Salt Lake City is once again a first and second round site for the NCAA Tournament as the University of Utah is hosting it at the Vivint Smart Home Arena. The U does not host it at the Huntsman Center, because of capacity reasons.
According to Vivid Seats, a secondary ticket marketplace, Salt Lake City was the most popular first and second round site, and tickets were being sold at an average rate of $324.
While the U will be hosting the first and second rounds of the West Region, it looks as though it will be doing so without its own men’s basketball team competing.
ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
The Utah men’s basketball team made two tournament appearances in a row with Delon Wright at the forefront of the 2014-15 season and Jakob Poeltl leading the way for the 2015-16 year. This year though, the Utes look as though they will be missing out.
The Runnin’ Utes haven’t had any marquee wins this season, and while they have remained competitive in games against teams like UCLA, Arizona and even Oregon when the Ducks visited the Huntsman Center, they still ended up on the losing side, and almost winning doesn’t do anything for the team in the long run. The team also did not have the best strength of schedule in regards to its preseason, and when it faced notable opponents such as Xavier and Butler, in out-of-conference play, they came out with a couple of losses.
More to that, the Utes have dropped winnable games. A first round loss in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic to San Francisco did not do the Utes any favors. Recently, the Utes dropped a game to the 12th place team in the Pac-12, Oregon State, and the Beavers had yet to win a conference matchup at that point in the season. The Utes were also still in the hunt for a No. 4 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament so they could avoid playing in the first round. Playing four games, four nights in a row isn’t exactly ideal, and that’s assuming that the Utes would continue to win. However, if the Utes were to win the Pac-12 Tournament, they would be granted an automatic bid to the dance.
Head coach Larry Krystkowiak notes that this year’s team is lacking a Brandon Taylor-esque player. The former Runnin’ Ute did not pose the biggest body on the floor as he was listed at only 5-foot-10, but what he brought to the court in terms of leadership was unparalleled. He had one of the loudest voices, and that was only enhanced by the other members of the squad. Even though the team only made it to the Round of 32 in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, Krystkowiak couldn’t say anything bad about those players.
This year, it’s a bit of different story. While Krystkowiak isn’t likely to say anything against his players, he has noted that at times this season his players have been selfish. Krystkowiak has always been of the “we instead of me” mindset, and too often he sees guys playing for themselves instead of the entire collective.
“I don’t see a guy with a motor,” Krystkowiak said. “You remember Brandon — a heart and soul guy who’s always communicating and lifting teammates up. I don’t know who that is right now.”
This is something junior Kyle Kuzma has noticed, too.
“Our guards, they’re not as talkative such as people like Brandon and Jordan [Loveridge],” Kuzma said. “Relatively, we’re a quiet team, and that hurts us. In the game of basketball, you need to talk, and we can’t just have two guys out there talking the entire team.”
That lack of communication has led to a couple of miscues on the court.
At various points in the season, the Utes have looked out of sorts. Sometimes four out of the five guys will be playing defense in a zone, and that one person playing man-to-man defense gives up an easy look. Other times, players have missed individual assignments.
One thing that has also changed for the Utes this year is turnovers. Through the majority of the season, the Utes averaged 13.6 turnovers per game, and in most of the players’ and coaches’ minds, those turnovers have been unforced and “mindless.” In that game against Oregon State, the Utes gave up the ball a couple of times in the final minute of play, and Krystkowiak did not have to say much to his guys afterward in the locker room because they knew they gave away what should have been a win. The troubles didn’t end there.
With the loss to Oregon State on Feb. 19 being arguably one of the lowest points of the season, the Utes had one final conference game on the road in Boulder, Colo. Just a few hours before that tipoff, the Utah Athletics Department released a statement saying freshman Devon Daniels did not make the trip because he had been suspended “due to conduct detrimental to the team,” according to Krystkowiak. Citing the suspension in regards to something that happened internally, Krystkowiak did not say more on the subject matter.
This isn’t the first time Daniels has gotten himself in a bit of disdain among the coaching staff. Daniels had been in the starting lineup regularly for the team, and he was putting up solid numbers as a freshman. Then a few weeks ago he was benched, and Krystkowiak said something along the lines of, “He didn’t know how to tell time,” as Daniels was late to a team event.
Something else that has been in flux all season long with the Runnin’ Utes is the starting lineup. Krystkowiak has rewarded guys who have worked hard in practice, and in the instance of Daniels, he has benched guys who may not have deserved it. Although this could have been hard to stomach for some of the players, Krystkowiak is always going to look out for the best interest of the team, and the guys should want to do whatever it takes to win, even if it means sacrificing a few minutes.
With the NCAA Tournament likely to pass on extending an invite to the Runnin’ Utes for the third straight year, the Utes could very well receive an invite to the NIT. Only time will tell whether or not the Utes will end up accepting that invite, but it could give the team more time together before this season ends.
“We’re a young team, we make mistakes,” Kuzma said. “We still have basketball left to play.”