The Great Debate: Are the Runnin’ Utes a top-10 team?

By The Daily

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

Utes have the players and stats to back up top-10 ranking

By Brock Jensen

For the last few weeks Utah has been ranked among the top 10 teams in college basketball, yet the question is still being asked whether or not the Utes really deserve their current place in the polls.

Sure, Utah has been down in the last few years, but under head coach Larry Krystkowiak, the Utes have not just rebounded from multiple forgettable seasons but are also close to returning to a form not seen since the glory days of Andre Miller and Rick Majerus. Simply enough, the Utes are indeed deserving of their ranking.

The Runnin’ Utes are entering the second half of their schedule with a record of 13-2 overall and 3-0 in conference play. Their only losses have been to then-No. 16 San Diego State in San Diego and then-No. 10 Kansas in Kansas City. Those aren’t the worst losses in the world to have on the Utes’ résumé.

The rest of Utah’s body of work speaks for itself. It features blowouts, winning streaks and, most notably, an overtime win over then-No. 8 Wichita State.

Even without that victory, the Utes’ top-10 ranking would be justified, and that’s because of how Utah has played defense this season. The Utes’ defense ranks eighth in the NCAA in points allowed per game with opposing teams averaging just 55.1 points. And the defense has only gotten better since entering conference play.

In Utah’s first three Pac-12 games, they held USC, UCLA and Colorado to 55, 39 and 49 points, respectively — quite a statement to the rest of the conference.

The UCLA game is a perfect example of what this team can do defensively. Utah held UCLA to 29 percent shooting and their lowest point total since 1967 — just a little bit impressive.

The Utes are also dominating the glass, out-rebounding all but two opponents this season. A team that plays defense and rebounds is a team that is built to go deep into March. So, Ute fans, start dreaming of a Final Four. It’s really not that crazy.

But the Utes aren’t just playing well on the defensive end.

Since the return of Jordan Loveridge from a minor in-season knee surgery, Utah’s offense has started firing on all cylinders.

Utah has been shooting the ball a tick above 50 percent on the season — good enough for eighth in the nation. The Utes are getting high percentage shots and knocking them down.

Utah is well-balanced and, with Loveridge, Brandon Taylor and Brekkott Chapman hitting from the outside, they’ve opened up driving lanes and space down low for the Utes’ big men to go to work. Having some quality bigs who are able to finish down low doesn’t hurt either.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned Utah’s best and most important player: Delon Wright.

Wright has been the key to everything the Utes are doing this season. He’s averaging just under 15 points, 5.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 steals so far and has cemented himself as one of the nation’s best players. If Wright continues to play like this, and there’s is no reason to think he won’t, the Utes can start thinking about a Pac-12 Championship and beyond.

Though the Utes may not have been tested as much as some of the other top 10 teams, the wins and the statistics are there to back up their ranking. They have an elite player, an elite defense and a balanced squad. A special season is in the works.

 

[email protected]

@brock_jensen02[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

Runnin’ Utes’ ranking is thanks to an easy schedule 

By Kim Brenneisen 

I’m just going to come out and say it — the Utes are no top-10 team. In fact, they are on the edge of being kicked out of their spot, depending on how they play this week against the Arizona schools.

Yes, Utah is currently ranked eighth in the AP Poll, and coaches also have them in the same spot in the USA Today Coaches Poll, but its schedule really hasn’t been all that hard. Against the few tough opponents they have faced — San Diego State, Kansas and Wichita State — the Utes have struggled, with their only win coming against the Shockers.

And let’s face it, Wichita State is not having as great of a season as it did a year ago, not to mention the Shockers are playing in a weak conference where they are hardly challenged. Instead, they face inferior opponents, and it appears as though the Utes are one of only a few ranked teams they will face all season long.

All of this diminishes the Utes’ so-called great win into simply another victory. Wichita State has a reputable college basketball program, but this year is clearly not its best.

With the big game against the Arizona Wildcats coming up this weekend, I predict that Utah will lose at least one of their two games against Arizona this season. The Wildcats are currently undefeated at home and hardly ever take a loss in front of their home crowd. It will be no different this coming Saturday when the Utes are in town.

In addition to the Wildcats having home-court advantage, they have defeated all of their ranked opponents. If for some reason Utah pulls out the win on the road, Arizona will surely take the next game away from them in the Huntsman Center.

The Utes have won 13 games pretty easily, but with only one notable win against currently 13th-ranked Wichita State, they have not yet faced off against any noteworthy talent.

They did have a decent road win against the “team down south.” But really, BYU? The Cougars play in the weaker West Coast Conference, save Gonzaga, and have dropped games against Purdue and Pepperdine — hardly the résumé of a top team.

And all the teams the Utes have beaten, except Wichita State and Carroll College, have at least five losses halfway through the season, so no real accomplishments there.

They still have half of their season left to play, all conference play until the postseason. The Pac-12 isn’t very strong in men’s basketball this season. The only two ranked teams in the conference are the Utes and the Wildcats, while a majority of the other teams have been struggling up to this point.

Aside from looking at the Utes alone, it is important to recognize that there are other teams who are better than them. There is no arguing against the two undefeated teams, Kentucky and Virginia. After those teams claim the top spots, there should be no arguing against the teams with only one loss, such as Duke, Gonzaga and Villanova. Those five teams are all better than Utah.

Throw in other two-loss teams like Louisville, Wisconsin, Arizona, Notre Dame and Kansas (who has beaten Utah, yet is ranked behind the Utes) and there are 10 teams better than the Utes. The reason I place these two-loss teams ahead of Utah is that all of them, besides Arizona, play in stronger conferences.

The Utes by all means deserve to be ranked, but despite having a much better season than in years past, they do not belong in the top 10. When it’s all said and done, they will be ranked appropriately, on the outside looking in at the 10 best teams in America.

 

[email protected]

@KimBrenneisen[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]