No. 16 Utah, Krystkowiak look to pick up offensive pace
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The 16th-ranked Utah Utes will look different this season from the team that made a run to the Sweet Sixteen last March.
Coach Larry Krystkowiak wants his team to push the pace with the goal of getting quicker, easier baskets than in the past.
''It's pretty enlightening what a team can do when they're looking to get the ball out of the net and go,'' Krystkowiak said. ''So we've been trying to do it. That's going to be a focal point to get started.''
The fifth-year coach had a moment of clarity when his team recently held a closed scrimmage with Texas A&M. The Aggies played with a pace that Krystkowiak envied and wanted to mimic, to some extent.
The idea is to push the ball up the floor after both made and missed baskets instead of relying on a set offense every possession. Guard Brandon Taylor said they expect teams to press more with the new 30-second shot clock and a quicker pace can keep teams from setting up the defense.
''That puts a lot more pressure on their defense,'' Taylor said. ''It's fun for guys like me. I like to get the ball and just race it up the court. As far as setting up in the offense, I don't think you're going to see a lot of that this year. We're going to try to run as much as possible.''
Utah ranked No. 301 in Division I last year with 63.0 possessions per game and No. 11 in the Pac-12.
Krystkowiak, however, called that metric a misleading way to measure tempo. He said poor defensive teams tend to rank higher in possessions per game because they're giving up baskets quicker.
The Utes are more concerned with the efficiency of each offensive possession and defense will always be a top priority.
''Certainly the length of possession when we're on offense is something we'll measure,'' Krystkowiak said. ''Hopefully, we're getting a shot up in a faster time when we have an opportunity. It's a little bit tricky when you start measuring tempo stats because some of the slowest-playing teams in the country based on tempo are the Virginias and the Wisconsins and we've been in that group. It's not really an indication that you're trying to play slow. It's usually an indication that you're pretty good defensively.''
The Utes also plan to get 7-foot center Jakob Poeltl more involved after he bypassed an opportunity to enter the NBA draft, where many thought he would be a first-round pick. He averaged 9.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 with 63 blocks last season. Poeltl spent the offseason adding to his offense, but a faster pace doesn't always mesh well with 7-footers.
That doesn't seem to be the case with Poeltl, who prefers to get out and run.
''I'm not that much of a stationary player, so that actually fits me perfectly,'' Poeltl said. ''I get to react to different drives and stuff that the guards have off of the pass ahead. They just attack the paint and I can react off that. Maybe I get some dump-offs, or early post-ups or maybe I'll beat my guy down the court and I'll get the pass ahead and I get to finish the break.''
Utah begins its season Friday hosting Southern Utah. There's not much time to ease into the schedule as the Utes play five games in nine days, including three games in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Utah hopes to continue to build off the foundation of a 26-9 record last season and its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in five years.
''It's really just exciting just to have some recognition around our program,'' forward Jordan Loveridge said. ''Just every day we have to have the mentality that we have a target on our back now. We're not hunting, people are hunting us. That's a big thing we have to remember, where we made it last year and what we can do this year. People are going to be gunning for us.''