The TribUte newsletter: Craig Smith isn’t going anywhere, Utah fans. Take a breath

Plus: Utah women’s hoops looks towards Selection Sunday, spring practice looms

(David Becker | AP) Utah head coach Craig Smith calls to his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Stanford in the first round of the Pac-12 men's tournament Wednesday, March 8, 2023, in Las Vegas.

You’re a University of Utah basketball fan, and you’re mad.

You’re mad the Utes got worked over in the Pac-12 Tournament against Stanford, you’re mad at how the season ended (presumably), you’re mad at how the last six weeks looked, you’re mad at Craig Smith for any number of reasons you’ve been mad at Craig Smith for this winter.


At least two things are true as far as Smith’s program is concerned at the moment.

The Utes took some clear, tangible steps forward in Smith’s second season. Still most of the final six weeks were a train wreck, putting a damper on the aforementioned optimism.

So, now what?

For starters, Smith isn’t going anywhere, as some pockets of the fan base called for on social media as the Stanford loss was coming to a close. That’s just not happening. Remember that thing you just read about: clear, tangible steps forward, with 17 wins from a team that was mostly very competitive until the final six games?

Short of abusing student-athlete welfare, committing a crime or committing a high-level NCAA violation, you’re not firing a guy after two years with four years and more than $8 million left on his contract.

Yeah, breathe.

All of that said, this is a hugely critical offseason for Smith and this era of Utah basketball, and based on things Smith has said throughout the season, I’m willing to bet he agrees.

Smith knows his roster is not perfect, he knows he needs to add pieces, but the most-fascinating part of the offseason is whether or not he’ll be able to.

Utah officially has just one open scholarship for next season. That can change if there are NCAA Transfer Portal defections, or if some combination of Branden Carlson, Jaxon Brenchley and Bostyn Holt opt to not use their “free” COVID year of eligibility.

There’s a lot of unknown as it pertains to the scholarship situation, but it’s going to clear itself up soon enough. How Smith uses his roster opening(s) will help dictate what 2023-24 looks like, and whether or not we’re having a similar discussion at this point next year.

Either way, he’s not going anywhere, and while you didn’t ask for my opinion, I’m going to offer it anyway.

Smith was a good hire two years ago, and remains a good hire two years later. Why? Because based on what he took over when he showed up in March 2021, there isn’t enough of a sample size to say he can’t get it done.

Take a breath, and settle in.

Other things on my mind

• In terms of seeding, I don’t see a lot of intrigue for the Utah women’s team as Selection Sunday approaches. The Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal loss to Washington State eliminated the possibility of a No. 1 seed, but the Utes’ resume is worthy of a No. 2 seed. That’s where it’s going to stay, that’s how Utah will open the NCAA Tournament next Friday or Saturday at the Huntsman Center.

The intrigue is who will be the No. 15 seed coming here for the first round, and what’s the 7-10 game, as Lynne Roberts and her staff will have to prepare on short notice for that winner in the second round.

Related thought: I understand why the women’s conference tournaments are played so early, but this two-week stretch between the Pac-12 Tournament championship game and Selection Sunday has been a real slog.

• I have no current thoughts on Utah beginning spring practice on March 21 beyond, uh, it feels like we were in Pasadena for the Rose Bowl like last week. College football genuinely never ends, there’s just a short recess here and there.

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