After a nightmare (14-17) season last year, Utah had four players transfer including their two leading scorers: Marshall Henderson and Carlon Brown. Also lost to graduation was starting PG Luca Drca and Kim Tillie.
The Utes hope that losing players like Henderson and Brown will be addition by subtraction, since they were widely believed to be selfish, individualistic players. Something that doesn't bode well in Jim Boylen's system.
With a depleted roster, Jim Boylen hit the recruiting trail hard and brought in many players who will make an immediate impact this season. He brought in a recruiting class that features athleticism and experience. Four of the players signed were Junior College Transfers and five are true freshman.
There is a lot of uncertainty when looking at the Utes roster. Just six players return from last years team, but they do have some upside with youth and talented incoming players.
Key returning players are 2009-2010 MWC Defensive Player of the Year David Foster, and Jay Watkins. Foster led the MWC and ranked fourth in the NCAA averaging 4.0 blocks per game. The defensive force was not a threat offensively, averaging just 4.7 points per game.
Watkins is the leading scorer returning from last years team averaging 9.2 points per game. He is the teams only Senior and has taken a leadership role. Boylen expects a big year from him.
Other returning players include: Jace Tavita, a tough physical defender. Jason Washburn, an athletic 7 footer with great upside but hasn't really shown much yet in his career. Shawn Glover, a long athletic wing who made an impact during his freshman season. Chris Hines, Utah's leading 3-point shooter from last season.
The way the season plays out however will rely on the new guys. Utah needs an immediate impact from their incoming players if they want to have a winning season.
The top newcomer looks to be Will Clyburn. The 6'7" athletic wing led the Utes with 28 points and 11 rebounds in their exhibition win over Adams State. In Utah's season opener against Grand Canyon he led the team in scoring and rebounds again with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Another key recruit for Utah is PG Josh Watkins. After leading Howard College to the NCAA Junior College National Championship, he picked Utah over Oklahoma, Illinois and Cincinnati. Utah is hoping he will be the true point guard that they were lacking last season.
In the exhibition win Josh Watkins scored 22 points but had just one assist. In the season opener he scored 11 points and had six assists.
A true freshman who will likely make an impact is J.J. O'Brien. Ranked as a Top 10 recruit out of California, he chose the Utes over San Diego State. Sporting News ranked him the No. 1 incoming freshman in the MWC. In the season opener he played 20 minutes and scored six points and grabbed eight rebounds.
The schedule for the Utes will be difficult with a tough conference schedule and non-conference games scheduled at Utah State, Michigan and against Butler in the Diamondhead Classic.
It's hard to predict how the Utes will finish in their final MWC season before they leave for the Pac-12 since they have so many new players. The MWC media picked them to finish sixth in the conference. It will be difficult to finish in the top four of the competitive MWC as San Diego State, BYU, UNLV and New Mexico look to be good again.
Last years team had great moments. They beat Utah State, UNLV twice, Michigan, LSU and Illinois. They took Oklahoma and New Mexico to overtime. They were an inconsistent team that had good wins, but had more bad losses to teams like Seattle and and Pepperdine.
With inconsistency, the leadership and youth was an issue. That may be a problem again this year but the selfish players supposedly transferred out and the guys Boylen has brought in are "team players" like Josh Watkins, who led his team to the JC NCAA National Championship.
I think the Utes will finish fifth in conference and will improve from last season with an above .500 record. The newcomers address their needs should make enough of an impact to rebound from last years up and down season.