We have arrived at November, that wonderful month of the year where college basketball and football intersect, and things start to get busier for your friendly, neighborhood beat writer.
Of course, there is intrigue at the University of Utah as the two sports cross paths, the football team standing as the Pac-12 South favorite and the basketball team opening the Craig Smith era on Nov. 9 vs. Abilene Christian.
There is a lot going on, so let’s open up the mailbag and see what you fine folks are curious about.
As always if you have a question for the Utah Utes mailbag, you can fire off a tweet to @Joshua_Newman, slide into my DMs, email me at email@example.com, or even leave a comment at the bottom of this story.
Q: “Who do I have to pay to get Both Gach eligible this year?” — @Mrurson
A: You can try bribing the NCAA to get Gach eligible, but that is one organization that certainly does not need a handout.
For those unaware, Both Gach, who transferred back to Utah in June after spending last season at the University of Minnesota, needs an eligibility waiver from the NCAA to be able to play this season. As a two-time transfer who has yet to finish undergraduate requirements, Gach does not fall under the NCAA’s new one-time transfer legislation, which allows immediate eligibility to those transferring between four-year schools for the first time.
Below is from the NCAA’s guidelines on two-time transfers.
“In order to compete immediately after a second transfer, a student must meet either the current education-impacting disability guideline or an updated guideline that addresses a real and imminent health and safety threat.
The disability guideline requires the transferring student to provide documentation showing that the student-athlete needs support services and/or treatment that was unavailable or inadequate at the previous school but available at the school to which they are transferring.
The health and safety guideline requires schools to provide timely, objective documentation demonstrating that the transfer was due to unique, extenuating and extraordinary circumstances outside the student’s control and caused by an imminent threat to the student’s health or safety.”
I expect Gach to get this waiver, but the NCAA also tends to sometimes be fickle with these things, so both positive and negative outcomes remain on the table as the season opener looms.
Frankly, given what has gone on since March 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, I don’t think the NCAA should be denying any waiver requests at all, but that is a much longer story for a different day.
When will the NCAA rule on Gach’s case? Nobody knows, and that includes the Utah coaching staff. To me, the timeline doesn’t become a real factor unless the NCAA goes beyond Nov. 9 to make a decision. Gach is with the team and has been practicing throughout the summer and fall as the Utes await a decision.
Q: “I feel like Lahat is poised for a year. Is Lahat poised for a year?” — @Tim_Populi
A: Tim is on the ball, because this has crossed my mind a few times as college basketball season approaches.
Let’s not go so far as to say Lahat Thioune is going to have a year just yet, but I do think Craig Smith is going to give the 6-foot-10 fourth-year sophomore a longer look than Larry Krystkowiak ever gave him.
This Utah team does not have a ton of size, so for that reason alone, Thioune becomes an option. It’s Branden Carlson, Dusan Mahorcic, Thioune, and that’s really it. Maybe there is a scenario where Smith is going super-small with Riley Battin down there, but that’s more a hypothetical than anything else.
In limited minutes across two seasons and 45 games, Thioune hasn’t shown a ton, but he can finish around the rim and he appears willing to be physical, which is an important factor because with a lack of size, Utah needs all the physicality it can get.
What Thioune looks like Thursday when Utah hosts Division II Westminster for an exhibition is one of many things I’ll be paying attention to.
Q: “Care to speculate how many Pac-12 football jobs will open in December? USC, Washington State, UCLA, Arizona State, and possibly one or two more.” — @OuterDarknezz
A: We know USC and Washington State are open. You assume UCLA and Arizona State will be open, but those aren’t locks.
The Bruins look good to finish the regular season at 8-4, and Chip Kelly’s buyout is $9 million, which, in fairness, is not prohibitive, but his five-year contract ends next season. That means UCLA is going to have to do something this offseason. Either extend Kelly, pay the buyout, or find a booster or boosters to pay the buyout.
The Sun Devils are facing NCAA sanctions as the result of a recruiting scandal, and otherwise, Herm Edwards isn’t inspiring much confidence these days after back-to-back losses to Utah and Washington State. Edwards has an eight-figure buyout, but if the NCAA hammers Arizona State, can/will it fire him for cause?
I don’t think Washington should fire Jimmy Lake, who is 11 months removed from winning the Pac-12 North in the middle of a pandemic. Stanford’s David Shaw isn’t going anywhere, but is 11-15 since the beginning of 2019. Cal is probably going to give Justin Wilcox some more time, same with Colorado and Karl Dorrell.
Here’s a question: Is Oregon going to be open, not because Mario Cristobal gets fired, but because he takes a different job?
Q: “How likely is it that the basketball team will have a winning record this season?” — @CalvinShiny
A: I need the season to start so people can stop asking me this.
Yes, I think the basketball team will have a winning record this winter.
The non-conference schedule has what I would consider five locks on it. Beyond that, I think the Sunshine Slam, which will see the Utes face Boston College, then either Rhode Island or Tulsa, is a legitimate opportunity for two wins, but that is no gimme. A good BYU team is a tough ask. A trip to Missouri is less tough, but still tough. Playing TCU on a pseudo-neutral floor in Fort Worth at Dickies Arena feels gettable, but that is also no gimme.
Conservatively, what do we want to call that? 6-4? 7-3? For the purposes of this exercise, let’s say 6-4. At 6-4, Utah would need to go 10-10 vs. the Pac-12 to finish the regular season with a winning record. The Pac-12 is not enough of a bear that this Utah team, which will play hard and defend for Craig Smith, can’t find 10 wins.
As I write this, I’m scanning the makeup of Utah’s Pac-12 schedule and thinking about the question a little harder. Sight unseen until the exhibition game on Thursday, yes, I still think a winning record is doable.
Q: “Is there going to be a Salt Lake Tribune-sponsored party in the infamous ‘Real World Suite’ at the Palms for the Pac-12 championship game?” — @benwilkinson
A: I had a number in my head as to what I thought a night at the ‘Real World Suite’ would cost. I was about $80,000 short.
No, the biggest baller suite in Vegas will not be happening. But if Utah makes the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 3, and Utes fans begin streaming into Vegas on Dec. 2, I would be up for some sort of loose meet-and-greet situation at an establishment that serves adult beverages.
We were going to do this at the 2020 Pac-12 Tournament in Vegas, but COVID-19 was closing in and things started to get weird.
I am not above this happening at a $5 dice table at Treasure Island. Just putting that out there.