Culture, it turns out, does not tower forever once built — it's more like a plant that must be tended and nurtured to grow. And a few weeks out from a season Krystkowiak called "average," the Utes felt like that culture wasn't nurtured enough.
In Krystkowiak's view, the lack of culture contributed to swings late in the season, when Utah proved capable of pounding some Pac-12 competition, but was the only league team to lose to Oregon State. It helped explain why Utah could beat Cal by 30 points at home, then lose to the same team seven days later in the Pac-12 tournament. It helped explain why it was difficult to win close games — the Utes finished 7-9 in games decided by single digits, and 4-8 in games decided by six points or fewer.
It also gives context to why Devon Daniels and JoJo Zamora are on their way out after one season apiece. In particular, Daniels set an early tone as the future of the program, stepping straight into the starting lineup and exciting fans with his precocious athleticism. But Daniels ran afoul of the coaching staff along the way — an issue neither Daniels nor Krystkowiak wanted to discuss in detail — and was suspended for three games late in the season. Utah decided it would be better to make a break with the promising wing after the season ended.
"I made the determination, based on behavior and consistency and the way things weren't being accomplished and done, that there's probably going to be programs that make better sense for these guys," Krystkowiak said. "You gotta remember things, gotta be accountable for things and there's certain standards for how you treat people. It was a decision that I made."
Like the schedule itself, Utah statistically saw dramatic highs and lows. On one hand, they were pleased to have finished with the third-highest field goal percentage (50.4 percent) in the country, and they were among the Pac-12's best rebounding teams. But turnovers (13.5 per game, No. 227 nationally) were a huge problem, Krystkowiak admitted, and likely a function of an offense that was a little too complex for a young team. With only one point guard returning in Sedrick Barefield, Utah may streamline its offense to make it simpler next seson.
Defense was also an issue: It became clear late in the season that Utah didn't have the type of defensive stopper it had enjoyed in past years on the perimeter, or a shot-blocking presence in the paint. Five times in Utah's last eight games, at least one opposing player scored 25 points or more, culminating in the NIT first-round loss with Boise State's Chandler Hutchinson scoring 34 points.
While Krystkowiak thinks some players in the program could develop into either a stopper or a shot-blocker going forward, it will have to be more of a team focus.
"We'll coach that, we'll build that and we'll do it collectively if we don't have a stopper," Krystkowiak said. "Two of the things that kicked our butt was attention to detail in the game plan, and guys not remembering the details. And then for some reason we'd gamble a lot, sometimes get beat at the point of attack, and you'd let a guy drive where he wasn't supposed to drive."
Krystkowiak said he's not anticipating additional transfers. The Utes have been going through spring conditioning, and he said there has been "great spirit" in the sessions. But that doesn't mean there isn't roster uncertainty — while Utah is expecting Donnie Tillman, a touted wing prospect from Las Vegas, to bolster its rotation, the team is actively recruiting guards who can step in and contribute immediately. Barefield, Parker Van Dyke and Gabe Bealer bring back the most experience at those positions, but after that, Utah is frightfully thin.
There's also the question of Kyle Kuzma, who has declared for the upcoming NBA draft but has not hired an agent. Krystkowiak said he will support Kuzma going pro "if it makes sense," but noted there's a deep pool of talent in the draft. Kuzma would likely step in at wing if he returned, which would help Utah's backcourt depth.
Overseeing nine scholarship transfers in the past two seasons, Krystkowiak said the numbers don't give enough nuance — injuries and players seeking more playing time have sent more looking outward. But he admits, as he seeks to re-establish the culture he initially built, he is looking at the recruiting process with a different focus.
"Some of it is definitely going to be on us to find more about guys and try to predict the guys that are in," he said. "I can tell you right now all the guys that we are recruiting are in."