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Utah Men’s Basketball 2023-2024 Season Preview

Here’s what to expect from the Runnin’ Utes this upcoming season .
The+University+of+Utah+Utes+mens+basketball+teams+center+Branden+Carlson+plays+against+the+Colorado+Buffaloes+at+the+Jon+M.+Huntsman+Center+in+Salt+Lake+City%2C+Utah+on+Saturday+March+5%2C+2022.+%28Photo+by+Xiangyao+Axe+Tang+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29
Xiangyao Tang
The University of Utah Utes men’s basketball team’s center Branden Carlson plays against the Colorado Buffaloes at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday March 5, 2022. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

The Utah men’s basketball team is coming off a rather disappointing season in year two of Craig Smith‘s tenure as head coach. With a decent amount of roster turnover, Smith is prepared to put last year behind them and focus on building the program back to where it has been in the past. The Runnin’ Utes have seen plenty of historical success and are hungry to continue the tradition of excellence in their last year before they head to the Big 12.

Returning Starters

The Utes are retaining plenty of senior leadership heading into the year, including the team’s leading scorer from a year ago, Branden Carlson. Carlson led the Utes with 16.4 points per game on just under 50% shooting from the field. Standing at 7’0″, Carlson also led the team in rebounds at 7.5 per game and blocks at 2.0 per game last season. Carlson is returning for his fifth year and is expected to carry a heavy load on both ends of the floor this upcoming season.

One aspect the Utes struggled with heavily last year was three-point shooting. Losing some of the more crucial three-point shooters allowed Gabe Madsen to step up in a big way during the 2022-23 season. Madsen is set to return for his senior season this year and looks to continue his hot shooting. Madsen led the team in three-pointers with 62 and a three-point percentage of 37%. With the loss of Lazar Stefanovic to the transfer portal, fans are looking for Madsen to have a huge impact from beyond the arc this year.

A player that came over from Utah State with Coach Smith who has really made an impact for the team is senior point guard, Rollie Worster. Worster was the Ute’s main playmaker last year, averaging 5.1 assists per game, and he looks to add to those numbers in his senior season. Worster flourished as the main ball handler in his junior year and made an impact as a passer, chipping in 8.6 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game. Expect Worster to continue to shine as the Utes point guard this upcoming season.

Some other returning players who saw the court as role players last year were senior forward Ben Carlson, who averaged 4.5 points on 19.1 minutes per game; sophomore guard Wilguens Jr. Exacte, who averaged 3.6 points on 11.8 minutes a night; and physical sophomore center Keba Keita, who averaged 3.0 points and 3.4 rebounds on 10.5 minutes per game. Expect these three to contribute much more than last year with the loss of several key players.

Instant Impact Newcomers

The main pickup from the transfer portal for the Runnin’ Utes was graduate transfer Cole Bajema. Bajema transferred from the University of Washington and made a significant impact for the Huskies in the 2022-23 season. With the loss of Stefanovic, Utah was in desperate need of a wing to stretch the floor and Bajema does just that. Bajema stands at 6’7″ and is a prolific scorer, averaging 8.8 points per game for Washington last year on 36% from behind the arc. Expect Bajema to come in and start at small forward for the Utes to start the year.

Another transfer portal pickup the Utes added was senior guard Deivon Smith from Georgia Tech. Smith is another do-it-all point guard who averaged 7.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game last year for Georgia Tech. Smith adds some much-needed depth to the backcourt and should see significant minutes for Utah this upcoming season.

Lawson Lovering is another name to look for coming off the bench this year. Lovering transferred from the University of Colorado after two seasons in Boulder and looks to make an impact early on in his Utah career. At 7’1″, Lovering averaged 4.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last year for the Buffalos.

Utah begins the season on Nov. 1st in an exhibition game against Westminster at the John M. Huntsman Center. Tip-off time is yet to be determined.

 

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@kgarry21

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About the Contributors
Kyle Garrison, Sports Writer
Kyle garrison grew up in Spring Lake, Michigan. He moved to Salt Lake City to pursue a degree in communications with an emphasis in journalism. Kyle plans on pursuing broadcast journalism as a career once graduating from the University of Utah. Kyle started with the Chronicle this fall and has loved every minute of working with the team.
Xiangyao Tang, Photo Director
Axe is a photographer and the photo director of the Daily Utah Chronicle. He is from China and is a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in digital photography. Axe joined the Chronicle in August of 2021. In addition to his position at the Chrony, he is also a photo intern for University of Utah Athletics. When he's not writing code, you will find him rock climbing, camping, skiing or hiking with his camera.

Comments (3)

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  • M

    Micki JanssenOct 6, 2023 at 8:08 am

    Impressive article Kyle. Looks like you are living a dream. Proud to be related!!

    Reply
  • R

    Rob GarrisonOct 5, 2023 at 1:40 pm

    Great article! This writer really knows his stuff !!

    Reply
  • K

    Kyle garrisonOct 5, 2023 at 12:34 pm

    Excited to cover the team this year, go utes!

    Reply