Thanks for doing this Ben - I know you are pretty well dialed in with the program and I’d love to get updates on what is going on. Going to be an interesting next few weeks that is really going to tell us what is going to happen with the Utes in the 2022-23 season.
Utah’s fortunes can turn in one offseason. This is not the NBA, this doesn’t have to be a years-long rebuild. One offseason, that’s all it might take if Smith can leverage the portal well, using those potential open scholarships to fill needs, whether it be more size and physicality, more point guard help, or, as I see the most-important need, more scoring.
Maybe the Utes don’t fill all their needs in one offseason, but filling at least some of them can go a long way to digging the program out of the Pac-12 basement and into at least the middle of the pack, which would be a tangible step forward in 2022-23.
To be clear, those aforementioned needs are legitimate, if not glaring, especially the scoring part. This is where I’ll bring up an excellent point Bill Riley made Friday morning on ESPN700.
The four Pac-12 Tournament semifinalists — Arizona, UCLA, USC, and Colorado — all have go-to scoring options. Frankly, all four of them have multiple go-to scoring options, especially the Wildcats and Bruins, who were undoubtedly the two best teams in the league this season, complete with cores built for second-week runs in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s tough to argue that Utah had a guy like that this season. There were flashes and moments of potential from a handful of Utes, but in a tight, late-game situation, that “dude” was lacking for Smith.
The good news is, that can change this offseason if this coaching staff can get something done in the transfer portal. That might be easier said than done as most every school in the country jockeys for immediately-eligible portal help, but if they hit it right, next season can look a lot different than this one.
I used to be more annoyed with him but I actually think he navigated the athletic department through the last two years as well as we could hope. A lot of fan issues, like parking, have improved IMO. I see 2020 though 2021 as an outlier, so we’ll see what happens going forward
It seems most are expecting the Utes to find a chunk of next year’s team in the portal, but IMO this is the year to recruit the JUCO’s hard. There’s always a lot of talent playing JUCO ball and these kids are often recruited last because they only have 2 years left. If it takes a year to adjust, the coaches only get 1 really solid year from the kid.
HOWEVER, last year didn’t count towards the eligibility clock so most of these kids have 2 years of JUCO experience AND 3 years of eligibility remaining.
I fully expect the Utes to bring in a JUCO or two. It’s the year to do it.
I have more optimism than most about next year. For those that are on the fence about Smith take a couple things into consideration:
He came in late and had to scramble for players. Most notably taking “Gach scratch fever” back who literally missed 26 straight 3 pointers the last time he was on this team.
His best player - sprained his right ankle, got covid, had appendicitis, sprained his left ankle
Injury bug was worse than any other year than I can remember. Besides Carlsen you have Holt who blows out his knee in the first game. The back up center breaks his kneecap. The second best player (Anthony) misses a month. I’m sure there were other injuries
Taking this into consideration the team was in games and even won a couple they werent supposed to (@ Stanford) the florida tournament
So, Its likely that our starting 5 all return. which includes the laser who was on the all freshman team. I think Holt and Brenchley will be back. We bring in Exacte. If Smith can find a good back up big (I think the hat will probably transfer), a shooter (plummer or van dyke) and a Justin Bibbins/Jared Dubois guy this team will be in the tournament.
Not criticizing just trying to understand what Harlan hasnt done well.
Other than mens basketball Utah is doing better historically in nearly every sport (baseball, mens and womens tennis, skiing, gymnastics, football, womens basketball and volleyball). Our football schedules are better, people are donating for new facilities, etc?
Watched #4 seed Utah State host Oregon in the NIT last night. Final: UO 83 USU 72
The Ags were in control early, they’re obviously fundamentally sound and good shooters, had a solid game plan, but Oregon was visibly superior athletically and pulled away after being down at the half, won by 11. Utah State could not stop the guard penetration, the Ducks got to the rack over & over again.
(Rylan Jones fouled out with zero points. Richardson didn’t play for the Ducks, but guards Jacob Young and Devion Harmon terrorized the Ag defense.)
Don’t know what Smith’s recruiting philosophy is yet, but especially in hoops, there’s just no substitute for length and athleticism. Last night was a mismatch.
It’s going to take success & $$ to start to nip at the heels of Oregon & CU in talent, even though I saw some of the same player disinterest that old school coach Dana Altman seems to engender.