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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Great Debate: Where Will Utah Finish in the Pac-12?

Daily Utah Chronicle
Sophomore forward Brekkott Chapman (0) defends Cal Golden Bears guard Jordan Mathews, right in a Pac-12 regular season game at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. Chris Samuels, Daily Utah Chronicle.

Early-Season Losses Will Place Utes Outside Of The Top Three

by Tyler Crum

As the end of another hectic year of Pac-12 men’s basketball draws near, the Runnin’ Utes have only three weeks left in the regular season to finish strong and establish their seeding for the conference championships in March.

With an 8-5 conference record, Utah is currently tied for third place with Colorado, only one game behind Pac-12 leaders Arizona and Oregon, but only one game ahead of Cal and USC. With half the conference clamoring for room at the top, the Utes will realistically have to win at least four of their remaining five games if they want to finish in the top three and have a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament.

Against divisional opponents, the Utes have the potential to control their own destiny and perhaps even claw their way into the second-place spot behind Oregon. But the final games of Utah’s season comprise a challenging gauntlet — a road weekend in Los Angeles, a pair of home games against ASU and perennial power Arizona, and a season finale showdown against an upstart Colorado squad out for revenge.

While I still think the Utes are a quality team and that they are equipped to make deep runs in the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, the team dug itself into a hole earlier this season with bad losses against Stanford, Cal and Oregon State, and now those early losses will come back to haunt them. If history is any indicator, it will be a surprise if the Utes can win more than three of their remaining regular season matchups, and it is a strong possibility that the team will find itself outside of the top three at the conclusion of the regular season.

The first hurdle the Utes will have to face is a tough couple of away games against USC and UCLA. The matchups do not bode well for Utah, which has lost four of its seven conference road games this season and is 2-4 when on the road in Los Angeles since joining the Pac-12. Both teams are formidable at home, as you have to go back to last season to find the last time the Trojans have lost in the Galen Center, and UCLA has 11 home wins this season, two of which were against top-ten opponents.

Considering that USC is just one win behind Utah in the conference standings and UCLA is just two, this upcoming weekend will be do-or-die for the Runnin’ Utes if they want to stake a claim at the top.

Assuming the Utes walk away with at least one win in their final road trip of the season, their next challenge will come from an Arizona team that has yet to be beaten by any Utah team since the two became conference foes. Arizona has size and talent to match the Runnin’ Utes and has become the conference’s third-best scoring offense while giving up the second-fewest points.

The 12th-ranked Wildcats have shown signs of weakness at points this season, especially on the road, where the Utes will have the home-court advantage, but there’s no doubt this will be one of Utah’s toughest games of the season.

While these three games are obviously going to be difficult, the Utes can’t sleep on Rocky Mountain rival Colorado either. The Buffs have racked up a respectable 8-5 record in Pac-12 play this season and have several quality wins over Cal, UW and conference-leader Oregon. When the two played in Boulder back in January, the game came down to a narrow two-point margin. You can expect the CU players to play their hearts out to avenge that sole home loss and perhaps achieve a top-three finish themselves.

Time will tell if the Utes can handle the remaining games on the schedule, but Utah’s chances of finishing as a top-three team in the Pac-12 are shrinking by the contest.

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Errors Won’t Keep Utah From Top Three of Pac-12

by Brock Jensen

It’s been a roller coaster of a season for the Runnin’ Utes. The team came into this season heavily favored to contend for the Pac-12 championship, and while the Utes haven’t necessarily been a disappointment, they haven’t exactly lived up to pre-season expectations either.

The Utes recently looked like they turned a corner when they went on a five-game winning streak, but that abruptly came to an end with back-to-back losses at the hands of both Oregon schools. As the end of the season draws near, the post-season picture is becoming clearer. I believe Utah can put away the inconsistent play it has had for the first part of this season and finish in the top three in the conference. It’s definitely going to take some work though.

Utah has clearly shown it is able to compete with all the schools in the conference. Although Arizona and Oregon are emerging as the top schools in the Pac-12 right now, it’s not like they are that much better than Utah. And while Arizona is at the top of the standings, the team isn’t the powerhouse it has been in previous years.

Utah is currently sitting in fourth in the Pac-12 with a 19-7 overall record and an 8-5 conference record. The interesting thing is that there are seven teams that are only two games back and 10 teams within just three and a half games of Arizona. But even with all the teams clumped together, I really believe Utah can emerge victorious, and the biggest reason is Jakob Poeltl.

Utah’s big man is averaging 17.8 points per game and shooting a ridiculous 67.1 percent from the field. His stat line also includes 8.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. He is proving to everyone that last year’s production wasn’t a fluke.

Poeltl fits a lot of the criteria that scouts are looking for in the NBA. Also worth noting — he is third on the team in assists per game. Say what you will about what this says about Utah’s offense, but the big man knows how to make good decisions and pass the ball out of a double team when necessary.

The latest Joe Lunardi bracketology March Madness bracket has the Utes as a six-seed, and that seems just about right at this point in time, but Utah definitely has plenty of upside. Its biggest test is easily its last two home games against Arizona and Colorado. If the Utes can win those two games, I think they will finish in the top three in the conference.

I said it earlier this year, and I’ll say it again — Larry Krystkowiak knows what he’s doing, and his team doesn’t necessarily need to be playing perfect basketball right now. Sure, it would help, but the end of the season and the conference tournament are when top-caliber teams need to show up, and that’s what I believe Utah is going to do.

The Utes need to fix the unforced errors, but if they do that, I believe this team is more than capable of a top three regular season finish.

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