For Utah, now it all begins.
No more tuneups with the Idaho States of the world. No more speculation on how the revamped Utes will fare in the Pac-12 Conference. On Wednesday night at Arizona State, we all get to find out firsthand.
The schedule makers did Utah no favors. A difficult test against the Sun Devils comes three days before a matchup with top-five Arizona. UCLA at the Huntsman Center comes next week. In other words, the Utes will need to play almost perfect basketball if they don't want to begin the conference year digging out of an early hole.
"They are all important games," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "But the most important game comes against Arizona State, simply because it's the next game. We've had all of our focus on that. We've got to prepare, and figure out how to defend and take care of the ball."
Utah's biggest issue against Arizona State will be finding a way to contain Jahii Carson, who has proved to be one of the more dynamic point guards in the league in a short period of time.
The good news? The Utes will have Cedric Martin, the senior swingman who is by far the best defender on the team.
He missed the last two games with groin issues but has practiced this week without a hitch and has been declared ready to play.
Without Martin, Utah struggled to deal with perimeter talent on the opposition. Offensively, the Utes also had issues protecting the ball and limiting turnovers. Martin, one of the lone holdovers from last season, has proved himself to be a glue guy and a leader. His presence going forward looks to be essential, although Krystkowiak said he didn't know whether he would immediately put him back into the starting lineup.
"He just brings so much to our team; he's going to be a huge lift for us," senior center Jason Washburn said. "He's our best defender, our most intelligent defender. He always plays hard, and we need that from him."
Wednesday's matchup will feature a meeting between Ute sophomore Dallin Bachynski and his brother Jordan, a 7-foot-2 center who starts for the Sun Devils and is one of the best shot blockers in the Pac-12.
Dallin Bachynski started the year strong but has recently tailed off a bit in his play. He and Jordan are originally from Canada.
"It's unique to see two brothers play against one another," Krystkowiak said. "It's going to be a fun matchup. At the same time, this is Utah against Arizona State."
Utah at Arizona State
O At Wells Fargo Arena (Tempe, Ariz.)
Tip-off • Wednesday, 8 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah 8-4; Arizona State 11-2
Last meeting • Arizona State 57, Utah 52 (Feb. 9, 2012)
About the Utes • Utah's 8-4 record is the best start for the program since the 2007-2008 season. … Freshman forward Jordan Loveridge has three double-doubles on the season. … Senior guard Jarred DuBois registered career highs in assists and rebounds in last week's win over College of Idaho. … Utah allows 57.2 points per game, nine less than the national average.
About the Sun Devils • ASU guard Jahii Carson leads the team with 17.9 points and 5.3 assists per game. … The Sun Devils have won seven of their last eight games. … Arizona State leads the Pac-12 in 2-point field-goal percentage. … ASU has won six consecutive games by double digits.
Upcoming Pac-12 games
• Colorado at Arizona, 6 p.m.
• Stanford at USC, 8 p.m.
• Cal at UCLA, 9 p.m.
• Stanford at UCLA, 1 p.m.
• Utah at Arizona, 3 p.m.
• Washington at Washington State, 7:30 p.m.
• Cal at USC, 9 p.m.
• Colorado at Arizona State, 6 p.m.
• Oregon at Oregon State, 8 p.m.