Despite being picked to finish last, Ken Bone did not seem too concerned. He was, however, concerned about his team’s inability to close games last year and he wore a portion of that blame; letting us all know that his team’s lack of composure down the stretch lay partially on his shoulders. Though some of it could be tossed up to luck, for which we consult KenPom. The Cougars were the 345 luckiest team in the country last year. For context, that means there were only two other teams that were less lucky. And to contextualize quantified luck, it’s to say that their actual success (or lack thereof) was below their predicted success and therefore: unlucky. They lost the close ones and the thought is that this trend would normalize and the Cougars wouldn’t, say, finish last. With that and mind, and the return of DaVonte Lacy and Royce Woolridge, Bone thinks he might have something a little better than the cellar cooking.
Craig Robinson jumped right in to things by telling us about how much more frontcourt depth he’s going to have. He did mention the other guy on stage with him, Roberto Nelson (18/3/2), then dove right into the return of Angust Brandt and Daniel Gomis, a player who’s been on campus for three years with nary a game played. CRob was re-introducing us to more than 13 additional feet of frontcourt to be added to Eric Moreland (more later), Devon Collier, and Olaf Schaftenaar. Big Beavers. So on to Moreland. According to Robinson, he’s irreplaceable; which makes it really difficult when he’s suspended for the season’s first 14 games. So how do you replace the irreplaceable? Well you put a positive twist on it, elevate the roles of a few peripheral guys and say, “What I think is going to happen is we’re going to have more tools in our toolkit to use once Eric does come back.” I liked that and I also liked that, when asked about impact newcomers to the Pac-12, Robinson didn’t bother (much) on Aaron Gordon or Jabari Bird. He told us about his new guys: Cheikh N’diaye, Malcolm Duvivier, and Hallice Cooke. Good for you, coach.
His first year in Utah was “survival.” He’d brought in something like 12-if-not-more newcomers and he just needed to survive. That year the Utes were in the conversation for worst High Major team of all time. Like I said, Larry Krystkowiak called it survival. And then there was last year and now we find ourselves here. Drake might call it starting from the bottom but I won’t soon put the Utes at the top (which is what I assume Drake implies through his lyrics and that he’s not a middling Pac-12 team). “I think that playing hard is a talent,” Larry K said. And it was that level of talent he’s had to rely on. But now he’s starting to see an influx. His culture hasn’t changed but there may be “a few more stars behind their name.” Insinuating that K thinks he just might have a slightly more talented squad and some higher expectations for where his team could go. And if nothing else, he claims to have a deep squad. Something he’ll use to exploit their distinct altitude advantage. That high up he wants to run people out of the gym with their depth and altitude aptitude. And if nothing else, he can rely on all-freshman performer Jordan Loveridge for survival. A young man K has asked to be a leader, “[Coach Krystkowiak] challenged me to lead more verbally.” We know the Utes are high up, but are they up for the challenge?