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Utah Utes basketball: Take a look at this perilous non-conference schedule

The Utah Utes basketball opponents in non-conference action this year all made the NCAA Tournament field last year. Pictured: BYU.
The Utah Utes basketball opponents in non-conference action this year all made the NCAA Tournament field last year. Pictured: BYU.
Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

The Utah Utes basketball team last year probably had one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the country. Even the late Rick Majerus--who was notorious for scheduling cream puffs like Cardinal Stritch for his legendary teams featuring Andre Miller--would have given the Utes two thumbs up.

This year, however, logic--and possibly 10 easy wins--were thrown out the window of head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s office, along with a pesky stray cat. The cat part is probably up for debate, but one thing certainly isn’t.

The Utes are definitely rolling the dice with this interesting non-conference slate of games announced on Friday, June 20--and you wonder if its basketball program is to the point where it can afford to take some risks. Utah only won 21 games last year and were thumped in the first round of the NIT--hardly a deep run into March Madness.

Perhaps the Utes are banking on having a deep squad including All-Pac-12 selection and certain NBA Draft pick Delon Wright back--along with forward Jordan Loveridge and several other key players from last year‘s team.

Before you think that all of the cream puffs have been crossed off the schedule though, take a look at the Utes first several games. Utah kicks off its season with Pacific, then a familiar foe from last year--and Majerus former school--comes to town in Ball State. Then it’s a slew of nobodies including UC Riverside, UTPA, North Dakota and Alabama State before you will finally see the Utes line up against see a good team, or Wichita State.

The Shockers will come to Salt Lake City after having the nation’s leading winning streak rudely interrupted at the hands of eventual national runner-up Kentucky at the NCAA Tournament. Considering the Utes best non-conference opponent last year was Boise State, Wichita State is a considerable step up in class.

Lest you think the party is over and the Utes are back to playing cream puffs for the rest of December, you’re wrong. After the Shockers come to town, the Utes will hit the road for three straight road games at BYU, at the Kansas Jayhawks--and projected No. 1 draft pick Cliff Alexander--and at UNLV. All were NCAA Tournament teams. Oops, almost forgot South Dakota State, the Utes’ final non-conference opponent--and also a team that made a deep NCAA Tournament run. Where are these cream puffs again?

“This non-conference schedule contains a challenging slate of games, both home and away,” head coach Larry Krystkowiak said in a press release. “We as a staff have a strong belief in this team and this schedule, while getting us ready for the rigors of Pac-12 play, will help us take the next step forward. We also wanted to ensure our student-athletes have experiences that they can treasure and keep with them after their playing days. We are very excited for the upcoming season and can’t wait to get things rolling.”

The Utes have plenty to look forward to this year--but the back end of this non-conference schedule is filled with peril and potential teams that could prevent the Utes from making another postseason run.