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For my purposes as a reporter covering the University of Utah, the Larry Krystkowiak Coaches Show usually doesn’t yield much.
Each Monday evening, the Utes head coach sits down with ESPN700’s Bill Riley for an hour. They discuss the previous set of games, the upcoming set of games, hit on a few choice topics and all of it is usually done in a positive, optimistic tone. Riley, to his credit, does not shy away from something negative that may be going on with Krystkowiak’s program, but there is never any bashing. Remember, ESPN700 is the radio home for Utah athletics.
I try to listen live each Monday. If I can’t catch it live, I always circle back later in the evening to see what I missed. This past Monday, I missed it live, but I received a couple of text messages telling me I had to listen. Krystkowiak was critical, they said. He went off, he was over the top, blah, blah, blah.
So, I listened later Monday evening. As I sit here Thursday morning in the Trib’s Sugar House Bureau, aka my living room, I’m still wondering what the big deal was.
My main takeaway from Monday’s Coaches Show was that Krystkowiak had a very noticeable level of frustration in his voice as he talked about deficiencies on his team. That frustration lingered for much of the hour, but, be honest with yourself. If you were Krystkowiak, wouldn’t you be frustrated?
His team went 0-9 in Pac-12 road games, capped by a host of mistakes in the Bay Area, which, if corrected, could have turned into at least a split. Rylan Jones, who has played very hard for him and should be named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team next week, has a concussion and could be done for the year. Both Gach was hurt for a lot of February, which came after he was already slumping. Guys have been maddeningly inconsistent, which leads me to another point.
Krystkowiak mentioned Alfonso Plummer by name in his frustration on Monday. I generally am not OK with a coach at this level hammering a specific player, mostly because they are amateurs, not paid professionals. I’ll make an exception here. Plummer, himself, has said publicly that he has bad practice habits and has even been lazy at times. If he is that self-critical, to me, that means he can take it from his head coach. Some kids can hack it, some can’t, and I’m sure Krystkowiak realizes that.
On Tuesday morning, Krystkowiak met reporters for his normal weekly press conference. You could still hear the frustration in his voice coming off the weekend. He didn’t name any players specifically, but it was clear he is unhappy with how things have gone. At one point, he said something to the effect of he doesn’t have a lot of two-way players right now.
Newsflash, everyone: He doesn’t. You may believe that qualifies as Krystkowiak being critical. I’ll take it as Krystkowiak being truthful and transparent. As a beat writer, I’ll take every day of the week.
More Ute thoughts
• Still a lot of jockeying for Pac-12 Tournament seeding, but Utah can finish anywhere between 8 and 11. I think the 8-9 game against Cal is a good look for the Utes, but I don’t hate a 7-10 matchup against Stanford either. If Utah can finally show up away from the Huntsman Center, it should have at least a reasonable chance to win a first-round game.
• Unless the Utes want to go rip off four straight wins in Las Vegas, this season will end with me believing this team underachieved, even with all of the youth in the lineup. The Pac-12 is not enough of a monster where Utah should be going 0-9 on the road. Getting even one-third of those nine losses would have Utah in the NIT, and the complexion of the season looks completely different at the end.
• If you subscribe to blind hope going to the Pac-12 Tournament, remember, Utah’s crowning achievement this season took place at T-Mobile Arena back on Dec. 18.
• I respectfully request that you all stop asking me who I think is transferring at the end of the season. This will fall on deaf ears, but it had to be said.
• Utah football is underway with spring practice, and while it’s tough to gauge anything this early, the Utes have two guys with big arms vying to start at quarterback, and a bunch of receiving threats to choose from. I’m bullish on the Utes offense.
• Utah’s defense is a different story. Nine starters gone and a bunch of unproven guys to filter through is a bad equation, but it’s spring. This is the time to get that stuff figured out.
• Don’t be shocked if Kyle Whittingham goes to the transfer portal between now and August, specifically for a linebacker. Utah could really use one, with only Devin Lloyd having any real experience among that group.
Q: “Is it fair to assume that Larry gets another year in large part because of the recruiting class he has lined up [plus the prohibitive buyout as you’ve discussed]? How much pressure will there be on him to win next year considering he will have missed the NCAAs 4 years in a row?” — @jderekpayne
A: I think saying he gets another year “in large part” because he and his staff continue to effectively recruit is a bit much, but your point is valid. Yes, the fact Krystkowiak has what is, as of now, the No. 1 recruiting class in the Pac-12 coming in can only help his cause. A top recruiting class is essentially Krystkowiak selling hope, and when you’ve struggled to make the NCAA Tournament as Utah has, selling hope is important to keep a fan base engaged.
In terms of pressure on Krystkowiak to win next season, I think it is important to remember that Utah will still be pretty young. Let’s say no one transfers and everyone returns, Timmy Allen and Both Gach are juniors, and the rest of the core is comprised mostly of sophomores. Still, I think a significant step forward needs to occur. I’m honestly on the fence about whether or not the NCAA Tournament should be a mandate, but on paper, you better at least be getting to the NIT with next year’s team.
Q: “When it comes to this Utes basketball team, which players do you think have the most potential for growth in the off-season?” — Ben White
A: I think Branden Carlson has all the tools to be a force in the Pac-12, especially on the defensive end. He has shown flashes of potential over the last month as a lane clogger and rim protector, specifically with a pair of eight-block games vs. Stanford. Offensively, he has looked increasingly confident, especially as he steps out to about 15-17 feet. Right now, he definitely needs to get stronger.
One other guy who sticks out to me is Matt Van Komen. You can’t teach height, and you definitely can’t teach 7-foot-4. He has played sparingly, so let’s see what a full off-season of skill development and weight training can yield.
Q: “After two straight subpar seasons, does this staff need a shakeup? Should Larry let Tommy Connor or Andy Hill go after this?” — @coreyc04
A: I would be completely floored if either Connor or Hill were let go.
Connor has been with Krystkowiak since he arrived at Utah in 2011. He ascended to associate head coach in 2014, and was at one time widely viewed as a potential successor to Krystkowiak. All of that aside, Connor is highly-respected in recruiting circles, specifically in the state of Utah. Hill was on staff at Montana under Krystkowiak, who then saw fit to bring him to Utah.
With all of that said, I do understand why this would be a question right now after the type of season this has been. Unless someone leaves on their own, or unless athletics director Mark Harlan demands change, no one is going anywhere.
• The Big East Tournament will be contested next week at Madison Square Garden. I obviously won’t be there, and that’s going to make me sad. That event and that building are both institutions, and considered sacred by fans and media alike.
• I am, however, looking forward to my first Pac-12 Tournament, which could prove wild given how unpredictable this season has been. Aside from the Pac-12, I’m also going to hit the WCC final with the Trib’s BYU beat writer, Norma Gonzalez, provided the Cougars are playing in it. I may also make a cameo at the WAC Tournament if time allows.
• Something called CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020, an international trade show for the construction industry, is in Las Vegas next week. Hotel rates went through the roof with that in town, so thanks very much for that. You guys could at least throw me a new excavator or backhoe for my trouble.
• Utah men’s hoops SID John Vu is very adamant that there is a great dimsum place inside The Orleans in Vegas. I’ve been inside The Orleans, so let me be honest. I don’t believe him, not even a little.
• I went to San Francisco last weekend for the first time during the Stanford/Cal trip with the Utes. Nice city, enjoyed my short time there, no way I could live there. The traffic situation would lead to a road-rage incident within my first two weeks. Also, I didn’t even see the Golden Gate Bridge, which was stupid on my part.