The Craig Smith era of Utah basketball is off and running, with the Utes taking a 70-56 win over Abilene Christian on Tuesday night. The Utes were led by David Jenkins Jr's 15 points on 4 of 9 shooting from three-point land. He also pitched in six rebounds. Branden Carlson pitched in 14 points and nine rebounds, Rollie Worster had 12 points and six assists, Dusan Mahorcic had 11 points and eight rebounds, Marco Anthony had 10 points, and nine rebounds, and Riley Batting had eight points and 10 rebounds.
There's a lot to like after the opener, and we learned more about what this Craig Smith-led Utah team will look like going forward. First, on offense, I liked the style of play that Utah was playing. The shooting wasn't great, with 38% on the game and 30% from three, but I liked the ball movement and the pace of the offense. The Utes ran what looked like a modern college system offense after a very NBA-heavy system with Larry K over the last 10 seasons. The question that we will have to watch as the season begins is how the offense evolves and who are the go-to guys. It looks like Jenkins will provide the shooting from the perimeter and Carlson will attack inside and pop out when needed, and they are two of those dudes, but who will we see fall in behind them? I'm very intrigued by Anthony and his ability to get in the paint and make plays. I liked some of the post moves that Carlson threw out there too, and I can’t wait to see how much of a bigger threat he is this season. I'm excited to see this team develop on offense. They did have 20 turnovers on the night, and that is ACU's game. They want to speed you up and turn you over, and they did that with the Utes. That is something to watch over the coming games to see how they handle the pressure.
On defense, the Utes did a nice job, overall. They held ACU to 38% shooting from the field and 19% from three. They did a good job closing out on shooters and rotating when needed. They did miss some assignments in the first half, and Smith got on the guys, but they did a nice job managing the speed of ACU and limiting their shots. Utah outrebounded ACU 55-29, which is a must when you're much bigger than the opponent.
Overall, ACU was a good test to open the season since they've been to the NCAA tournament for multiple seasons in a row now and are returning 10 guys from last year's team.
Next up for the Utes is Sacramento State on Saturday at the Huntsman Center at 7:30.
Overall, it was a promising start for the Utes and Craig Smith, and I can't see how this team develops.