SALT LAKE CITY — It wasn’t pretty, but the University of Utah basketball program kicked off the season with a win over visiting Maine 75-61.
Utah jumped out to a quick 25-10 lead but quickly took the foot off the figurative gas pedal as they allowed the Black Bears to hover within 10 points for much of the second half. The game was never really in question and Utah managed to keep Maine from making a late-game run.
Here are a few takeaways from Utah’s season-opening win.
Barefield and Tillman can keep Utah in check
Utah lost a lot of players to graduation last season, but guys like Sedrick Barefield and Donnie Tillman have the potential to weather any of the storms that come from having a young team. Tillman is still an underclassman, but he’s proven his value in the starting unit.
The two easily combined for 33 points and were the clear standouts in a game where there wasn’t much to praise. Barefield led all scores with 18 points as he orchestrated the Utah offense. Barfield still makes some questionable turnovers, but he’s still a solid option to have leading the team.
Tillman has definitely taken a step in the right direction and looks more confident in his game from last season. The sophomore made big-time plays as a freshman last year, but is playing with a sense of confidence that he’s been there before. That may sound simple, but knowing what to expect throughout the season and how to pace yourself is extremely valuable.
As long as Barefield and Tillman are producing, Utah should have a fighting chance in most games throughout the non-conference schedule.
3-point shooting is great but …
Utah started out the game on a hot 6-of-7 shooting from deep to open up the game. The deep-threat shooting allowed Utah to play aggressively and spread the ball around as a team. But the Utes would go on to only make two more 3-pointers on 17 attempts for the rest of the game. For those doing the math at home, that’s 11.8 percent.
While it’s not going to hurt Utah against teams like Maine, shooting that low of a percentage against a marginally better team will limit Utah’s ability to have any success. While that wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, it made up for nearly 44 percent of the team’s shooting looks.
Making a lot of 3-pointers is always great and a quick way to distance yourself from your opponent, but those shots have to fall. Utah will be a team that shoots a lot of 3-pointers, but they can’t ignore the post. Call it an old-school mentality, but Utah will have more sustained success with a successful post presence.
Against the Black Bears, Utah managed 34 points in the paint. The opportunities were there for Utah in the post and they didn’t necessarily need to shoot from deep. Based on head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s love of post play, this will likely be a point of emphasis moving forward.
Utah has some up-and-coming stars
It’s hard to tell in a sloppy game, but Utah has some guys that should make Utah fans excited about the future. Whether they can reach their potential this season is still yet to be determined, but the pieces are there for Utah to have some sustained success over the next few years.
Guys like Timmy Allen, Novak Topalovic, Charles Jones, Both Gach and Riley Battin all have the potential to be really good. Allen and Topalovic appear to be a little more ahead of the rest of the group and could get some significant playing time. The pair combined for 15 points and 16 rebounds in the win.
This should be encouraging to Utah fans who have been waiting for this recruiting class to finally take the floor for the Utes.