Unknown Utah remains optimistic despite roster turnover
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak understands why there isn't much buzz surrounding his program, and doesn't feel slighted. He knows the roster is nearly unrecognizable.
The Utes were picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 this season despite going to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments and having a player selected in the first round of the last two NBA drafts. That success, however, was driven by upper classmen, including draft picks Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright. Poeltl left after his sophomore campaign.
That leaves forward Kyle Kuzma (10.8 points per game) and guard Lorenzo Bonam (10.2 points) as the only two players on the roster who logged significant minutes last year.
''One of the major reasons I thought we got picked eighth in the Pac-12 is because nobody knows who we have,'' Kuzma said. ''We have freshmen. We have junior college transfers. We have walk-ons. If you ask the public, the only ones people know are me and Zo. Come February, people are going to know everybody.''
From a glass-half-full perspective, the Utes may benefit for a while as teams try to develop scouting reports on the new group and how they like to play. Krystkowiak and the coaching staff continue to do that themselves as players develop roles and a rotation emerges. At the same time, well-known players are well-known for a reason - they've had a certain amount of success.
''It's the old saying, the same thing that will make you laugh will make you cry,'' Krystkowiak said. ''That sounds really good, but if they don't know us, maybe that's not a good thing. You can paint it any way you want.
''To be honest with you, I'd much rather have five starters back than not and be able to say, `Geez, at least they don't know what it is we're doing.' It's an early stage of this program. We've got some young players ready to go. Hopefully, they can be productive and we can be competitive here this season. And then some of those guys, as they start building the program, they've been here awhile and then they become a little more savvy.''
Things to watch from Utah in 2016-17:
PRACTICE PATIENCE: Newcomers David Collette and Sedrick Barefield are both likely starters once they are eligible to play. Both will miss the first eight games due to transfer rules before becoming eligible to face Prairie View A&M on Dec. 17. Collette is a 6-foot-8, 220-pounder who averaged 12.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and shot 59.1 percent at Utah State in 2014-15. The 6-2, 190-pound Barefield is a sophomore who played six games for SMU last season.
SCHEDULE HELP: The Utes will ease into the season with a pre-conference schedule filled with teams from outside Power Five conferences. Utah starts the season with Northwest Nazarene, Concordia, Coppin State, UC Riverside, Butler, Montana State, Utah Valley, Xavier and Prairie View A&M. That gives the new roster some time to grow.
THE LEAP: Kuzma and Bonam are expected to lead vocally and production-wise. The versatile 6-9 Kuzma will need to be more aggressive on both ends of the floor while also getting teammates involved on offense. Bonam, 6-4, will likely start the season as the primary ball-handler until Barefield arrives and he slides back to shooting guard. Krystkowiak said Bonam needs to show more focus and energy if he wants to be a leader.
THE OTHERS: Wing Gabe Bealer and guard Jake Connor are the only other two players on the roster who played a single game for the Utes last year. JoJo Zamora, Parker Van Dyke and Devon Daniels are in the mix for guard minutes. Seven-footer Jayce Johnson should see significant minutes in the post. Freshman forward Chris Seeley and junior college transfer Tim Coleman are both dealing with shoulder injuries.