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(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Coach Larry Krystkowiak’s Utah Utes are 6-24 in his first season with the team.
Kragthorpe: Utes’ Krystkowiak rises above expectations
College basketball » Utes will finish at least .500 in Pac-12 play in coach’s third season at U.
First Published Mar 07 2014 10:40 am • Last Updated Mar 08 2014 08:29 pm

It stemmed mostly from feeling burned after having enthusiastically greeted the arrivals of former coaches Ray Giacoletti and Jim Boylen. The result was I gave Larry Krystkowiak only a lukewarm welcome upon his hiring as the University of Utah’s basketball coach in 2011, figuring that his background in the Big Sky Conference and the NBA made him basically a composite character of the previous two coaches, who failed.

Krystkowiak clearly has risen above that level of endorsement. Assured of at least a .500 record in Pac-12 play in his third season, he has rebuilt the program sooner than just about anyone could have expected, with a couple of disclaimers: The conference’s level of basketball is such that becoming respectable is much easier than in football, for example. And in basketball, one or two players can make a big impact, so a quicker recovery is more reasonable.

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Just the same, you could have made a lot of money in the spring of 2011 by betting that Krystkowiak would go .500 in a Pac-12 season sooner than Kyle Whittingham.

And if the Utes beat Stanford on Saturday to finish 10-8 in the conference, Krystkowiak will be 18-36 in three Pac-12 seasons — the same percentage (.333) as Whittingham’s 9-18 record.

That’s amazing, even factoring in Whittingham’s higher degree of difficulty, amid quarterbacking injuries and tough competition.

Both teams could have won more conference games in 2013-14, with a series of tough losses and missed opportunities. Yet Krystkowiak’s Utes potentially can tie for third place with another victory, and that would be a remarkable achievement. Arizona’s Sean Miller is the likely Pac-12 Coach of the Year, but Krystkowiak and Colorado’s Tad Boyle are in strong contention.

And the Utes will have as good of a chance as any team — even Arizona, their possible quarterfinal opponent — of winning the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas next week.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt




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