Given the opponents that have come through the Huntsman Center thus far, this is what the first week of Craig Smith’s first season at the University of Utah should look like.
Three low-major programs, three wins, three double-digit final scores, three times where the Utes left little doubt as to who the better team was.
The average KenPom.com rating of Utah’s first three opponents, Abilene Christian, Sacramento State, and Bethune Cookman, is 279.3, a number that is that low thanks to Sacramento State being No. 315 and Bethune Cookman being No. 355, which is fourth-to-last in all Division I.
The level of competition, though, is about to pick up. Utah will face Boston College (KenPom 138) at the Sunshine Slam in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Saturday, followed by either Rhode Island (KenPom 92) or Tulsa (KenPom 143). The Utes are home against BYU (KenPom 39) on Nov. 27, then open Pac-12-play Dec. 1 against USC (KenPom 18) at the Galen Center in Los Angeles.
“When we get to Florida, we’ll play a couple of ‘better teams,’ but I think we’re doing well,” Utah’s David Jenkins Jr. said. “I just think we need to fine-tune a few things and just keep building that chemistry.”
Most importantly for Utah so far: There have been three opportunities to figure out lineup options, and three opportunities to build some confidence before the schedule starts sprinkling in some tougher obstacles.
The latest victim of this opening stretch was Bethune Cookman on Monday evening. After an early physical tone and a rough start, Utah settled in. It attacked the Wildcats’ 2-3 zone, it rebounded, it matched the physicality, and Jenkins Jr. shot the lights out during a 86-55 win.
Jenkins, a UNLV transfer, scored 20 of his game-high 25 points in the first half, shooting 7 for 10 for the night, including 6 for 9 from 3-point range.
Utah overcame tough early shooting to finish at 48.2% from the floor, including 39.3% from deep.
“The third game in seven days, and I’m proud of how our guys prepared,” Smith said of his team. “I thought our preparation was really good by our coaching staff and our players "
The Utes were already up 13 approaching the final media timeout of the first half when Jenkins began heating up. He hit triples on three consecutive possessions, the third one coming early in the shot clock with a hand in his face.
That third 3-pointer pushed the Utah lead to 20, prompting a Bethune Cookman timeout with 3:29 before halftime.
“I think, more than anything, my teammates did a good job of hitting me,” said Jenkins, who was 5 for 5 from the free-throw line and added five assists. “In general, we do a good job of finding the hot man. Whether it’s a game or practice, we notice that. I just think that comes back to how unselfish of a team we are, and how big we’re into our camaraderie and our team chemistry.”