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Red All Over: Embrace this Utah hoops core, because something significant could be coming down the road

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah players on the bench celebrate a double digit lead in the final minutes as the University of Utah hosts Oregon State, NCAA men's basketball in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020.

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Frustration with this University of Utah basketball season has been palpable. Believe me, I understand it, I have the emails and Twitter mentions to prove it.

The youth, the inconsistencies, the injuries, the losing on the road, and yes, frustration with Larry Krystkowiak. We’ve been through that one at length already, that is not what I’m here for.

What I am here for today is to make clear that, while I do believe this team has underachieved to an extent, I also remain very bullish on what the future can be. Remember, the Utes are the third-youngest team in the country. Its starting lineup Wednesday at the Pac-12 Tournament included two sophomores and two freshmen. If Rylan Jones were healthy, it may have been three freshman starters.

This group, if it stays intact, which is far from a certainty given the transfer climate, both within the program and across the country, could do something significant down the line.

“I feel like we can do something special,” sophomore guard Both Gach said. “Our coach keeps saying we've got a young team. If we stay the course, continue to get better, I just feel like we can make something happen in the long run.”

Fans have been frustrated with the now, but I have also seen a lot of optimism about the future from people, and with good reason. We have seen Gach’s very best, sophomore wing Timmy Allen has been an anchor, freshman center Branden Carlson has grown exponentially and has the tools to be a legit Pac-12 big man on both ends of the floor.

Take those three guys, plus Jones when healthy, plus freshman forward Mikael Jantunen, plus a top-end recruiting class with Ian Martinez, Caleb Lohner and Pelle Larsson, and there is no reason not to be optimistic.

“This group is connected,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s as positive of a culture that we’ve had at Utah, and we’ve got a number of young kids. We’ve been talking about it all year. It’s been a little bit of the storyline. I don’t think anybody wanted to talk about our youth, but the reality is when you look at the [Oregon State] team that we just played, and you’ve got a couple of seniors in [Kylor] Kelley and [Tres] Tinkle and Ethan [Thompson], but that’s a lot of reps.”

I would have liked to see what this group could do with an NIT bid, which means more practice and at least one more game, but as I sit in this Las Vegas hotel room on Thursday morning, I assume the NIT and the NCAA Tournament will get axed at some point before the day is out.

Onward to the offseason, I suppose.

Wednesday was an unprecedented day

My thoughts right now are with Trib colleague Andy Larsen, The Athletic’s Tony Jones and Sarah Todd of the Deseret News. All three are in Oklahoma City after being tested for COVIDA-19 in the wake of Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive before the Jazz played the Thunder. All three were negative, thankfully.

That entire situation is the capper to the craziest day I can remember in 15.5 years as a professional journalist. From conference tournaments across the country moving forward with no fans starting Thursday, to the NCAA Tournament set to be played next week with no fans, to the NBA’s indefinite suspension in the wake of Gobert’s positive test, to Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg coaching sick at the Big Ten Tournament, Wednesday is unmatched in terms of day-long craziness and general lunacy.

Things are seemingly going to get worse. With the NBA taking the lead by suspending play, it feels like a matter of time before the NCAA Tournament follows suit and cancels. That will be an unpopular decision for many reasons, but it needs to be done at this point.

Next questions: Should the NCAA simply suspend all spring sports and give everyone a blanket waiver to save the year of eligibility? Sort of on topic, is Utah going to continue spring football? The school is going to online classes starting next week when spring break ends. If kids aren’t on campus, how is the football team going to practice?

Your questions

Q: “Why didn’t Larry use his last timeout after the 3 was hit and 1.8 was on the clock? Time likely would have been added.” — @801FuNK801

A: In real time, I thought Jarod Lucas’ shot went in with 2.5 or 2.6 seconds to go, so yes, in that instance, after Jaron Lucas hit that corner triple for the lead, time likely would have been added. Why Krystkowiak did not use that timeout, I can’t be certain, but I’ll toss out two guesses.

One, there was a lot of chaos after Lucas banged that shot, and in the chaos, calling the timeout went by the wayside. If that is the case, that’s a bad job by Krystkowiak and that’s on him. Two, I think there is something to be said for getting the ball and going in situations like that. Less time to overthink a drawn-up play out of a timeout, just go with your instincts. Personally, I would have called timeout, but I’m not paid to do those things.

Q: “Why am I so angry that OSU didn’t cover?” — @MCanaday9

A: You’re angry because you lost money, duh. Seriously though, how angry can you legitimately be about that? Oregon State closed giving either 3 or 3.5 points, depending when and where you got in. For the record, I’ve been staying at South Point, and that board had the Beavers giving 3.5 on Wednesday morning.

Lucas hit that 3-pointer for a two-point win. That’s not a bad beat, you did not get backdoored. Take that loss and keep it moving.

Random musings

• A lot of Utah fans told me this week they don’t like T-Mobile Arena as the Pac-12 Tournament venue, and now I see why. The vibe in there is loud, too bright and obnoxious. I speak for myself when I say, give me the basketball and skip the extracurricular stuff.

• As I walked through the South Point Casino on Wednesday morning. I watched a guy playing $5 blackjack against just the dealer. This guy hit on 17 with the dealer showing a 5. I wanted to choke this guy, but a nice consolation prize was him losing that hand and the two that followed.

• Three-card poker and single-deck blackjack are for tourists. If you need me to explain why, then you, my friend, are the tourist.

• Alfonso Plummer’s 35-point barrage Wednesday is one of the two or three craziest individual performances I’ve covered live. I’ve certainly never seen 11 3-pointers. Unreal performance, unreal run for Plummer over the last four or five games.

• Colorado going in the tank late in the season, including getting absolutely stomped by Washington State on Wednesday night at the Pac-12 Tournament, is one of the weirder things within a weird, although resurgent season for the Pac-12.

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