Utah has not won a game by fewer than 43 points this season, and yet, thanks to some conservative scheduling practices by head coach Larry Krystkowiak, the Utes have already hurt their NCAA Tournament chances. At 3-0, Utah is officially tied atop the Pac-12 standings, a hilarious result given that its first two opponents, Division II members Northwest Nazarene and Concordia (Oregon), considered the games exhibitions. The Utes finally played their first Division I opponent Friday night, smoking 0-5 Coppin State in a game that KenPom gave Utah a 98.7 percent chance of winning. With the victory, Utah earned its initial placement at #289 in the RPI rankings. There is no unbeaten team from a Power 5 conference with a worse RPI than Utah, and there isn’t a lot of helium left in the Utes’ non-conference schedule to carry it up.
Utah plays Butler at home on November 28 and travels to Xavier on December 10. Aside from those two games, each of the Utes’ remaining non-conference opponents is ranked 227th or lower by KenPom, not including a potential matchup with San Diego State in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic. Quality opponents from last season such as San Diego State, Wichita State, BYU and Duke have been replaced by UC Riverside, Montana State, Utah Valley and Prairie View A&M. A team that last year barnstormed across America from Puerto Rico to Wichita to New York City will only leave the Beehive State twice before the new year.
What’s worse is that this season’s pillow-soft schedule has been some time in the making. To his credit, Krystkowiak has been relatively open about the logic behind his intent, essentially telling ESPN Radio that a friendly schedule would be more beneficial for an inexperienced team. This is understandable. Confidence is important for young collegiate players, and if the current version of Utah had played last season’s schedule, there might not have been much confidence to go around. Similarly, Krystkowiak is hardly the first Power 5 coach to weigh the quality and depth of his roster when putting together a schedule. But there is a big difference between throttling back and throwing it in reverse.