It's February 2nd and the Utes are tied for the conference lead.
Let me type that one more time: We're in February and Utah is in first place. Who thought that would be possible in the hours after their loss to Southwest Baptist at the start of the season? I'm guessing not many.
What this does show is that the Utes have quietly put together a pretty good season. It's year two of the Jim Boylen era and Utah basketball appears to be on the cusp of being relevant again. Hell, it's quite possible they've already reached that mark, especially after their two huge wins last week against BYU and New Mexico. That success has already started turning heads.
Does this mean Utah is back? No, but it might mean the climb to the top is happening quicker than many Ute fans expected. It also means the Utes will actually be playing for something this month and might just make the school's first NCAA Tournament since the 2005 season.
The rise, though, hasn't been without its bumps. Yet it has been those struggles that really shaped this year's Utes team. Instead of rolling over after the tough losses to Southwest Baptist and Idaho State, Utah has rebounded quite well and put together an impressive stretch of games. Will it be enough for an NCAA berth? Well that remains to be seen, but regardless of how this season ends, outside of an epic meltdown, the Utes have progressed far beyond where they were at this time last year. That's important because it shows that Jim Boylen actually knows what he is doing. The mark of a good coach, even when the talent is thin, proves itself through yearly improvement. In that regard, Utah is far ahead of schedule and Boylen deserves much of the credit.
So what does it mean for the rest of the season and the future of Utah basketball? Well we'll begin to answer that at the end of the year, but for now it means Utah is at the top of the conference halfway through. They might not stay there, but the progress this team has shown over the year is enough for me to believe the future is pretty bright. And even though it will take time to become the elite team we all expect here at Utah, it will happen.
Who knows, this year very well could be the launching point to that success.