The Final Four is in the books and we're now about to shift gears to spring and then summer and then college football. But before we say goodbye to the college basketball season once and for all, I think we should take a look at this year's Runnin' Utes and whether their performance satisfied.
A year ago, I asked what you would grade Krystkowiak's first season. It was a pretty bad season and certainly made the case for the worst season in Utah basketball history. Yet I gave him an incomplete because it just didn't feel fair to grade something that was the definition of a throwaway year. Utah wasn't building anything in that first season, so, it was pointless to really grade what wasn't a true foundation. Nothing that happened in that first season was indicative of where this program could go under Krystkowiak. It was just filler between the end of the Jim Boylen era and the true beginning of his rebuilding project - which we witnessed this season.
I said last year that I felt he did a good job with the talent he had and I still believe that. The fact Utah managed six wins, with what they had, was a minor miracle. That team was built for a one-win season and they somehow manged to find five extra victories.
This year was different, though. The talent improved and because of that, we expected more than just six wins. When the schedule was released earlier in 2012, most fans openly talked about the possibility of a winning season - or pushing for a respectable postseason berth. It didn't happen. Even though there was improvement, the team still struggled against a handful of bad programs, with two of those games happening at home. It wasn't the difference between the NCAAs and what we got, but it was certainly the difference between being a fringe NIT team and what we eventually saw - a team that couldn't even muster a berth to the CBI.
For the most part, we spent a great deal of the 2012-13 season frustrated. It started out well enough, with a surprise victory over Boise State and a closer than expected loss at BYU down in Provo, but once conference play rolled around, and the inevitable closeness of each game slowly turned into blowouts, we began to question the direction of the program (at least some of us, myself included). There was a stretch, prior to their strong finish, where it looked like Utah might not even win as many conference games as they had won the year before. That was a scary proposition because, even though the conference clearly had improved, the Utes' improvement was much slower than it needed to be for any of us to have hope in the future.
But then Utah turned it on and won some important games at home and then put together a mini-run in the Pac-12 Tournament that gave us some strong signs of life. Unlike the initial success of the season, this felt real because it came against two programs that would make the NCAA Tournament and one, the Oregon Ducks, who would advance all the way to the Sweet Sixteen.
At the end of the season, after they fell in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament to those same Ducks, Utah's record stood at 15-18 - nine more wins than the team I gave an incomplete a year before. That was a pretty solid leap for a program that last won 15 or more games in 2009.
It was that season, Jim Boylen's second, a season where Utah won the Mountain West and made the NCAA Tournament, where I actually last remember being optimistic about this program - at least until now. I am optimistic about the direction Utah basketball is heading and I hope the improvement we saw at the beginning of this year's season, and at the end of this year's season, can come together and create a complete season in 2014.
Right now, though, I feel we could be on the cusp of being good again. Of course, none of us know what the future holds and it's entirely possible, with the loss of talent we've seen since the season ended, things regress a bit next year. But for the time being, we're at least moving, and that's something this program has not been able to do much of since Rick Majerus resigned in 2004 - which, next year, will be ten years.
It has been the worst decade in Utah basketball history. Hopefully we'll now witness a reemergence of sorts. I have faith Krystkowiak can get us there and that is something I couldn't say last year.
Overall, I give him a B for this season. It would've been a B+, but in retrospect, losing, at home, to Sacramento State and Cal State Northridge, drops this grade down a bit. Those two wins might not have meant much in the entire scheme of the season - but then, 17-16 looks a bit better than 15-18. Hopefully next season, we'll finally finish on the good side of .500.
What would you grade Krystkowiak's second season?