1. Cal hasn’t seen Utah yet this year after playing them 3 times last year (with Cal winning twice). Is Utah playing differently than last year? If so, how?
I think it's obvious Utah is playing different compared to last year - at least at home. They're one of the best home teams in the country and that's given them the wins needed to contend, if only marginally, for an at-large bid. I'll even concede they're a better overall road team last year, only losing one game by a bunch (UCLA). Every other road game - including against Arizona - has come down to a possession or two and that's probably the biggest difference - as last year's Utes had five conference road games they lost by ten or more points. Of course, that doesn't change the fact they're still an awful 1-7 away from Salt Lake.
2. Larry Krystkowiak appears to have settled in and is in the middle of his best year at Utah. What has he brought to the table and what’s unique about the way his teams play?
Unique to Utah hoops or overall? I think defensively, Utah is one of the better Pac-12 teams. They're tough all around in that regard, and I think that makes ‘em more unique than a great deal of other Pac-12 squads. Utah's scoring defense ranks 2nd in a conference that, for the most part, struggles overall in this statistic.
3. Your team has posted some really impressive wins at home: Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA, and Washington. Why have the Utes played so much better at home than on the road?
I think it's a few things: 1) They only had one game in the preseason (against BSU), so, there weren't many opportunities to win away from home prior to conference season. 2) The Pac-12 is tough. That's not to ignore Utah's road woes, but not many Pac-12 teams are winning a great deal of their conference road games. 3) Youth & inexperience. Utah has all of one senior who sees legit play time. This is still a very young team and generally, those are the ones who struggle the most in conference and on the road.
4. Utah is nearly leading the country, shooting 50% from the field (ranked 3rd) and 57% from 2P (ranked 2nd). How have they been able to achieve this?
Smart shot selection is my guess - coupled with good shooters, of course. Utah's offense, for the most part, is very efficient and it's a big reason, especially at home, they're so tough to beat. Even on the road, they've been able to keep games close through their defense and good shooting.
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When Jordan Loveridge struggles, it seems Utah struggles. He really is a valuable player the Utes need to succeed in order to really take it to the next level. The thing is, Utah is almost guaranteed in most games to play close enough to be there at the end. Teams seem to win because Utah can't finish the game at the line, their scoring goes cold down the stretch, or they fail to grab that last rebound. I mentioned that only once has Utah lost by a large margin this season (and even that game was close at the half) and it's true - in every game this season they've lost, the Utes stood a chance to win down the stretch and couldn't get it done. I think much of that is their youth, so, in that regard, it just comes down to pressuring Utah in the final minutes and hoping they'll make a mistake. Unfortunately, on the road, they've done that plenty of times.
6. Utah was picked 9th in the preseason poll and currently sits tied for 8th and only one game out of 4th. Has this year been more successful than the fanbase expected?
On the whole, yes, this year has been more successful than most fans expected. I know many fans batted around the idea of playing in the NIT prior to the season, and that seems like a lock at this point, but the fact they're on the cusp of 20 wins and could feasibly finish fourth in the conference is a huge improvement over what I feel most of us felt could be done this year.
7. Despite a solid conference record, Utah isn't being talked about for an NCAA berth. Short of running the table, can Utah play themselves in?
Yeah. I think if Utah sweeps these next two road games and wins a game or two in the Pac-12 Tournament, they'll start getting serious looks from the selection committee. I don't know if they're definitely in, but I believe they could be in under that scenario.
8. Looking forward, Renan Lenz is the only senior on the roster and he plays only 12 minutes a game. How do fans feel heading into next year? How's the recruiting pipeline looking?
The fans are very optimistic about the future. Utah inked one of the best recruiting classes in the conference last go around and are bringing in two four star recruits: Kyle Kuzma and Brekkott Chapman. Both will be impact players who could legitimately lift the Utes to the top of the conference.