The 5 things the Runnin’ Utes can work on in 2015

By Griffin Adams and Griffin Adams

— Chris Ayers             — Chris Ayers

The No. 8 Runnin’ Utes have started the 2014-15 campaign by exceeding any and all expectations that anyone had for them early on in the season. But with the new year, The Daily Utah Chronicle decided to evaluate the team to this point in this season and appoint five New Year’s resolutions that Utah can work on in 2015.

1. Closing out close games

This resolution may have been the same for the last few seasons here in Salt Lake City as the Runnin’ Utes have struggled mightily to put games away. In the 2013-14 season, Utah lost eight games by four points or fewer, and while the Utes have looked much stronger this time around, they have still dropped two of the three close games they’ve had this season. Utah was able to get by a resilient Wichita State team in the Huntsman Center earlier in the year, but lost to San Diego State by four and to Kansas by three. The Utes have been blowing teams out, and it hasn’t been much of a problem as of yet, but come March, this team will have to learn to close out against top teams, or they won’t be dancing very long.

2. Winning on the road

So far, Utah has played nearly every game this season in the confines of its own Huntsman Center. While they’ve looked impressive in the Beehive State up until this point, all of that will mean nothing in the final stages of the season, if the Utes can’t win on the road. Utah has played four games on the road this season, if you want to count when it traveled down south to play BYU, and dropped two of them — the aforementioned games against SDSU and the Jayhawks. When the NCAA Tournament rolls around, there will be no games played in Salt Lake City or the Huntsman Center, so the Utes better buckle down on the road if they want to make some noise in the postseason.

3. Making free throws

How many times have we all seen it in a close game? When a game comes down to the wire, the team with the highest free-throw percentage will often come out on top. Whether a team has a lead and is looking to increase it or if they are trying to play catch-up, making free throws is an absolutely crucial part of the game of basketball. At nearly the halfway point in the season, Utah has struggled from the charity stripe, hitting just 66 percent of its free throws. Hell, if the Utes could knock down more free throws, then they might just be undefeated and sitting in the top three. According to ESPN, Utah sits in the 251st spot in top free-throw-shooting teams in the country, tied with the likes of Youngstown State and UNC-Greensboro. I already mentioned how they need to close out games and win on the road, and by making their free throws, the Utes can improve on both.

4. Beating Arizona at least once, if not twice

Utah fans had Jan. 17 circled on their calandars since before the season started. That is the date when the Runnin’ Utes will travel to Tucson to take on preseason favorite Arizona in a battle of top-10 teams. Before the campaign even began, many experts and fans alike thought the Wildcats were the favorite to run away with the Pac-12 title this season, but oh, how things have changed. Not only is Utah now the highest ranked team from the Conference of Champions, but Arizona has looked sluggish in its attempt to defend its crown, dropping two of its last four games. Now, the Wildcats are certainly no joke, and the margin between the two teams is very slim. When you boast talent such as T.J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and freshman phenom Stanley Johnson, there’s a good chance you’ll win the conference. However, the Utes have proven they have the talent to match, if not exceed, Arizona. Whether it happens this weekend or later in February when the Wildcats come to the Huntsman, Utah needs to beat the preseason favorite at least once this season to solidify itself as the top dog in the Pac-12.

5. Keep listening to Coach K

When the name “Coach K” gets thrown around in the college basketball world, most would assume that it is Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski at the focal point of the conversation. But that’s not the case here. Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak has done a masterful job of rebuilding this Utah program, completely turning the Utes around from cellar-dweller to conference contender in just four years. This coach knows his stuff, and that has been evident in the complete turnaround the Utes have undergone. There are thousands of scenarios that can play out as the season unfolds, but as long as the Runnin’ Utes listen to their Commander-in-Chief, this 2014-15 squad may etch its name into the record books.

 

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