U. basketball • With a new coach and a bunch of new players, the Utes aim to defy predictions.
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Josh Watkins says they play together better. Jason Washburn says they work harder.
Glen Dean says their offense will open up shots both on the perimeter and in the post.
But when the players on the Utah men's basketball team take the floor Friday in an exhibition game against Adams State their first action against anyone other than themselves what will be the real differences in a new era of Utah basketball under coach Larry Krystkowiak?
"Defense," said Watkins, the Utes' point guard. "We're playing way more defense, way pressure the ball. Don't let guys get easy buckets, we've got to just stop guys. That's what we got to focus on right now. The offense will come to us."
At Krystkowiak's introductory press conference in April, he promised "floor burns and bloody noses" would be earned on defense.
Offensively, Krystkowiak has implemented a more movement-intensive offense. Dean, the Eastern Washington transfer who will sit out this season, played against the offense. It's still used at Montana under former Krystkowiak assistant Wayne Tinkle.
Said Dean: "When we played against Montana, where there's a lot of screening action and the bigs are setting down screens and flares, I remember our bigs had a very hard time guarding it."
Of course, Utah doesn't quite have the personnel to dominate offensively in the paint.
Starting center David Foster averaged 2.9 points per game last year, while the 6-foot-10 Washburn, who is likely to start alongside Foster and says he spent the summer focusing on polishing his offensive skills, averaged 6.
Let's face it, the Utes are a big-time mystery, and not only because 11 of their players have never appeared in a Division 1 basketball game.
After the team's annual Red and White Scrimmage last week, Krystkowiak said the product on the Huntsman Center floor was not close to what he expected from the Utes.
"There's certain plays that we rely on quite a bit that were breaking down here once we got in front of a crowd," Krystkowiak said.
Even if the Utes meet outside expectations and finish last in the Pac-12 as media members projected in the preseason poll last week there's a lot of room for creative futility. The question may not be if the Utes lose games, rather how they lose them. Failing to win doesn't necessarily mean a team isn't getting better; at least that's often the company line of losing teams.
"Now this is that time of year when there are polls done," Krystkowiak said at the conference media day in Los Angeles Friday, "and everybody has to make their predictions. But we'll be competitive, and we're going to find some wins along the way."
Washington State coach Ken Bone is one of only two head coaches in the Pac-12 who has coached against Krystkowiak Washington's Lorenzo Romar is the other. In 2006, Bone was starting his career at Portland State and Krystkowiak was in his second of two seasons at Montana. The teams split their two games.
"We kind of thought that Larry being a big guy, we felt that well they're really going to dump it down, dump it down low," Bone said. "But he had an outstanding job of balancing this team with inside and outside play."
As for Krystkowiak's assertion that the Utes will win games, Bone didn't argue.
"They're going to be a team to reckon with," he said. "There is no doubt about it."
Utes' upcoming hoops schedule
P Friday • Adams State (exhibition)
Nov. 14 • San Diego Christian College
Nov. 16 • at Boise State
Nov. 19 • Montana State