Utah Utes mailbag: Does Utah or BYU have the better approach to building a basketball roster?

Plus: Will the Pac-12 crumble or surge, expanding Rice-Eccles Stadium, the dream Final Four, and more

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes head coach Craig Smith has a few words for the officials, in PAC-12 basketball action between Utah Utes and UCLA Bruins, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, Thursday, February. 23, 2022.

The Utes and Cougars have taken very different paths to their conference tournaments this week.

So which program’s approach to roster building works best in the long run?

We’re going to start this Utes mailbag right there.

Do you have a question for Utes beat reporter Josh Newman? Send it to him via a tweet, direct message him on Twitter, email him at jnewman@sltrib.com, or leave it in the comments section at the end of this article and he will answer them in his weekly mailbag.

Q: “Which is the better approach in 2023? BYU, year-to-year build featuring portal guys, or Utah, trying to build a program from the ground up?” - Anonymous

A: As our anonymous friend here correctly indicates, Utah and BYU are programs with different philosophies on roster construction/management at this point.

Craig Smith has spoken a number of times about his desire to build a program and not just go portal diving every spring for one-year rentals. Smith would gladly take more immediately-eligible portal commitments, but he wants to build a culture, and to build a culture, you can’t be taking on a slew of graduate-transfer mercenaries every year.

Mark Pope has leveraged the portal well (Alex Barcello, Jake Toolson, Matt Haarms, Brandon Averette, Te’Jon Lucas, etc.). Pope’s teams have high school players and returned missionaries, but they often are headlined by transfers, which there’s nothing wrong with.

I lean towards Utah and what Smith is trying to do as the better position, a lot of which has to do with the Pac-12 simply not being very good. The Utes are more than just one guy away, but they’re not far away from getting back to the NCAA Tournament. Smith is hamstrung on scholarships at the moment, but that can change if guys decide to hit the transfer portal. Who leaves and how many scholarships are open this spring will dictate a critical offseason for the program.

Pope’s job is going to get a lot harder beginning, well, now, as BYU prepares to enter the Big 12 in 2023-24. I don’t think you need wholesale changes to your recruiting philosophy, not when you’ve won 68% of your games and been to the postseason twice (it would have been three if the pandemic didn’t cancel the 2020 NCAA Tournament), and I don’t know that you can radically change your philosophy at a place like BYU.

Anyway, advantage Utah.

Q: “Villaggio Pizzeria has a promising looking menu. Have you tried it? If so, should I?” - @theoldgrzlybear

A: I haven’t been to Villagio in a good while at this point, but it remains the best pizza I’ve had in the Valley. Very solid, very consistent. It’s owned by a guy from the Bronx, so expectations were high walking in the door, and that place delivered. Yes, you should try Villagio.

While we’re here, another pizza joint worth your time, attention, and money: Snowmobile Pizza down on 200 West. We’re going to have to once again define what New York style-pizza means, but no matter. It’s very good.

Q: “Do you think the Pac-12 crumbles or surges over the next five years?” - @unxpctdruffair

A: Nobody is sure of anything at this point, but here’s one thing I’m reasonably confident in saying.

Once this Pac-12 media rights situation gets straightened out, assuming all 10 members sign the Grant of Rights, we’re doing this all over again as that deal comes towards its end.

It’s all cyclical. There will be another realignment cycle beyond this one.

Q: “Are there any plans to further expand the capacity of Rice-Eccles Stadium? 51,000 doesn’t seem big enough now.” - @James_Burns5

A: I don’t foresee that happening any time soon, if ever. The south end zone cost $80 million to get done, the new indoor facility is bonded for roughly $62 million, and if Utah wants to build or renovate stuff on the athletics side, I can immediately come up with four or five things more important than expanding Rice-Eccles again.

Why doesn’t 51,000 seem big enough? Every ticket is sold for every home game, plus standing-room only. The season-ticket waiting list is still thought to be in the thousands, but not to the point where that building should be 60-65,000 or whatever. I’d argue it’s a good size for this program, in this conference, in this part of the country.

Again, even if anyone in charge believes Rice-Eccles needs to be bigger two years after it was expanded by 7,000-ish seats, I can’t see how that happens in the near, or even distant future.

Q: “What’s your stance on Cadbury Crème Eggs?” - @cooterbobjim

A: I’ve tried to get on board here for years, but I just can’t. Hard pass.

The fondant in there is just too rich, too sweet, too over the top, and frankly, I find the consistency to be disgusting. I have given it an honest effort, but it’s a no.

A few notes here: I love Cadbury Caramel Eggs. Those are tough to put down. I was in Vancouver a few years back and stumbled upon Oreo creme eggs and Chips Ahoy creme eggs. Both are elite, but I believe the Chips Ahoy eggs are only available in Canada.

You want the fire Easter-candy take? Ready? Peeps? They STINK. All caps.

Q: “What would be YOUR dream Final Four as a fan?” - @UnholiestJedi

A: The dream Final Four took place in 2022, Duke-North Carolina and Villanova-Kansas.

That’s four name programs, four heavyweights, three Hall of Fame coaches. The fact it was Duke-Carolina in the NCAA Tournament for the first time, with Mike Krzyzewski ultimately coaching his final game, were merely bonuses.

I’m sure we’ve been over this before, but I am more of a Goliath fan during the NCAA Tournament, specifically in the later rounds. I’m not against a Cinderella shredding my bracket on Thursday or Friday, but once you get to the weekend, once you get to the second weekend, I want the heavies to go at it. If that makes me Scrooge, so be it. That’s my preference.

The four projected No. 1 seeds at the moment are Kansas, Alabama, Houston, and UCLA. I think that would be a terrific Final Four.

Q: “Why do the New York Jets hate their fan base?” @nobodycares1511

A: *Takes off glasses, squints, pinches bridge of nose*

On Monday, the Jets hated their fan base. Derek Carr, the unanimously agreed-upon Plan B, signed with the Saints, leaving the team two options. Trade for Plan A, Aaron Rodgers, or start getting into Jimmy Garoppolo, Ryan Tannehill, or, in a much more unlikely scenario, Lamar Jackson. They hated us, I hated them.

Hang on, though, because as of Tuesday morning, the Jets may love the fan base because there are reports that the team has talked to Rodgers about a potential trade. The Jets have not been legitimate contenders for anything in more than a decade. That would change quite immediately if this goes through.

Love, hate, hate, love. Seasonal depression, cursing under your breath, cursing out loud depending on who’s around you. Thinking about 2008, thinking about 2009, thinking about 2015.

I blame this franchise for half of my hair loss, the other half on my profession.

I need to go get some air, let me know if the trade goes through.

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