‘We are going to surprise some people’: Runnin’ Utes unfazed by being picked so low in suddenly deep Pac-12

Center Branden Carlson is one of the few Utes who didn’t enter the transfer portal after coach Larry Krystkowiak was fired.

Utah Utes center Branden Carlson (35) dunks over the Stanford Cardinal in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. The Utes won 79-65. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

With new coach Craig Smith taking over, Utes don’t get a lot of respect from Pac-12 media voters, not that they’re going to lose much sleep over it

SAN FRANCISCO — Riley Battin and Branden Carlson, the only two regulars from last year’s Runnin’ Utes men’s basketball team who returned after coach Larry Krystkowiak was fired and replaced by Craig Smith, were actually happy to see the results of the Pac-12 preseason media poll released Wednesday in conjunction with the league’s media day.

The Utes have been picked to finish 10th.

“All I gotta say is ‘wait and see,’” said Carlson, who averaged 9.4 points and 4.6 rebounds with a team-high 42 blocks last season. “I think we are going to surprise a lot of people.”

Added Battin, also at Pac-12 headquarters in San Francisco on Wednesday: “I mean, it is just preseason rankings. We didn’t expect to be ranked that high, because of the situation we are in. But we love it. Being an underrated team like that, it just gives us a bigger chip (on our shoulders) and we will move forward.”

“Everybody thinks we are a new team and are going to struggle. But I think we are going to surprise some people.” — Utah center Branden Carlson

This is the third time Utah has been predicted to finish between 10th and last place since it joined the league in 2011-12.

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The Utes have done better than predicted by the media every year except two years when they matched the pick: 2014-15 when they finished second and 2020-21 when they finished eighth.

“Utah has been picked low the past two years I have been here, and we have always finished higher than picked,” Carlson said. “I think it is going to continue to be that way. … It is just guesses right now. Everybody thinks we are a new team and are going to struggle. But I think we are going to surprise some people.”

To no one’s surprise, UCLA is picked to win the league after last year’s unexpected run to the Final Four, a run that started with a first-round win over BYU. The Bruins received 32 of 34 first-place votes.

They return all five starters and every contributor for coach Mick Cronin.

“I am really excited by the success that all our teams that made the NCAAs had,” said Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley.

Oregon, regular-season champ the past two years, was picked second and received two first-place votes.

Having made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAAs last year, USC was picked No. 3. Arizona and Oregon State were picked to tie for fourth.

The Wildcats feature former Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd, who joins Utah’s Smith as a new head coach in the league.

Only Washington and California are picked to finish worse than Utah.

Battin said none of it matters when …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Sports News


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