Forget for a second that none of the Utah basketball players were highly rated recruits and that they have struggled to make baskets and that they have the worst record seven games into this season of any team in program history.
According to players and first-year coach Larry Krystkowiak, the problems are fundamental. The things that the Utes should be able to control are the very things that have cost them opportunities to be competitive: effort, conditioning and defense.
Krystkowiak took issue after practice yesterday with his team's urgency and work ethic, saying, "We just need more fighters."
The list of candidates got shorter by one yesterday when Krystkowiak suspended starting point guard Josh "Jiggy" Watkins, who had a host of issues with Krystkowiak in the early season. Showing up late to yesterday's practice was the final straw.
While Watkins, who is suspended indefinitely, was far from the Utes defender or most committed grinder, he was the Utes' best offensive weapon. A big question now is who they will turn to when they fall into a hole.
"Successful teams have a lot of players that play really hard on ever possession," Krystkowiak said. "We've got issues as coaches we have to improve upon, players have to improve upon. But our guys sometimes get into this coast mode and it's not going to work at the D-1 level and it's not going to work at the Pac-12 level. So, we find ourselves trying to coach effort more than you'd like to."
It's a problem the players are aware of. Junior guard Chris Hines, who is the Utes best scoring guard without Watkins, said, "When we get punched it in the mouth we have to fight, and we haven't been doing that."
Junior Dijon Farr was more blunt: "Some people just quit. We got players on our team that quit when they get 10 points ahead. We still got a chance to come back, but people just quit on defense."
• The Utes haven't played a top 25 team this season - at least not when the team was actively in the top 25. But 8-0 Harvard made a splash Monday when it debuted at No. 25 in the AP poll, its first national ranking in school history.
The Utes lost 75-47 to the Crimson on Thanksgiving at the Battle 4 Atlantis in Paradise Island, Bahamas, a tournament Harvard eventually won.
— Bill Oram