Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak entered his fifth season determined to keep momentum from last year's NCAA Sweet 16 run. He'll learn how well the No. 16 Utes can do that as they head to this week's Puerto Rico Tipoff in a demanding opening month.
Utah's trip to San Juan, starting with a game against Texas Tech, is part of a stretch of five games in 10 nights to open the season. The Utes (2-0) are coming off Monday's win against a San Diego State team that has reached the NCAA Tournament for six straight seasons. They're making the longest trip of the Tipoff teams at roughly 3,100 miles and a couple of time zones east -- prompting Krystkowiak to quip that maybe his team should get "a few points head start" in games.
There's also a trip to Wichita State and a game against No. 5 Duke at New York's Madison Square Garden awaiting in the coming month.
"We had better not be thinking about it too much, the travel, and that is going to be part of our season," he said. "We have some real challenging games. And we're going to see what we're made of here early in the season."
The Tipoff field includes No. 22 Butler, Miami, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Missouri State, Temple and Texas Tech, with each team playing three games in four days.
Here are some other things to watch as the tournament opens Thursday and wraps up Sunday:
BUTLER'S OFFENSE: The Bulldogs (1-0) certainly got off to a fast start under second-year Chris Holtmann. Butler broke four school records, including single-game scoring, in its 144-71 win against The Citadel in Saturday's opener. Seven players scored in double figures in that one, led by preseason all-Big East seniors Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones. They open tournament play as what Holtmann described as "a work in progress" against Missouri State (0-1). "You're hoping that . the habits that you worked to build in the preseason can carry over when you might have limited prep for the next opponent that you're going to play," he said.
RODRIGUEZ'S HOMECOMING: Miami's Angel Rodriguez is the only Puerto Rico native on any roster at the tournament, according to STATS. He was born in San Juan in December 1992 and left the island as a 15-year-old to come to the United States to play basketball and pursue a college scholarship, first ending up at Kansas State before transferring to Miami (2-0). He's the point guard for a team picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and bounced back from an off-night in the opener with 18 points in Monday's win against Louisiana.
MOVING ON: The Owls haven't played since Friday's 91-67 loss to top-ranked North Carolina in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis, Maryland. Among the most obvious struggles: Temple made 1 of 8 free throws after halftime and was outrebounded 49-32 for the game. It was a frustrating start for coach Fran Dunphy's club, which returns three starters from a 26-win team that reached last year's NIT semifinals. The Owls open the tournament against Minnesota (2-0), which was outrebounded in both of its wins against Missouri-Kansas City and Louisiana-Monroe.
NEWMAN'S HEALTH: Malik Newman arrived at Mississippi State as one of the nation's most heralded recruits for Ben Howland's debut season with the Bulldogs (1-1). But he's been hobbled by a toe injury through preseason, missing the team's exhibition game and its opener. He scored six points on 2-for-8 shooting, made 1 of 6 free throws and had four turnovers in 17 minutes during Monday's home loss to Southern. So will he be ready for three games in four days, starting against Miami? "His full stride of being back 100 percent probably won't be until after Puerto Rico," Howland said last week. "So our main focus right now is much smaller in terms of expectation. We just want to get him out there and get him healthy and get him going."
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