When we first began this chapter, not much was expected from Jim Boylen's Utes. They had been picked to finish fourth in the conference and most felt an NIT berth was probable. After a season-opening loss to D-II Southwest Baptist State, even the prospects of making the CBI, let alone the NIT, looked grim.
But they progressed and grew as a team. After that difficult loss, Utah rebounded and won five straight, including the preseason Glenn Wilkes Classic. And though they struggled through a five-game stretch in December, the ship was righted and the Utes recorded an impressive win over Gonzaga. From that point on, Utah played pretty consistently, winning the games they should win and dropping the games most expected would prove tough.
The Utes would surge to the top of the Mountain West, build an eight-game winning streak and tumble with two extremely difficult games on the road against BYU and New Mexico. Though they lost their shot to win an outright title, Utah claimed at least a share of the conference crown for the first time in four years, an accomplishment that seemed unlikely when their journey began back in November.
That success continued into the conference tournament, where Utah came out on top. Coupled with that late run of three games and their solid RPI, Utah was rewarded with a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament. And though the Utes struggled in their first tournament appearance since 2005, it doesn't undo the success created throughout the entire 2009 season.
What Utah accomplished was a return to relevance again in basketball. Sure, when they got to the national stage, they wilted away, but it's laid the foundation -- we hope -- for future success. The fact no one could have expected this type of run should have every fan excited for what will be accomplished when more athletic and talented players are brought in by Boylen over the next few years.
The season might have ended on a downer, but I do believe it goes without question when I say Utah basketball is far healthier today than it was when the last chapter concluded. That's something we all wanted to see at the beginning of the season and it's what we got.
Now on to Chapter Three...