Runnin’ Utes Becoming Greater Than The Sum Of Their Parts

Jan 26, 2023, 9:36 AM

SALT LAKE CITY – There was no doubt before the season started that head coach Craig Smith thought he had something in the team he put together for year two with Utah basketball.

It appears halfway through the season Smith thought right. The Utes currently sit second in the Pac-12 and have an opportunity to further cement themselves in the upper-echelon of the conference hierarchy on the road against the Oregon schools this weekend.

That’s not to say there haven’t been some ups and downs through the 2022-2023 season for the Runnin’ Utes, because there has been, but what can’t be denied is the somewhat hodgepodge group has figured out how to be greater than the sum of their parts and it’s led to results.

Craig Smith Assesses Utah Basketball Halfway Through

One of the biggest questions surrounding Utah basketball was if there would be any chemistry in a group that in many ways felt randomly put together. Yes, Smith had a small core of returners from his first season at the helm, but would there be enough time to get some of the newer players on the same page? The answer appears to be an overwhelming “yes”.

“The chemistry is really good, we have a great locker room,” Smith said. “Our upperclassmen have done a great job with that. It’s not just them. We have identified guys coming in that I really think fit our level of play and culture, etc, but you never know how it’s all going to play out. Some individuals whether they are a returner, or a newcomer are going to exceed expectations, and some will maybe get to where their expectations are. There is just so much that goes into it with style of play and just lineups.”

Smith noted early on the media and fans were most curious about the newcomers he and his staff brought on and how they were going to fit into the picture. He felt oppositely that the real story was who was returning and how they would set the tone.

“I remember early on in the year everyone wanted to talk about the newcomers which is normal, but I wanted to talk a lot about the returners because the guys who came back really understood who we are, what we are, and what we stand for,” Smith said. “Then with those guys, there is a lot of youthful exuberance in that group so then it’s like, can they take the next step? There is a big jump between a freshman and a sophomore, there’s a big jump from a sophomore to a junior, from a junior to a fourth-year guy. There just is if you do it right and guys are committed.”

Smith continued going through his returning core-group and how they have made leaps in their playmaking ability since a season ago when the Utes finished the year 11-20 (4-16 in Pac-12 play).

“Every time we go into a game, I watch the game from the year before if it’s applicable and obviously in league it is,” Smith said. “Just watching the film from a year ago to today you can see the improvement certainly with the team, but with each of them. I mean, Gabe Madsen is a way better player this year. Branden Carlson was an All-League guy last year and he’s a much better player this year. Marco is a much better player, Rollie is a much better player, Stef’s a much better player. You can just go right down the line of all of these guys. Jaxon Brenchley doesn’t see the floor very often, but he’s a much better player. That’s what is exciting is when you can see the growth in these guys, but you never know.”

There was always a good feeling about this group for Smith, but as he said, it’s not always obvious how everything will ultimately come together out on the court. A good team has a lot of moving parts as to what makes it good and sometimes things don’t always work out how you think they will. For the Runnin’ Utes this year though? It seems as if things are on the verge of working out better than most could have imagined.

“There is always- you’re always cautiously optimistic,” Smith said. “I was excited about where this group could go if things bounce the right way, but at the end of the day, for us, our collectiveness of the group has to be greater than the sum of its parts for us to be successful and that’s where I thought we got back to last weekend playing super, super connected. When we do that, we’ll have a chance every day.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports


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Runnin’ Utes Becoming Greater Than The Sum Of Their Parts