Expectations for 2011

Basketball season has pretty much ended for Utah and I'm sure a good number of you are interested in moving on to football. I don't disagree. With spring heating up, it seems pointless to fixate on the basketball troubles of the past. And that's exactly what they are - issues in the past. What's done is done and no amount of discussion will change how this team played or where it finished.

So instead of dissecting what went wrong any further (I think we've done that enough), maybe we should look to the future and what to expect from Jim Boylen & Utah basketball in 2011.

It is, after all, a potential must-win season for Boylen & Utah basketball. How will the team handle it and what, as fans, should be the benchmark to feel comfortable with bringing this coaching staff back? 

Those questions are hard to answer because the truth is, much can change from March to November. Players could leave, coaches could be forced out and the team could look dramatically different when the season kicks off than it does today (not that we'd complain).

Of course, none of that really changes the underlying issue here and that's that Boylen somehow has to find consistency and put Utah basketball on the right path again or he won't be back as head coach. 

With that said, the right path does not necessarily mean an NCAA berth or a conference championship. We should be realistic and evenhanded with this approach. Boylen deserves that much. He's not superhuman and we shouldn't expect a superhuman-type leap from 2010 to 2011.

But on the flip side, 2010-like results will not be tolerated. Progress has to be made and this team can't finish below .500 in either overall record or conference record because that will prove to me the stagnation and regression we saw this season was most certainly not a fluke. Which, unfortunately, suggest that 2009 was. 

What I want as the irrational, impatient fan is a team that does not lose to the likes of Seattle and Idaho at home. Those losses, at any stage of a career, are inexcusable. You can justify potentially one of those, but as a collection? No way. 

Even without knowing Utah's schedule next year, I'm pretty confident there will be a few home cupcakes. But considering how tough the potential schedule could be, that isn't bad a thing.

We know that the Utes will play Utah State in Logan and Michigan in Ann Arbor. There are rumors they'll maybe ink a deal with Georgia, UCLA & Kansas. Then we should fully expect the Mountain West to be just as good as it is this season. Simply put, those should-win games will make or break next season with the amount of difficulty Utah potentially faces. 

Beyond just winning those easy games, the Utes have to find some consistency at home. Barely clinging to an above .500 record will not do it. If the same happens again next year, this team is done. This coaching staff is done. 

That will be hard because the Mountain West is at its best basketball wise. I hate saying it, because Utah is not anywhere near being apart of what makes this conference good - but that's the reality as of today. New Mexico, BYU, SDSU and UNLV are four tournament teams that should be banging on the door to the NCAA Tournament again next year.

That means Boylen has very little margin of error in the conference. That is what killed him this season. They lost home games they could have won and a couple road games they maybe should have won (Wyoming, CSU). Those losses made the gap between the Utes and the Fearsome Foursome that much wider and for it to even close a few inches next season, Utah will need to take advantage of the lower-level programs and hope for an upset or two along the way (because I'm not so sure the Utes can take out UNLV twice again next year). 

Because of this, I don't expect a huge improvement. I don't expect Utah to make that leap we saw last season. The conference is too good and they're not for something like that to transpire. 

What I do expect is that they'll be more competitive against BYU. They'll take care of business at home and they'll finish with an above .500 record in conference. If they do that, there is no reason this team can't qualify for the NIT. 

Which is the expectation. NIT or bust. Anything less might be viewed as a disappointment - at least by me. 

Then again, maybe I am irrational and impatient. 

But after sitting through this season, I don't think any of us can take another repeat performance. 

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