What To Expect From Runnin’ Utes Entering Craig Smith Era

Nov 9, 2021, 2:48 PM | Updated: 2:52 pm
Craig Smith - Utah Utes Practice...
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Runnin’ Utes will take the floor on Tuesday night to begin the Craig Smith era on The Hill against Abilene Christian.

This is the big stage for Craig Smith as he takes over the Runnin’ Utes program after successful stints at Mayville State, South Dakota and most recently Utah State. It’s his first head coaching job that is in a power conference.

It’s been a transition for the program after spending 10 years under the direction of Larry Krystowiak. Only seven players from last year’s team returns to play for coach Smith but only two of those players averaged over seven minutes per game, which includes Branden Carlson and Riley Battin.

Here is some expectations for this program heading into the Craig Smith era:


The Utah basketball program’s cupboard wasn’t necessarily full when Craig Smith took over at the end of March. Most of Utah’s production last season decided to leave the program, including Alfonso Plummer (Illinois), Timmy Allen (Texas), Mikael Jantunen (going pro back home), Rylan Jones (Utah State), Pelle Larsson (Arizona), and Ian Martinez (Maryland).

That meant coach Smith had to go out and get guys from the transfer portal. He picked up eight new guys, including David Jenkins Jr. (UNLV), Both Gach (Minnesota), Bostyn Holt (Coffeyville CC), Marco Anthony (Utah State), Rollie Worster (Utah State), Lazar Stefanovic (Recruit), Dusan Mahorcic (Illinois State) and Gabe Madsen (Cincinnati).

It’s going to take some time for the Utes to be a really good team. The team has talked about being a close group on and off the floor but only one way will prove that. Playing in a real basketball game that impacts your record.

Craig Smith has a track record of his teams finishing better than the preseason projections and that still could be the case with Utah being picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 preseason poll. But I wouldn’t expect this team to make the NCAA Tournament this year. The future is bright with so many young players on this roster.

Fun Brand Of Basketball

Nothing against Larry Krystowiak, but that brand of basketball wasn’t effective in today’s college basketball. You won’t see a ton of teams playing through the post anymore. With Craig Smith, the Runnin’ Utes will be playing a fast paced, high tempo basketball that will allow his players to play free.

It was being harped on a lot over the last two years that Branden Carlson needed to gain weight in order to play in the post. With Smith’s staff, expect Carlson to be more of a stretch five that can also get to the rim. Fans should be excited about the future of Carlson with the addition of assistant coach Eric Peterson, who helped USU star Neemias Queta become an NBA prospect.

This coaching staff has the track record of developing players regardless of their recruiting status. It will be fun to watch this style of basketball take shape this season.

High Energy And Effort

If you have spent five minutes around Craig Smith, whether it’s watching or listening to his interviews or at any university events, his energy is consistent and contagious. That energy has spread throughout the team as Smith is a coach who can fire up his players to give maximum energy and effort every time they go on the floor.

Mix that with a fun brand of basketball and you have a basketball program that will see success in the near future. Don’t judge Smith and the direction of the team just based off of one game. Give Smith time to work his magic.

Utah will tip-off against Abilene Christian at 6 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Mountain.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com, Co-Host of Faith, Family and Football podcast with Clark Phillips III and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASports.

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