Utah Week: Breaking Down The SchedulePosted by AMurawa on August 31st, 2012
Coming off a 6-25 season and breaking in 10 new players, you can hardly blame the Utes for dialing their schedule back significantly. But this? Three games against non D-I opponents? Zero non-conference games against opponents from BCS conferences? Eleven of the 13 non-conference games inside the state of Utah? Well, one thing is for sure: The Utes will improve on last year’s record. Here’s the schedule, with analysis below:
Easy Stretch: If Utah wanted to ease into the 2012-13 season, they picked the right three teams to do it with. The opener on 11/2 against Simon Fraser is just an exhibition, but things don’t get a whole lot tougher when Division III Willamette visits for the official opener a week later. A week after that, Utah gets its first D-I opponent on the books when Sacramento State (10-18 in the Big Sky last year) visits. A 2-0 record out of the gates is imperative.
Early-Season Tournament: While other Pac-12 teams are traveling to exotic locations and facing highly-regarded opponents in their early season tourneys, the Utes are staying right at home over Thanksgiving weekend and hosting a trio of teams in a round-robin format. Their three opponents – Idaho State, Central Michigan and Wright State – combined to go 33-61 last season, making this a very manageable stretch for the Utes. Still, last year Utah lost at home to teams like Montana State and Cal State Fullerton. If they can take care of business in this tournament, that will be the first sign of proof that the Utes of 2012-13 have taken a step forward. A 5-0 record following Thanksgiving weekend is not out of the question.
Toughest Non-conference Game: Last year, just three days after the Utes suffered a worst-ever 31-point home loss to Cal State Fullerton, in-state rival BYU was merciful with the Utes. Despite shooting a sub-30% eFG, Utah managed to keep the loss to a relatively respectable margin. This year, the Cougars lose a couple steady veterans, but welcome back former freshman sensation Tyler Haws from his LDS mission. If the new Ute backcourt can hold its own against Haws and Matt Carlino, their big interior players could cause trouble for BYU’s Brandon Davies. In a rivalry like this, a win would be a great leap forward for Utah fans starved for success, but to be honest, just keeping it close could seem like the dreaded “moral victory.”
Toughest Conference Stretch: Let’s face it, it’s all going to be tough for the Utes this year. There are not a whole lot of spots on the schedule post-New Year’s where Larry Krystkowiak can pencil in a win or two. Still, the toughest part may be the stretch right out of the gate when they travel to the Arizona schools, return home to host UCLA and an improved USC squad, then head back out on the road to face the Washington schools. Even if the Utes get through their manageable non-conference schedule with an encouraging record, they could have their momentum dashed against the rocks early on.
Scout’s Special: Jordan Loveridge may be the most intriguing Ute player, and as such, it will be good to see him get a significant test. While there will be matchups to keep an eye on throughout the non-conference (Loveridge vs. Boise State’s Anthony Drmic, for example), his performance against UCLA’s uber-recruit Shabazz Muhammad on January 10 could go a long way towards allowing us to see just how prepared he is for life at the three in the Pac-12.
Overall Thoughts: No beating around the bush here: It’s a horrible schedule. Imagine being a Utes season ticket holder and finding the best non-conference game on the slate is Boise State or SMU. As it was last year, the Utes suffered through their awful season as they were often playing in front of a half-empty (no need for optimism here) Huntsman Center. Even though Utah should be taking its first step on the way back up the ladder this season, do you really think Cal State Northridge and Sacramento State, et al., are going to put fannies in the seats? Of course, the flip side of that equation is that this non-conference schedule is going to allow the team to gain some confidence by scoring some early wins. And, who knows, maybe when they have their conference home opener against UCLA in early January, the Utes will have a winning record, which should aid in increasing attendance. All things considered, it sure isn’t an attractive schedule for the fans, but in terms of getting this program back on track and used to winning ball games again, this could be just what the doctor ordered.