Record: 26-8 (13-5)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 3 (Midwest)
How they got to the Big Dance
The Utah Utes started the season off very strong minus their 24-point loss to a Miami team who was unranked at the time. People began to notice the Utes when they beat Duke in overtime, who was then ranked No. 7 in the country. They did lose a couple of other games against unranked opponents like California and Oregon, but both those teams are now in the top-25. In fact, the Utes did not lose to a team out the top-100 all year. They may have lost eight games, but they don’t really have a terrible loss in terms of who they played. Your opinion of them may have changed though after the PAC-12 tournament. As the No. 2 seed, Utah beat USC and No. 24 California-Berkeley in overtime to reach the conference final, but in the final they were absolutely embarrassed by top-seeded Oregon by a score of 88-57.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
Utah has played many teams who will be heading to the NCAA tournament this year. They have plenty of experience against some of the best teams in the country. They have the ability to put points on the board, scoring an average of 76.5 points per game. When they’re on their game, they shoot the ball very efficiently, sinking just under half their shots. They can also put up points from behind the arc. In addition to their scoring, they are a top-50 rebounding team. They can match up and rebound well against almost anyone. What is really impressive about this team is that they don’t commit many fouls. The Utes only foul their opponents 15.6 times per game. In turn, only 10.2 points per game are scored against the Utes from the free throw line. They won’t be beat from the line, so teams will be forced to have a good shooting day to beat the Utes.
Why they aren’t a legitimate contender
Although the Utes have played many tournament teams, they’ve been very inconsistent. It’s hard to tell which Utah team we are going to see. Are we going to see the team that beat No. 9 Arizona and twice beat No. 24 Cal, or are we going to see the team that got destroyed in the PAC-12 tournament against Oregon? It’s going to be hard for them to go far in this tournament with how poorly they force turnovers. They rank 331st in the country in forced turnovers, and they only record 5.3 steals per game. The Utes are going to have a hard time in this tournament if they come across a good scoring team that shoots the ball well. They’ve been prone to give up 3-pointers throughout the season, which won’t help if they can’t force turnovers. They could be on upset watch against a Cinderella team.
Player to watch- F Jakob Poeltl
The Utes are a top-50 rebounding team in large part due to this 7-foot sophomore. It’s pretty hard to contain someone with his size and ability. Over the course of the season, he’s averaged 17.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. The big man shoots an impressive 65.6 percent from the field. The Utes could do very well in the tournament if Poeltl has games like he did in the Pac-12 semifinal against Cal. He scored 29 points, shooting 10 of 18 from the floor and 9 of 12 from the free throw line. The Utes are going to have to get him going if they want to make a run in the tournament.
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