Senseless sensibility: No matter how you slice it, Utes will have to beat the best to be the best

In the wake of a loss that marks the end of an 18-game winning streak and a general feeling of invincibility in the Ute nation, Ute fans are finding cause to panic.

Everyone seems concerned that the Utes have lost any chance of securing a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament-the supposed logic holding that a No. 3 seed doesn’t have to face a No. 1 seed until the Elite Eight.

As though karma dictates that something must be terribly wrong for a Utah team, at some point in this academic year, fans are insisting that the fall to No. 4 is a harbinger of doom.

Even if they’re right, if you don’t face a No. 1 in the Sweet Sixteen, you face a No. 2-according to this science of inevitability that everyone seems to be subscribing to-and if you beat the No. 2, you’ll have to face the No. 1 anyway (Theorem 3.2, Bracketology).

Only two No. 1 seeds reached the Elite Eight last year, however, and neither played in the championship game. If the Utes play the best in March, they win. It’s really that simple.

Concerns abound about playing the best, as well.

At least it seems sensible to analyze the U’s chances against top-flight competition, since they’ve lost to the four toughest teams they’ve played this season (No. 9 Arizona, No. 14 Washington and Utah State are the others).

Luke Winn of SI.com recently wrote that the Utes have little chance in the tournament and play at the “325 slowest tempo in the country.” Gee, thanks Luke. Some friendly advice: Save the radar gun for summertime.

People seem to have forgotten that Rick Majerus left Utah, or they assume that Ray Giacoletti must be cut from the same white, wooly cloth.

Giacoletti shuns the traditional collegiate attire and opts for a little flare in the national spotlight. And it’s not just his wardrobe that’s up-tempo.

Recognizing that his Utes might be outgunned by more athletic competition in March, Giacoletti has tried to introduce a little pace to his squad.

Defensively, the Utes have shown the collective willingness to hustle that will be essential for a prolonged tournament run, but they can still be stymied offensively by quick, pesky defenses that prevent post feeds to Andrew Bogut.

New Mexico exploited that weakness on Monday night, and the U failed to respond.

Usually, coaches try to get an overwhelmed big guy involved by finding open perimeter shooters if the defense denies the post.

Unfortunately, the Utes only have one prolific three-point shooter (Marc Jackson), and they will certainly need a couple of hot hands if Bogut hopes to breathe come tournament time.

Giacoletti might also try to draw a few more fouls the next time he faces stiff opposition. Bryant Markson, Justin Hawkins and Richard Chaney are all capable of driving and creating their own shots, and they will need to draw fouls in the lane and get Bogut’s defenders in early trouble.

Teams from the powerhouse conferences typically feature more athletic teams with more height at the 2, 3 and 4.

Passing lanes are going to shrink, and post feeds are going to seem harder than half-court shots.

It’s a lot to think about, and it makes Monday’s loss at the Pit that much more despairing.

Nevertheless, that loss doesn’t raise any new problems, it just rehashes a familiar question: Can the Utes hang at the top?

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