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It’s unclear if there’s a front-runner for the Utah basketball job, but there are candidates that make sense

Larry Krystkowiak was fired on March 16 after 10 season with the Utes. Utah AD Mark Harlan is running the search.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz assistant coach Johnnie Bryant talks with Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) during the game at Vivint Smart Home Arena Friday, January 19, 2018.

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As the NCAA Tournament finishes up the round of 32 and moves toward the Sweet 16 this weekend, the University of Utah job is open after Larry Krystkowiak was fired last week.

The search should start to get cranked up this week, so ahead of that, here are some names to keep an eye on. To be clear, this is not a proverbial “short list,” but rather names that would make some sense for the job.

Johnnie Bryant, New York Knicks associate head coach

A former University of Utah standout over the final two seasons of Ray Giacoletti’s tenure, Bryant spent two seasons as a player development assistant with the Jazz, plus another six as an assistant coach under Quin Snyder. Bryant, 35, is currently Tom Thibodeau’s associate head coach with the New York Knicks. He knows the landscape and understands the expectations in Salt Lake City, but his lack of head coaching experience of any kind is reason for pause.

Alex Jensen, Utah Jazz assistant coach

Since Krystkowiak was fired on March 16, much of the buzz has centered around Jensen, a Jazz assistant since 2013, not to mention a former Utes standout in the late 1990s, during the heyday of the Rick Majerus era. His history with the program alone means Utah fans would welcome him with open arms, but it remains to be seen if the Centerville native actually wants the job. Jensen has interviewed for NBA head coaching positions in the past, and if he believes he is still a future NBA head coach, he may opt to stay at that level. If Jensen comes back to Utah, the dynamics of college hoops across the state may undergo a radical shift.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Assistant coach Alex Jensen watches during Game 1 of the Western Conference at the Staples Center Saturday, April 15, 2017.

Porter Moser, Loyola-Chicago head coach

Three seasons removed from taking the Ramblers to the Final Four in 2018, Moser has been a talked-about figure for any number of open jobs in the offseasons since. That new-job talk is picking up steam again with Loyola-Chicago back in the Sweet 16. Like Jensen, Moser is another Majerus disciple, having coached at Saint Louis under him from 2007-11. A few things to consider here. Moser famously turned down an eight-year, $18 million offer from St. John’s in 2019, so what would it take for Utah, or anyone else, to pry him out of his current spot? To that end, if Moser is willing to listen to suitors, Utah would likely have company from at least Indiana and Marquette, both of which have openings. So far in this coaching carousel cycle, the Hoosiers have the highest-profile opening. One program with an opening where there may be legitimate mutual interest to speak: DePaul.

(Tony Gutierrez | AP) Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser gestures to his team during the second half of a second-round game against Tennessee at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Dallas, Saturday, March 17, 2018.

Mark Pope, BYU head coach

Take a breath. Utah decision-makers wouldn’t be doing their job in the middle of a coaching search if they didn’t at least kick the tires on Pope, who is 44-15 in two seasons in Provo and 121-71 in six seasons as a head coach. Pope is under contract until 2026-27 and he has said publicly on more than one occasion that he likes BYU and is happy where he is, but here’s one factor to consider. Which conference is more conducive to Pope winning a league title right now, the WCC or the Pac-12? Like Jensen, Pope coming to Utah would radically alter college basketball in the state.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Mark Pope reacts to play in the second half. Brigham Young University defeated Oral Roberts, 79-73, Dec. 28, 2019 at the Marriott Center in Provo.

Craig Smith, Utah State head coach

Smith’s 74-24 record in three seasons in Logan includes a share of a Mountain West regular-season title in 2019, two MWC Tournament crowns, and what would have been three NCAA Tournament berths had the COVID-19 pandemic not canceled last season’s Big Dance. Smith is under contract until 2025-26, but the buyout figure is only $1.063 million currently.

(Isaac Brekken | AP) Utah State head coach Craig Smith instructs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against UNLV in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference men's tournament Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Las Vegas.

Russell Turner, UC Irvine head coach

In 11 seasons in the Big West, Turner has won 61% of his games, four outright league titles, a share of a fifth, and has been to two NCAA Tournaments. Turner would be a slightly off-the-beaten-path hire for Utah, but this would be the type of forward-thinking hire that could make a lot of people look smart down the road. For what it’s worth, Turner went to UC Irvine after six seasons as a Golden State Warriors assistant.

(Alex Gallardo | AP) UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner celebrates with the trophy after his team defeated Cal State Fullerton 94-64 in an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men's tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019.

Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette head coach

Before you merely write this off, go look at Brian Gregory’s five-year run at Georgia Tech before then-South Florida athletic director Mark Harlan hired him in 2017. Things had not been trending well for Wojciechowski, but his firing on Friday with three seasons left on his contract felt like a bit of a surprise. In his eight seasons, “Wojo” won 57% of his games, but went to only two NCAA Tournaments without a win in either. Either way, here’s something to chew on: Wojciechowski’s wife is from Salt Lake City. The banner photo on her public Facebook page is of Monument Valley. Her family’s business, Alder Construction, is based in Salt Lake City. Don’t discount family/personal factors when considering where this job search goes.

(Stew Milne | AP) Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski yells instructions during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Providence Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Providence, R.I.

Joe Pasternack, UC Santa Barbara head coach

The 43-year-old is 88-33 in four seasons with the Gauchos, who went 22-4, won the Big West regular-season title outright, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Pasternack was on Arizona’s staff under Sean Miller for six seasons, the final four from 2013-17 as Miller’s associate head coach. Should this search reach Pasternack, there will likely be questions regarding his role in the FBI’s probe into college basketball. Pasternack was alluded to in federal complaints, but was never arrested or charged.

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