The University of Utah's men's basketball program has a rich history of success. Since Vadal Peterson was hired as Utah's head basketball coach way back in 1927, Utah has been one of the most successful college basketball programs in the country, ranking 15th in number of division I wins all time. The program has finished in the top-25 20 times and appeared in the the NCAA tournament 28 times, including a national championship in 1944.
The program has suffered a few down times as well, notably the past 10 years between 2005 and this past year's team in 2014-15. In that 10 year stretch, the program experienced six losing seasons including the historically bad 2011-12 season, which to date, is the worst season Utah basketball has ever had. The inaugural 1908 Utah basketball team had fewer wins with only three, but only played an 11-game schedule. The recent struggles make the success of this past year's team all the more sweet. Utah basketball has returned to the level fans are accustomed to and the program has a buzz surrounding it once again. Looking back at the history of Utah basketball, where does the 2014-15 team rank in the pantheon of great Utah basketball teams?
A brief look back at past Utah teams shows seventeen Ute teams have reached at least the sweet 16. Here is a quick look at those teams.
|Year||Coach||Conference Record||Overall Record||Postseason|
|1943-44||Vadal Peterson||N/A||22-4||NCAA Champions|
|1954-55||Jack Gardner||13-1||24-4||Sweet 16|
|1955-56||Jack Gardner||12-2||22-6||Elite Eight|
|1958-59||Jack Gardner||13-1||21-7||Sweet 16|
|1959-60||Jack Gardner||13-1||26-3||Sweet 16|
|1960-61||Jack Gardner||12-2||23-8||Final Four|
|1965-66||Jack Gardner||7-3||23-8||Final Four|
|1976-77||Jerry Pimm||11-3||22-7||Sweet 16|
|1977-78||Jerry Pimm||12-2||23-6||Sweet 16|
|1980-81||Jerry Pimm||13-3||25-5||Sweet 16|
|1982-83||Jerry Pimm||11-5||18-14||Sweet 16|
|1990-91||Rick Majerus||15-1||30-4||Sweet 16|
|1995-96||Rick Majerus||15-3||27-7||Sweet 16|
|1997-98||Rick Majerus||12-2||30-4||NCAA Runner up|
|2005-05||Ray Giacoletti||13-1||29-6||Sweet 16|
|2014-15||Larry Krystkowiak||13-5||26-9||Sweet 16|
It is important to note that prior to 1985, the tournament had fewer teams and thus fewer rounds than the modern tournament, making reaching the round of 16 less difficult. This is not to discount the fantastic teams of the Jerry Pimm era, but since those teams needed to win only a single game to reach the round of 16, the 2014-15 team ranks above any of the teams that advanced only to the Sweet 16 prior to tournament expansion. (Note the '82-'83 team did have to win two games to reach the sweet 16, but since they were a 10 seed they do not beat out the 2014-15 team.)
Comparing the 2014-15 team to the Elite Eight and Final Four teams of the Jack Gardner era and the national championship team of 1944 is a little more difficult. These teams played in completely different eras, in different conferences and with different rules. The basketball that was being played in 1944 involved a lot of two-handed set shots, chest passes and hook shots. The jump shot was still in it's infancy, there was no three-point line, and players did not dribble the ball anywhere close to as much or as efficiently as players do today. It is not a stretch to say that if the 2014-15 team lined up against the any of those teams, they would win going away.
That being said, those teams were some of the best of their era. While I do not think those teams would win a head-to-head matchup with today's team, they reached the pinnacle of the sport for their time. Though it's not a fair comparison, the 1944 championship gets the nod ahead of the 2014-15 team in the all time rankings.
Moving into the modern era, the comparison becomes a little more straight forward. As mentioned earlier, the tournament expanded in 1985 to 64 teams. It has since expanded to 68 teams, but other than four play-in games, the format is basically the same as it was in 1985. Reaching the Sweet 16 in the late-80s still held the same cache it does today. In addition, style of play and game rules have changed to a lesser extent since the tournament has expanded.
Here is a comparison of the modern day Utah teams that have advanced to the Sweet 16 or beyond.
|1990-91||Rick Majerus||30-4||73||65.1||Sweet 16|
|1995-96||Rick Majerus||27-7||76||63.9||Sweet 16|
|1996-97||Rick Majerus||29-4||74.2||62||Elite Eight|
|1997-98||Rick Majerus||30-4||70||57.6||National Runner Up|
|2004-05||Ray Giacoletti||29-6||68||57.3||Sweet 16|
|2014-15||Larry Krystkowiak||26-9||71.3||57.1||Sweet 16|
Majerus's Elite Eight and title game squads get the nod as the two best teams of the modern era. They have the best combination of win/loss record and points scored/points allowed, not to mention they made it the farthest in the tournament. In addition, they were anchored by some of the greatest Utah basketball players in history such as Keith Van Horn, Michael Doleac, Andre Miller, Hanno Mottola, etc. Their success and star power pushes them to the top.
The third spot is a tough call between the remianing four Sweet 16 teams. The 2014-15 team had the fewest wins, but the best points scored/points allowed differential at +14.2. They also played in the tougher Pac-12 conference as opposed to the WAC or Mountain West. The Andrew Bogut led team of '04-05 was a good defensive team and showed well in the tournament, but the '14-15 Utes were slightly better defensively and played a closer Sweet 16 game against the eventual national champions in Duke. The '14-'15 team also had an average margin of victory of 21.8 points per game, something none of the other teams came close to. For these reasons, the '14-15 team receives a slight edge.
A quality strength of schedule, a good points scored/points allowed ratio, combined with the star power of Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl, and a good tournament showing against the eventual national champions put the 2014-15 team solidly into the top 10 teams in Utah history and top 5 of the modern era.