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Justin Verlander pitched the Detroit Tigers past the Oakland Athletics. The New York Giants won the Super Bowl last season. The Miami Heat took home the NBA title.

The common theme? Defense. Don't think for a second that those parallels are lost on Larry Krystkowiak. He knows the statistics well, passes them along to his Utah basketball team, and demands the same.

"We have to make it a big emphasis for the guys," Krystkowiak said. "If our guys are willing to play some defense, we can be pretty good. I think we have some scoring punch on this team. But it's not all about scoring."

Krystkowiak estimates that 80 percent of practice from here until the season-opener will stress that side of the ball. The Utes want to become better at help-side defense, and protecting against drives to the rim.

Last season, Utah became progressively better because of defense. Krystkowiak slowed games down, made his team work. It was the one area of play that showed real improvement as time went on.

"We're excited about the season and we're excited about what lies ahead," Krystkowiak said. "The only real thing I'm thinking about is getting better today. And when I wake up, my goal will be getting better tomorrow at practice. We're real competitive. We have depth at every position and our guys are getting after it."

The Utes will host exhibitions against Simon Fraser (Nov. 2) and Willamette (Nov. 9), before hosting Sacramento State on Nov. 16.

Fitting in

Freshman Jordan Loveridge is expected to play primarily power forward to start practice and the season, Krystkowiak said.

The rookie out of West Jordan, Utah's prime recruit for this year, can play small forward as well. But Krystkowiak doesn't want to put too much on his plate, and he wants Loveridge to master one position first.

Coaches also like his ability to run the floor and make perimeter shots. He probably won't start, at least to begin the season. But Loveridge will likely garner quality minutes for the Utes.

Having options

Utah used a seven-man rotation in 2011. Krystkowiak hinted at playing a lot more guys this time around.

"We have a hammer now," Krystkowiak said. "If one guy isn't getting it done, there's another on the bench that can step right in. Competition is good for the team."

tjones@sltrib.comTwitter: @tonyaggieville

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