Tough nonconference schedule on tap for Runnin’ Utes

Utah fans now know a bit more of what to expect next basketball season as the Utes announced their nonconference schedule on Monday.

“It’s a pretty competitive schedule,” U men’s basketball coach Ray Giacoletti said.

Utah brings two big-name teams into the Huntsman Center, with Colorado visiting Dec. 30, followed by LSU coming to town Jan. 3.

“Your RPI can get you into the NCAA tournament,” said Giacoletti, referring to the computer ratings system that rewards playing higher-ranked opponents.

The Utes’ RPI should get a nice boost when they head down to Tucson, Ariz., for a battle with perennial national power Arizona on Dec. 11.

The Wildcats will return the favor with a visit to Salt Lake City in 2005.

Utah opens the season with two exhibition games, both in the Huntsman Center. Carroll College and Western State College, two NAIA schools, will give the Utes a tune-up before they get to the games that count.

Due to a new NCAA rule, teams cannot play exhibition games against professional teams, such as the EA Sports All-Stars or Athletes in Action, which Utah fans are used to seeing.

“This is actually a good thing,” Giacoletti said. “These are real schools who are coached and have practices together. They will be a better test.”

The Utes start playing for real on Nov. 19 as Stony Brook comes to town.

The next week, Utah heads up to Anchorage, Alaska, for the Great Alaska Shootout. The tournament field has national contenders such as Alabama and Washington.

“That will be a good field,” said Giacoletti. “Alabama has everyone back and Washington, with Nate Robinson back, will be tough.”

Keen eyes will also notice that the schedule includes some smaller schools that were the hallmark of former coach Rick Majerus.

Western Montana, Coppin State and Northern Colorado all make December visits to Salt Lake City.

Giacoletti pointed out that since schedules are made at least a year in advance, the games with the small schools were set up before he arrived.

That doesn’t mean that the coach wants a schedule stocked with only Duke and Arizona, either.

“We also have to play Weber and Utah State every year, so we need some of these games to give some balance. You can’t play great teams every night in the preseason, especially in this conference.”

Giacoletti plans on having two home games and two road games per year against big-name opponents.

He will sit down in August to finalize some future matchups.

Giacoletti enjoys playing against big-name schools, since players don’t need any additional motivation to play hard.

“(Eastern Washington) had a lot of Seattle kids, so when we played at the University of Washington they would always get excited,” Giacoletti said. “Two years ago, we beat Washington and San Diego State. In the nonconference schedule, it’s always much easier to get up for games like that.”

As usual, the Utes have some rivalry games of their own this year. They visit Utah State, with home games against Weber State and Southern Utah.

A midseason trip to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo will give Utah a good road test. The nonconference schedule concludes with a visit from Winthrop on Jan. 5.

The MWC will release the conference schedule sometime in August.

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