Multiple times during the preseason training camp period, Utah men’s basketball coach Craig Smith has talked about the depth of his program.

“This is the most depth we’ve had in our three years here,” he said last week. 

On Wednesday, Runnin’ Utes fans will have their first chance to see it in action, when Utah hosts Westminster (6 p.m. MDT) at the Huntsman Center in the team’s lone exhibition before the regular season tips off Nov. 6 against Eastern Washington.

Smith has emphasized his belief that Utah, in finishing seventh in the Pac-12 standings last year, showed that its starting five could compete across the board in the league. 

Where the shortcomings came, though, was when — whether due to injuries, difficult matchups, etc. — the team’s depth was tested last season.

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This year, he’s confident the Utes have improved, as they mix a team of eight returning players (led by two-time All-Pac-12 performer Branden Carlson) with a group of newcomers that includes four transfers and four freshmen.

Wednesday’s matchup will provide an opportunity for the Utes, who went on an overseas trip to Spain, to assess one last time how they mesh together before the season begins.

Here’s a look at how this year’s team has been constructed and what to watch for in Wednesday’s exhibition:

The returning players

  • Branden Carlson, senior center.
  • Gabe Madsen, senior guard.
  • Rollie Worster, senior guard.
  • Ben Carlson, senior forward.
  • Wilguens Junior Exacte, sophomore guard.
  • Keba Keita, sophomore center.
  • Brandon Haddock, junior guard.
  • Luka Tarlac, sophomore guard.

What to watch for Wednesday: Several times this offseason, Branden Carlson has talked about developing himself as a vocal leader, after testing the NBA waters but ultimately returning as a fifth-year senior.

How will that play out in front of the home crowd?

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The Utes’ four returning starters are all seniors — that veteran leadership is what made CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander declare the University of Utah the best men’s college basketball team in the state this season.

“Craig Smith is in his third season at Utah and has a team that looks like a fun Pac-12 dark horse. Center Branden Carlson is going to be the primary factor, though he’s got a boatload of seniors around him to boost the Utes’ chances,” Norlander wrote.

There’s also the development of guys like Exacte and Keita — both are expected to see their roles increase this season after making contributions as freshmen last year.

“He’s been keeping the game simple, making good plays,” Worster said of Exacte.

Smith added on Keita: “Keba, the last three weeks or so, has been a monster on the floor.”

The transfers

  • Cole Bajema, senior guard (from Washington).
  • Lawson Lovering, junior center (from Colorado).
  • Deivon Smith, senior guard (from Georgia Tech).
  • Hunter Erickson, senior guard (from Salt Lake Community College).

What to watch for Wednesday: Bajema has been described as an elite shooter by teammates and his coach, and after the Utes’ offense struggled last season — especially in a six-game losing streak to end the year — Utah needs scoring help to complement guys like Branden Carlson and Madsen.

“Cole is a sniper. He can really shoot the ball,” Exacte said.

Is there shooting help waiting in the wings for Utah basketball this year?

There is still uncertainty about whether Smith will receive an NCAA waiver that would allow him to compete this season — he’s transferred twice already in his college career.

If he plays, Smith adds quickness and athleticism to the guard line.

Erickson also could add some scoring punch. He comes to the U. via SLCC, and two years at BYU before that. The Timpview High product averaged 12.1 points, 5.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 42.1% from 3-point range.

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“His IQ, his passing, his ball handling — that’s what we kinda missed last year. We needed a guy like Hunter,” Exacte said.

The rookies

  • Jake Wahlin, freshman forward.
  • Jayden Teat, freshman guard.
  • Ayomide Bamisile, freshman forward.
  • Jerry Huang, freshman guard.

What to watch for Wednesday: Of the four freshmen, Wahlin is most likely to make an impact during this season.

He returned from a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this offseason and signed with Utah, after originally signing with BYU prior to the mission.

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“He’s been playing hard, he makes winning plays,” Worster said of Wahlin. “Obviously being young, there’s some things he needs to clean up and work on, but I think he’s looked good and continued to improve over the summer.”

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