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Runnin’ Utes set for exhibition tip-off with C of I

SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time since they made an NIT Final run in the spring, the Runnin’ Utes will take the floor at the Jon M. Huntsman Center tonight. Set for tip-off at 6p.m., Utah welcomes the College of Idaho Coyotes to Salt Lake City for a preseason exhibition match. 

If you can’t make it out to the Huntsman Center, the game will be broadcast live on ESPN700 with Bill Riley and Jimmy Soto on the call. 

Tonight’s exhibition sees two very different programs who, respectively, saw measurable postseason success last year. 

  • A LOOK AT THE YOTES 

The Yotes of College of Idaho are coming off a 2017-18 campaign that had them within one game of the NAIA National Championship. The semi-finals appearance was the first in program history and resulted in their head coach, Scott Garson, moving on to a bigger job. Colby Blaine, the new guy in charge and friend of Larry Krystowiak, hopes to keep that momentum going after taking over in Caldwell. 

He’s already off to a good start with the NAIA schedule getting going a little earlier than Division I does. The reigning Cascade Collegiate Conference champions are 2-0 with blowout wins over New Hope Christian and Salish Kootenai CC. C of I is currently the No. 3 ranked team in the nation at the NAIA level. 

The Yotes play a fast-paced tempo and use a by-committee approach to scoring – something they do a lot of. With a rotation that goes as many as twelve guys deep, the Yotes shoot a lot of threes, get out in transition and take advantage of their fresh legs. With five guys averaging double-figures and putting up 108 points-per-game, C of I could be a good challenge for this young Utes team. 

“I don’t think we’ve been all that great defensively,” Krystowiak said. “It’s really early on but we’ve had a tendency to allow guys to penetrate and break us down in the lane. I think this can be a good litmus test to see how our guys can defend the perimeter.”  

  • The Runnin’ Utes

Returning seven letterwinners from last year and bringing in nine new faces, it’s safe to say the the Utes will field a revamped roster in 2018-19. 

The departure of PG Justin Bibbins, F Tyler Rawson and C David Collette leaves a pretty big void for the Utes on both ends of the floor. Head coach Larry Krystowiak hopes to bridge the gap with a by-committee approach.

“Losing scoring and losing leadership are both really tough,” Krystowiak said. “I feel like we have quite a few guys that are really close to taking that next step. We have youth and potential and I like where we’re at. Still plenty of work to be done, but I like where we’re at.”

Looking to lead the charge is Sedrick Barefield, the Utes leading returning scorer at 12 points-per-game. He’ll likely be asked to carry a heavier load in 2018-19, but that doesn’t necessarily mean just taking more shots.

“Sedrick is a scorer and we definitely don’t want him to shy away from that,” Krystowiak said. “But losing [Bibbins] is big for us. We’ll need other guys to get us into our offensive sets and facilitate a little more. I think Sed can do a lot of that.”

College of Southern Idaho transfer Charles Jones Jr. brings in more backcourt depth for Utah. The 2018 NJCAA National Player of the Year is a ‘spark plug’ type guy. He can score points in a hurry and his playmaking ability is second to none. He’ll be asked to do a lot for the Utes early on in his time on the hill.

Parker Van Dyke returns to the Utes after a stellar finish to his junior season. The hometown sharpshooter will have a near-green light from the perimeter from Coach K.

Sophomore Donnie Tillman runs it back after an impressive freshman season. Tillman, a 6-foot-7 forward out of Detroit, showed signs of stardom in 2017-18 and looks to have extended the range on his jumper. A versatile defender and an ever-improving scorer, Tillman should be a real contributor for Utah in the coming season.

7-footer Jayce Johnson won’t be in action for the exhibition, but returns after a sophomore season where he saw plenty of floor time. A true ‘motor guy’ for the Utes, Johnson lays it all out on the court. His high energy rebounding and rim protection will be a huge plus as long as his offseason foot injury heals properly. His offensive game is raw, but with some more Coach K grooming, could become a real weapon for him near the rim.

Senior transfer-student and fellow 7-footer Novak Topalovic should add some needed depth at the center position. The big Serbian averaged double-figures during both his seasons at Idaho State and could add a presence in the low post, something the Utes will definitely be looking for after losing David Collette.

It doesn’t end there, Coach K has been consistently praising his incoming freshman and says that he’s not sure if he has had this much talent in one freshman bunch before. Vante Hendrix, Both Gach, Timmy Allen, Riley Battin, Lahat Thioune, Naseem Gaskin and Kevin Kremer round out the newcomers. Thioune, however, may be in a redshirt situation due to injury.

Team inexperience also opens up possible playing opportunities from depth pieces like Beau Rydalch, Christian Popoola, Brooks King, Brandon Morley and Marc Reininger.

The Runnin’ Utes will also be back in the Huntsman Center a week from today for a meeting with the Maine Black Bears. 

For more Runnin’ Utes and local coverage, follow along on Twitter and online @ESPN700 and ESPN700sports.com. 


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