Utah Runnin’ Utes basketball, a Pac-12 sleeper?

With a last name that at first glance excites you with its similarity to Coach K at Duke, Larry Krystkowiak isn’t a household name. Even in his home state of Utah the shadow and legend of Rick Majerus lives on. Walk through the streets of Downtown Salt Lake which lies in the shadows of the University of Utah’s campus and the passerby will likely fail in recognizing Krystkowiak as the head coach of the Utes basketball team. But in his third year, Coach “Krysko” has the Runnin’ Utes basketball team back to competing night in and night out. And if you have seen where the U of U basketball team was a few years ago, you’d realize just how big of a turnaround Krysko has led.

With a little over a month left in the regular season, the Utes have compiled a 14-6 record, 3-5 in Pac-12 play. With a two-point loss to number ten-ranked Oregon in overtime, their only loss at home, and hanging with the Arizona Wildcats into the 38th minute in Tucson, the Utes can play with just about anyone. Of the Utes six losses this season, the average margin of defeat is just over three points. They’ve played 20 games and been in every single one of them; a place they were nowhere close to just a few years prior.

Coack Krysko inherited the Utes basketball program in 2011. Through his first full season as head coach the Utes managed to win six games. In 2012 they managed 15 wins. A program that hadn’t seen a winning season since 2008-2009. A program that spent much of the 90s and early 2000s making runs in the tourney. The Utes had struck rock bottom.

Perhaps it is fitting that Krysko, who is Montana’s all-time career leader in points and rebounds, brought his tough, country born style to the U has been the key to the turnaround. Just watch them defend and rebound. With Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright leading the Utes and averaging 16 points a game apiece, the Utes are finding success despite their youth. With a solid, consistent offense and strong, durable defense, the Utah Utes are one of the Pac-12′s best kept secrets.

Even with a 3-5 record, an eight place standing in the Pac-12, the Utah Utes are a couple plays away from the top of the Pac-12 and national recognition. This has Utah fans excited again. The once proud program had fallen out of favor and support from locals, especially having been spoiled by great teams under Majerus. Although the Utes are a long ways from a run like they had in 1998, their program is finally heading in the right direction.

Coach Krysko has his kids excited to play, the city of Salt Lake rallying behind him, and has come close from signature wins against conference foes. Their ability to consistently hang in ballgames is a trait that makes them dangerous come time for tourney play. Don’t be surprised if Utah makes a run in the Pac-12 tournament and earns a bid to this year’s NCAA Tournament.

With a road trip to Southern California and a chance to take out USC and UCLA and another shot at the number one Arizona Wildcats at the Huntsman Center, the table is being set for Utah to make their run. A team that can rebound consistently and play solid, physical defense will be in any game. If the Utes can continue to get to the line and generate scoring from Loveridge and Wright, they stand a good chance at sneaking into the big dance. And once you get to March, anything can happen; ask Coach Krysko.