Utah has just one starter back from a team that tied for third place in the Pac-12 Conference and advanced to the championship game of the NIT where it lost to Penn State. But eighth-year head coach Larry Krystkowiak is optimistic about his squad heading into Thursday night's season opener against visiting Maine.
"I like where we are," Krystkowiak told the Salt Lake Tribune, "but there's going to be things right away that we get exposed on." Senior guard Sedrick Barefield, who withdrew his name from the NBA Draft, is the only returning starter after averaging 12.0 points and 2.5 assists while explosive sophomore forward Donnie Tillman will be counted on for a breakout year after averaging 7.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. "It can go either way," Tillman told reporters. "It can be a great year, or it can be a really bad year. But with these dudes' work ethic and the time we're putting in, I think it's going to be a great year." Maine is opening the season with a three-game west coast trip that ends at San Francisco on Saturday, and already has a contest under its belt after losing at Denver 63-50 on Tuesday.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, Pac- 12 Network LINE: Check Intertops for the latest line
ABOUT MAINE (0-1): The Black Bears, who finished 6-26 last season, led Denver 39-38 with 11:05 left before the Pioneers went on a 20-5 scoring run to ruin Richard Barron's men's head coaching debut. Barron previously had coached the women's program successfully for seven years and he has four returning starters to build around including 6-7 junior forward Andrew Fleming (team-high 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting at Denver) and 6-8 junior center Vincent Eze, who grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked two shots in his first game back after missing the 2017-18 season following hip surgery. Guard Isaiah White is the team's top returning scorer (11.1) and had nine points in the opener.
ABOUT UTAH (2017-18: 23-12): Barefield scored in double-digits in 21 games last season, including five with 20 or more points, while shooting 35.4 percent from 3-point range. Tillman registered a pair of double-doubles as a freshman and shot 47.8 percent from the floor after starring at prep school power Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev. The Utes are expecting big things from 6-6 freshman forward Timmy Allen who was rated a four-star recruit by both ESPN.com and Scout.com coming out of Red Mountain High School in Mesa, Ariz.
1. The Utes are 7-0 all-time in season-opening games under Krystkowiak including a 83-62 victory over Prairie View A&M last season.
2. Utah's 7-0 junior C Jayce Johnson, who averaged 5.5 points 5.4 rebounds last season, is practicing on a limited basis after a breaking a bone in his foot five weeks ago.
3. Utah was picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll.
PREDICTION: Utah 77, Maine 64 Bet Now
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