San Francisco • The first victory of the 2013 season for the Utah men’s basketball team looks small on paper, but is a significant step in the perception of Larry Krystkowiak’s program.
On Thursday morning, media that covers the Pac-12 tabbed the Utes to finish ninth in the 12-team conference in its annual preseason poll. It represents the highest prognostication for Utah since the team made the jump over from the Mountain West three years ago. In fact, it’s the first time the Utes haven’t been picked to finish dead last.
“It feels good that we’re not being picked to finish dead last in the conference. It shows people are starting to pay attention,” Utah sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge said. “We have athleticism at every position this year, so hopefully that helps us. We try not to worry about where we’re picked because we have to play well regardless. We’re excited to see how it all comes together.”
Arizona — which many think has a shot at making a run to the Final Four this season — was picked to win the league. UCLA, Colorado and Oregon round out the top four.
Oregon State, USC and Washington State are picked to finish below the Utes.
If anything, picking Utah ninth represents a sign that the league is finally starting to play attention to the Utes — a team that won four of its last five a season ago, advanced to the Pac-12 semifinals and beat NCAA Tournament teams Oregon and California along the way.
Utah loses three starters from that team, but a deep and talented recruiting class led by Delon Wright and Princeton Onwas has arrived on campus to provide reinforcements. The Utes also return four sophomores who played extensively as freshmen. Two -—Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor — are projected starters, with Loveridge having the potential to develop into an all-conference candidate. A third, Dakarai Tucker, is fighting for the small forward job with Onwas. Jeremy Olsen also will be a prominent part of Krystkowiak’s frontcourt rotation.
“It’s been a long offseason,” Loveridge said. “It’s almost over. We want to get on the floor and play. We’re tired of beating each other up in practice.”
Will it all add up to more wins? That will be played out over the next five months. But at least on media day, it’s clear that others outside of the program are recognizing the steps taken by Utah over the last two years.
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Pac-12 basketball poll
1. Arizona 273 (21)*
2. UCLA 212 (1)
3. Colorado 211 (1)
4. Oregon 196
5. California 194
6. Stanford 166
7. Arizona State 159
8. Washington 121
9. Utah 68
10. Oregon State 67
11. USC 63
12. Washington State 39
*First-place votes in parenthesis