#10 Utah by Ricky O'Donnell

Photo: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The first thing you'll notice about Utah this year is who isn't there. That would be Delon Wright, the star point guard who went from junior college to All-American and led Utah all the way to the Sweet 16 last season following a five-year NCAA Tournament drought.

Given the place the program was at when Larry Krystkowiak inherited it in 2011, it's easy to see last season as a culmination of the rebirth of Utah basketball. When Krystkowiak was hired, eight players promptly transferred and the team finished 6-25 in his first year. Wright deserves much of the credit for Utah's revival, but even as he exits the program, the Utes are left with a deep and talented team that could be the class of the Pac-12.

The new main attraction is sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. You can count on one hand the number of projected first-round picks who decided to return to college basketball this year instead of jumping to the pros, with Poeltl and Providence's Kris Dunn being the two most obvious examples. He could be the best center in the country this year and a lottery pick in the 2016 draft if he continues to develop at the rapid rate he showed last season.

Poeltl is in a position to excel this year because he'll be surrounded by both shooting and experience. Utah returns three seniors who were part of Krystkowiak's very first recruiting class, led by forward Jordan Loveridge. Loveridge has averaged double-digits in scoring all three years he's been in school, and could be among the better scorers in the Pac-12 this season thanks to the refined jump shot he showed off as a junior.

Brandon Taylor takes over for Wright at point guard. He won't be the two-way terror Wright was the last two years, but he's a much better three-point shooter (43.9 percent on 5.3 attempts per game). Sophomore Brekkott Chapman, a former top 100 recruit who lived up to the billing as a freshman, could be Utah's breakout player.

With Arizona replacing four starters and UCLA potentially being another year away, this could be Utah's chance in the Pac-12. It's impossible to replace a player as dynamic as Wright, but he was never a one-man army. The Utes should be ready to prove that this season.

How Utah can go deep in the tournament: Knock down threes around Poeltl

There simply aren't going to be many opposing big men who will be able to check Poeltl one-on-one at this level. At seven feet and 240 pounds, he's the rare college center who can dominate both ends of the floor with NBA size.

Poeltl showed how talented he is in the Sweet 16 against Duke's Jahlil Okafor, holding the No. 3 overall draft pick to just six points while finishing the night with 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks himself. That tied a season low in scoring for Okafor and was one of only three times the entire year he was held in single digits. Given that Poeltl was a relative unknown entering the program from Austria a year ago, there's no ceiling on what he could do this season within a four-out attack that should give him plenty of room to operate.

Utah was one of the best shooting teams in the country last season, finishing No. 8 in three-point percentage by hitting 40.1 of their attempts from downtown. With Loveridge and Chapman both able to play power forward, Utah could conceivably have four shooters on the floor at all times.

Loveridge deserves a lot of credit for improving his outside shot to such a significant degree last season. After making 30.6 percent of his threes as a sophomore, he was a 43.5 percent three-point shooter on 4.4 attempts per game as a junior. Chapman also showcased an inside-out game as a 6'8, 200-pound freshman, hitting 44.2 percent of his threes (on 43 attempts all year). If Chapman continues to progress like he did last season he should be Utah's focal point as a junior.

Taylor is a tremendous high volume three-point shooter, and Tucker is capable from the outside, as well. Utah knows what it has in its starting five. If a couple of the reserves can take a step forward, Utah is going to be especially dangerous. Kyle Kuzma, a 6'9 redshirt sophomore from Michigan, and JUCO transfer Lorenzo Bonam are the safest bets. Bonam is already drawing rave reviews in practice and could end up being a starter.

How the Utes can go home early: The defense slips without Wright

Utah's defense has been great the last two seasons, finishing No. 36 in defensive efficiency in 2014 and jumping all the way to No. 6 last season. The common thread there? Delon Wright was one of the best perimeter defenders in the country.

In Krystkowiak's first two years at Utah without Wright, the defense was not as pretty. Utah ranked No. 212 in defensive efficiency in 2012 and No. 119 in 2013. One player doesn't make an entire defense, but Wright was tremendous at pressuring the ball and forcing steals. Can this still be a top-50 defense without him?

Forward Chris Reyes could be a starter at the four when Utah wants to lock down, defensively. He isn't as gifted offensively as Chapman is, but he has nice size (6'7, 230 pounds) and didn't back down against tough assignments last year.

Utah's defensive numbers really were outstanding last year. They finished No. 5 in effective field goal percentage against, No. 29 in block rate and did well to limit offensive rebounds. With Poeltl tying everything together, the interior defense should be able to hold up. If the perimeter D can, too, Utah will be legit.

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