On Thursday, three-seed Utah will square off against 14-seed Fresno State in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo. While the Runnin’ Utes, namely big man Jakob Poeltl, have received a wide variety of national buzz this season, the same can’t be said for their opponent.
But since the Bulldogs play in a different conference, not many Utah fans out there know just who Fresno State is. So to get the inside scoop, The Daily Utah Chronicle caught up with Daniel Leon of The Collegian.
Being members of different conferences, Utah fans are in the dark on this Fresno State team. What kind of team are the Bulldogs and what should the Utes expect on Thursday?
Daniel Leon: The Bulldogs are a hungry team with a lot of momentum on their side, having won nine straight games and 11 of their last 12. As head coach Rodney Terry told the media earlier this week, this is a team playing with a lot of urgency right now. The ‘Dogs haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2001, so the players are excited to get the program back to the Big Dance, and you’ll see their energy level match their excitement Thursday afternoon on the court.
Who is Marvelle Harris and how dangerous could he be against this Ute team?
DL: Harris is Fresno State’s best player, and this season, he proved that he’s also the best player in the Mountain West Conference. As the Bulldogs’ leading scorer at 20 points per game, he is very versatile and can score from anywhere. He also has the power and explosiveness to drive the ball and score from inside the paint. But even when he’s not having his best scoring night, he finds other ways to impact the game through playing defense, rebounding and dishing out assists to his teammates.
On the flipside, the Bulldogs have most likely not seen a player like Jakob Poeltl this season. How are they preparing to face the Utah big man?
DL: Limiting Poeltl is something that Fresno State is going to have to do in order to have a shot, and Coach Terry emphasized that in his meeting with the press earlier this week. The Bulldogs face some solid big men in the Mountain West but nothing compared to a highly-regarded NBA prospect like Poeltl. As far as defending him, Terry will likely put center Terrell Carter, the Bulldogs’ strongest and most physical player, on him to try to limit his opportunities. Carter gives the Bulldogs the best shot of trying to stop Poeltl.
Will playing in a mid-major conference hurt Fresno State in this game against Utah?
DL: The Bulldogs haven’t really faced any stiff competition all year, so yes — I do believe it will in some way have an impact.
How much potential is there for an upset? Prediction?
DL: I think we’ve all learned not to rule out upsets in March. However, I don’t see that happening in this case. I think we’ll see a competitive basketball game early on, but I just can’t see the Bulldogs taking down the Pac-12’s runner-up. Utah: 82, Fresno State: 68.