The defending Mountain West Conference champions have lost a lot of key players, but are hoping that they will "reload" rather than rebuild. The Utes must replace Luke Nevill, Shawn Green, Lawrence Bohra and Tyler Kepkay from their fifth seeded team last season. Fortunately for the Utes, head coach Jim Boylen has been a recruiting machine. With another highly ranked recruiting class coming in, the Utes should do just fine this season.
The Utes have brought in some players that will make an immediate impact this season, and have a couple players returning from LDS missions. Jay Watkins (a JC transfer) should be huge for the Runnin' Utes this year. Watkins is a projected starter for the team who is said by many to be a "beast," and is a more versatile player on the team. Unfortunately for the Utes, Watkins suffered a stress fracture in October, and is said to be out 4-6 weeks. He should return with plenty of time left to make an impact.
Carlon Brown will be the star of the team this season. He is widely known for his highlight reel dunks, including one over top NBA draft pick Blake Griffin. Carlon Brown is stepping into the leadership role for the Runnin' Utes. Expect Brown to lead a more fast paced offense without Luke Nevill slowing them down.
The Utes are returning three starters. Aside from Brown, Luka Drca should be a key player for the Runnin' Utes this season. Drca is the team's starting point guard and is a big playmaker for the team with his outstand passing ability. Kim Tillie is a returning power forward who was largely overshadowed by Luke Neill. Look for him to step out of that shadow for his senior season.
The Huntsman Center will have a different feel this season thanks to Jim Boylen. The MUSS (student section) has been expanded and moved behind the opponent's bench. Next to the MUSS will be the "Section F," with F standing for fan. Boylen's new section will feature passionate fans that will make the Huntsman Center a more hostile environment.
The Utes were projected by the media to finish fourth in the Mountain West this season. This is not a reason for Ute fans to worry, since the Utes were picked to finish fourth last year in their championship season.
The Runnin' Utes will feature their most compelling schedule in their programs history thanks to Jim Boylen's aggressive method's of scheduling. With Oklahoma, Utah State and Michigan taking trips to the Huntsman Center and games with LSU and Illinois also on the schedule, Boylen is trying to strengthen the Utes tournament resume in case they don't win the conference tournament on UNLV's home floor.
Don't count the Utes out this year because they lost a lot of talent. Boylen is a great coach and should always have this team competing for a conference championship year in and year out. This team with be more athletic and should help the Utes live up to their nickname, the Runnin' Utes.