Utah learns its lesson, ups its schedule strength in advance of big year

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Larry Krystkowiak and the Utes won't be criticized for scheduling weak again. (USATSI)

Every offseason we hand out a few posts to a few teams that go big and schedule up in advance of a year where their roster and expectations can afford it.

Truth is, a lot of NCAA Tournament-caliber teams schedule safe, or at least fall short of truly chasing biggies week after week in the non-conference. Not everyone has the pluck (and security) of Tom Izzo, Bill Self or Roy Williams.

This is especially true of teams without long-standing winning pedigree. What we often see is a fringe team with talent schedule one or two good opponents and hope the non-con brings a good enough winning percentage to help them carry over into the NCAAs after league play sorts itself out.

But props to Utah, which took a big step last year in record (21-12) but lacked the metrics to earn a bid to the NCAAs. In 2014-15, Larry Krystkowiak's club will have increased expectations. It could be a top-four Pac-12 team, certainly. Yet the Utes will give it a true go in the non-con, as they should. The school's announced the team's November and December slate. It goes:

Nov. 14: vs. Ball State

Actually, before we go on. A quick note of appreciation for this game. Why? Utah and Ball State. What's the connection? Rick Majerus. The legendary coach, who died in December of 2012, coached the Cardinals from 1987-89, before taking the Utes gig. He also coached at Saint Louis and Marquette. I've requested the four teams hold an annual doubleheader in Majerus' honor, but that's not yet come to be. Maybe this is a start? Either way, I love that this is the first regular-season game; the teams also played each other last season.

The rest of the slate to date:

Nov. 21: vs. UC Riverside
Nov. 26-29: North Dakota, Alabama State, Texas-Pan American (multi-team event)
Dec. 3: vs. Wichita State
Dec. 10: at BYU
Dec. 13: vs. Kansas (at Sprint Center in Kansas City)
Dec. 20: vs. UNLV (at MGM Grand)
Dec. 23: South Dakota State
Dec. 30: Carroll College

It's not going to be the absolute best schedule, but considering Utah had a non-conference slate ranked 350 out of 351 teams last season, it's a significant upgrade.

Utah was 18-2 at home, helped in large part by the sweet satisfaction of lining up home cupcake opponents.

“This non-conference schedule contains a challenging slate of games, both home and away,” Krystkowiak said in a statement. “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.”

In total, Utah has 18 of its games vs. teams that played in the postseason last year. Lesson learned, and we'll get to see a good team challenge itself from start to end.

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