Utah men's basketball will hold Night with the Runnin' Utes, a season-opening showcase, this Tuesday evening at the Huntsman Center. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. with the event starting at 7 p.m. Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak has seen improvement in each of his three previous seasons, from 6-25 in his first season (including 0-13 on the road), to 15-18 his second season (11-7 at home), to 21-12 (9-9 in the Pac-12) last year with an NIT bid. This year, it's the NCAA or bust for Krystkowiak's Utes, as fan and national media expectations are high for the loaded Utes.
Utah loses only one starter from last year's 21-win team and return their top six scorers. The 2014-2015 squad boasts All-Pac-12 standout Delon Wright, as well as Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor, Dakarai Tucker, Dallin Bachynski, Jeremy Olsen, Kenneth Ogbe, and Austin Eastman. The Utes also add Kyle Kuzma, Brekkott Chapman, Isaiah Wright, Chris Reyes, Jakob Poeltl, Jake Connor and Eris Winder.
Wright is both the point guard, as well as the clear leader of the team. The senior led the 2013-2014 Utes in scoring (15.5 points per game), steals (82), assists (174), blocks (43), and was second in rebounding (6.8). He shot 56% from the field, but his great weakness was shooting from beyond the three-point arc, where Wright made just 22.2% of his attempts. But in addition to getting his degree, Wright also made sure he worked on his long-range jumper. If he is even 50% improved over last season, teams won't be able to play the versatile point guard only to drive, which will loosen up the lane for post players like Dallin Bachynski, Jeremy Olsen, and newcomers like Chris Reyes, Kyle Kuzma, Brekkot Chapman, and Jakob Poeltl.
In addition to Wright, the guard line looks solid with returners Brandon Taylor, Dakarai Tucker and Kenneth Ogbe. Add to them talented freshmen like Isaiah Wright, a 6-2, 177-pounder, and Eris Winder, a 6-1, 168-pounder out of Las Vegas, NV. Isaiah Wright was named the Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year. Both point guards will add depth to the roster, as well as allow Krystkowiak to train Delon Wright's replacement for the coming seasons. This may also be the year to keep an eye on 6-6 guard Ogbe, who was a highly coveted international recruit out of Germany and may get more playing time this season to really showcase what he can do for this ball club.
Since his arrival at Utah, coach Krystkowiak has preached getting longer and more athletic. He's accomplished both this season with new big men that include the long 6-9 Kuzma, the bruising 6-7 JC transfer Reyes, the multi-talented 6-8 Chapman (ranked No. 12 overall by ESPN for the class of 2014), and the skilled Austrian 7-footer Poeltl (who some say may be closer to 7-2). Add those to a front line that already features Bachynski, Olsen, and Jordan Loveridge, and you have both versatility and depth. Even scarier, Kuzma, Chapman, and Loveridge are all good three-point shooters that can pull bigs away from the basket and either pull up, pass low to Bach or Olsen, or drive by them utilizing their quickness.
More even than the players, Utes fans will get a first look at Utah's new offense, which has been described as a passing offense, as opposed to their previous motion offense.
The Utes begin the season just outside the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll rankings at roughly No. 30 (26 votes), but Krystkowiak's bunch will have plenty of chances to raise in the rankings, with three preseason games against ranked foes Kansas, Wichita State, and San Diego State, not to mention two shots at No. 2-ranked Arizona during the conference slate.
Upon entry into the Jon M. Huntsman Center, all season-ticket holders are welcome to visit the Huntsman Lounge where they can redeem their vouchers for a gift. If you will not be attending this game, you can still redeem your voucher at the season opener, Nov. 14, vs. Ball State. The game itself will feature two, 16-minute halves and afterwards, there will be an autograph session with all members of the team.