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Runnin’ Utes hit halfway point of camp, prep for closed scrimmage vs. Wyoming on Saturday

New coach Craig Smith says he isn’t close to naming a starting five, but likes the energy and intensity players have displayed during the first 15 practices of camp

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Utah coach Craig Smith, left, speaks next to Riley Battin, middle, and Branden Carlson during Pac-12 media day. Carlson had an appendicitis attack last weekend and will be sidelined for 2-3 weeks, Smith said on Tuesday, January 11, 2022.

Utah coach Craig Smith, left, speaks next to Riley Battin, middle, and Branden Carlson during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA men’s college basketball media day Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in San Francisco.

Jeff Chiu, Associated Press

The Runnin’ Utes are roughly halfway through preseason training camp, but new coach Craig Smith isn’t even close to naming a starting five for the exhibition on Nov. 4 against Westminster College, let alone the season-opener Nov. 9 against Abilene Christian.

That’s not a surprise. Smith said two weeks ago that that decision could come down to the wire, given that eight players are new to the program.

“I am all over the map right now, which is a good thing,” Smith said regarding his rotations on Tuesday before practice inside the Huntsman Center. “If you said today, ‘Who is your starting five?’ I couldn’t tell you.”

“I am all over the map right now, which is a good thing. If you said today, ‘Who is your starting five?’ I couldn’t tell you.” — Utah basketball coach Craig Smith

Because they are allowed 28 practices and two exhibition games and/or closed scrimmages, or a combination of the two, the Utes hit the midpoint last Saturday with their 14th practice of camp.

“We are in the dog days a little bit,” Smith said.

Thursday, they will begin preparing for Saturday’s closed scrimmage against Wyoming, with the coaching staff simulating what game preparations will be like once the season starts.

Smith couldn’t directly talk about Wyoming — first reported to be the opponent by watchstadium.com — due to NCAA rules, but he said he “loves the opponent we are playing, just because we are really familiar with each other. They love what we do, and it helps them prepare for different teams in their league, and vice versa.”

After the scrimmage, the Utes will have eight or nine practices before the exhibition game, and then three practices later, they will be playing for real.

“These (scrimmages) are really invaluable,” he said.

Of course, Smith coached against Wyoming coach Jeff Linder, in his second year in Laramie, when his Utah State Aggies beat the Cowboys 72-59 in Logan on March 4, 2021.

Smith said the Runnin’ Utes are eager to face an unfamiliar foe, after competing against each other not only in preseason camp, but throughout the summer.

“They get along really, really well,” he said. “But after 15 practices, they are ready to see someone new.”

Smith said most of those practices have been intense and spirited, with the possible exception of one late last week. That was possibly because the staff threw some new wrinkles at them.

“They weren’t at a high level, frankly,” he said.

Partly because his wife was out of town over the weekend, Smith spent a lot of time watching film of the previous practices and contemplating his lineups and rotations after he returned from Pac-12 media day last Wednesday in San Francisco with returning players Branden Carlson and Riley Battin.

Those two, along with the players who followed Smith from Logan to Salt Lake City — senior Marco Anthony and sophomore Rollie Worster — would seemingly have a step up in the competition to be starters. But Smith said nobody will be given priority.

“It is wide-open competition,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you how many lineups we have used in practice. We are mixing it up all the time to see what sticks and what the synergy is. … But you gotta earn it, man. I don’t care what your merits are, or what your accolades are. That’s all in the past.”