because of hip and back injuries. That makes it all the more important for Poeltl to stay on the floor and be a force inside.
Kyle Kuzma, 6'9" sophomore forward
Kuzma played sparingly as a freshman, but he's one of the team's best passers and a good two-way rebounder. Defenders will have a tough time when he takes the court with Jakob Poeltl.
“We’ve got a pretty basic defensive package: Get guys to play hard, and connected. Delon got his hands on a lot of balls, got a lot of deflections, but we’re really trying to turn the corner and get away from the Delon talk ... We run a lot of 2-guard offense so we don’t have to put pressure on one guy. I expect guards Brandon [Taylor], Lorenzo [Bonam] and Isaiah [Wright] to just be basketball players ... We probably bit off more than we can chew with our schedule, but we’re going to see different styles and go into some arenas that are really volatile. Hopefully that’s preparing us for a difficult Pac-12 schedule.”
Projected depth chart
Projected conference race
|conference rank||team||projected Conf. record||last year's Conf. record|