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Utah's potential is evident during practice on most days in a Huntsman Center that is largely empty outside of players and a few members of the media.

The Utes' dismantling of Simon Fraser last Friday was encouraging, not because Simon Fraser was any good, but because Larry Krystkowiak's team had enough talent to win handily when it should.

Friday will officially begin to answer the questions when Utah faces Willamette to begin the regular season.

Krystkowiak would rather not speak too much on the 6-25 performance of 2011. And truthfully, not much evidence of last season is around. Only two players — Jason Washburn and Cedric Martin — return with any significant experience. Other than those two, the Utes' entire playing rotation will be new.

"We think we will be better, and we think the Pac-12 Conference as a whole will be better," Krystkowiak said. "We're looking forward to growing as a program, and becoming a better team."

Not many are convinced. At least about the Utes. They are picked to finish last in the Pac-12 by virtually everyone — from media that cover the league to preseason publications. The Utes will have to prove they can win before they can be considered upwardly mobile. Most fans are hoping for measurable, if incremental progress.

They should see a better product.

A Utah program that struggled to put the ball in the basket will receive a scoring punch from the likes of Jarred DuBois, Aaron Dotson and Jordan Loveridge. A Utah team with little size outside of Washburn last season now has five players 6-foot-10 or taller, and that makes Krystkowiak, a 6-9 power forward in his college and NBA playing days, a happier man.

In addition, a Utah team with virtually no depth last season now looks like it will have solid point guard play and a rotation that could go as many as nine deep. No longer will Krystkowiak have to play his best guys for better or worse. Now, there are some options.

"We can do a lot of things with this team, and everyone is excited to get the season started," DuBois said. "We feel like we have some talent, and we want to go out and play well."

What will this translate to?

That's still anyone's guess. A weak nonconference schedule might provide some clues. The Utes struggled mightily in non-league play last December playing a similar schedule. So if Utah is winning games against the likes of Idaho State and Sacramento State, it's a step forward from 2011.

Challenges before conference play will come from a trip to Provo to face BYU, a Texas road swing that includes the Larry Brown-coached SMU Mustangs (twice) and a home game against a Boise State team that destroyed the Utes last season.

So, yes, the talent appears to be better, perhaps significantly. Yes, Utah should be a different team.

But the Utes and their fans are still wary, if more hopeful. Some of the answers will come in the next month. Many more will come in January and February when conference play begins.

Best-case scenario

The Utes start fast and feast on a weak nonconference schedule, which gives them the confidence to win six to 10 Pac-12 games. With a winning record, Utah makes the postseason, garnering a berth to the CBI or even the NIT. —

Willamette at Utah

P Friday, 7 p.m.

TV • Pac-12 Network —

Utah schedule

Friday • Willamette, 7 p.m.

Nov. 16 • Sacramento State, 7 p.m.

Nov. 21 • Central Michigan/Idaho State/Wright State, 7 p.m.

Nov. 23 • Central Michigan/Idaho State/Wright State, 5 p.m.

Nov. 24 • Central Michigan/Idaho State/Wright State, TBA

Nov. 28 • at SMU, 8 p.m.

Nov. 30 • at Texas State, 6 p.m.

Dec. 5 • Boise State, 6:30 p.m.

Dec. 8 • at BYU, 7 p.m.

Dec. 18 • SMU, 7 p.m.

Dec. 21 • Cal State Northridge, 8:30 p.m.

Dec. 28 • College of Idaho, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 2 • at Arizona, 8 p.m.

Jan. 5 • at Arizona State, 3 p.m.

Jan. 10 • UCLA, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 12 • USC, 4 p.m.

Jan. 16 • at Washington State, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 19 • Washington, 9 p.m.

Jan. 24 • California, 7 p.m.

Jan. 27 • Stanford, 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 2 • Colorado, 12:30 p.m.

Feb. 6 • at Oregon State, 8 p.m.

Feb. 9 • at Oregon, 6 p.m.

Feb. 13 • Arizona State, 6 p.m.

Feb. 17 • Arizona, 1 p.m.

Feb. 21 • at Colorado, 8 p.m.

Feb. 28 • at California, 7 p.m.

March 3 • at Stanford, 3 p.m.

March 7 • Oregon State, 9 p.m.

March 9 • Oregon, 12:30 p.m.

March 13-16 • Pac-12 Conference Tournament; MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas