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From Six wins to the Sweet 16: Are the Runnin' Utes Back?

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After 3,654 days, on Friday, March 27th, the Runnin' Utes will make their return to the Sweet-16, their first trip to that round since March 25th, 2005. But does this mean Utah is back?

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Finally, after 3,654 days, on Friday, March 27th, the Runnin' Utes will make their return to the Sweet-16, their first trip to that round since March 25th, 2005. The last time Utah was in the Sweet-16, Andrew Bogut was National Player of the Year, and the Utes were eliminated by (who else?) Kentucky.

Since that day, outside of one solid year in 2009 when Utah lost in the 1st round of the tournament, Utah has vanished from the college basketball landscape, and was arguably the worst Power-5 conference team in 2011-2012 when they only won 6 games. During that awful season, it wasn't uncommon for the Utes to lose by 20, or sometimes, even 40-plus points. Essentially, new head coach Larry Krystkowiak had tore the Utah roster down to bare bones and started to rebuild from the ground up, not unlike gutting a house full of rot, that penetrates all the way to the foundation.

Now, here we are almost 3,654 days (and two fired coaches) since Utah was in the Sweet-16, and the question that a lot of people ask, and some may assume is, are the Utes back? What is "back," exactly?

Well, let's take a look at history to see if the Runnin' Utes are back:

  • Utah has won the NAU, NIT, and NCAA national titles.
  • Utah has competed in four Final Fours (1944, 1961, 1966, 1998)
  • Utah rated an all-time Top 15 program in terms of total wins
  • Utah has competed is six Elite Eights (1944, 1956, 1961, 1966, 1997, 1998)
  • Utah has competed in 16 Sweet Sixteens
  • Utah has been invited to the NCAA Tournament 28 times
  • Utah has won 29 conference championships

From 1991-2005, the Utes made the NCAA Tournament 12 out of 15 years. Utah won at least one game in the tournament 10 of those trips, and they made the Sweet-16 five of those times. Utah wasn't just an NCAA Tournament contender year in-and-out, but they were a national title contender for about a five years or so. So, for the Utes to be 'back,' they need to expect to win games in the NCAA Tournament every year and should be a staple in the Sweet-16. By that measurement, no, Utah isn't back.

As noted above, the Runnin' Utes have won 29 conference championships, but zero since joining the Pac-12. While the Utes competed into the final week for the Pac-12 title, Utah needs to start beating Arizona in Pac-12 play, pick up some conference championships, and then continue to win games in March. By that measurement, still a no.

With that said, however, the Utes are well on their way to being "back." With the Utes competing for the conference title up until the final couple of weeks, by making this year's Sweet-16, and with the talent that Coach Krystkowiak has and continues to bring in, the future of Utah basketball is bright.