A Swing Around the Pac-12 After Five Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 21st, 2015

Just a collection of thoughts, compiled over the course of the past two weekends of Pac-12 play.

Arizona – This Utah game actually set up really nicely for the Wildcats. Utah was on a roll and feeling invincible despite the fact that it hadn’t beaten a good team since early December. Arizona, meanwhile, had plenty to prove amid accusations of selfishness and overratedness. The ‘Cats weathered the storm early, rode T.J. McConnell while settling in, and then turned on the juice in the second half. But, really, there are two big takeaways from this game. First, my impression all year long was that this vintage of the Wildcats does not have the high-end defensive ceiling that last year’s team had. And then, I look up on January 17 and they’ve got basically the same defensive efficiency numbers as they had last season and just finished a game where they completely shut down everything Utah wanted to do. This squad still needs to prove an ability to bring that intensity on a regular basis, but they absolutely have the ability to be just about as good defensively as last year’s team (although I still have a concern that they don’t have the type of individual stoppers that they had in Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon). Offensively, my eyes tell me this team has some problems in the half-court and that, while Stanley Johnson is clearly the team’s most talented player, Sean Miller has yet to figure out a good way to find shots for him. Then I look at the stats and I see that this team is pretty much the same offensively as last year’s group, getting similar percentages of shots from all three ranges on offense. And the best part? They’re still feeling their way around. Make no mistake, Arizona in mid-January is still a top 10 team — maybe top five — and the exciting part is that the Wildcats have enough upside that they could be significantly better by March.

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona's Upside Is Staggering (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona’s Upside Is Staggering. (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Utah – The Utes lost. Bury ‘em, right? Not so fast, but we do need to have a talk about a couple of players in particular. First Jordan Loveridge, the team’s junior power small forward. What’s to complain about? In the five Pac-12 games since he returned from injury, he’s averaging better than 10 points per game and shooting at a 54.2% eFG rate, knocking in 11-of-24 shots from deep. In that same time frame, he’s taken twice as many shots from behind the arc as he has from inside; he’s attempting free throws at about a third of the rate of his field goal attempts; and he’s grabbing a rebound about every five minutes. In short, Loveridge has gone from being one of the more promising interior players in the conference to a three-point shooting specialist. That’s about all he does anymore. I understand that at 6’6” his upside at the four is limited, and if he is ever going to play in the NBA, it will be at the three. But this is college ball. And while his ability to hit the three and pull bigs away from the hoop is a useful skill, it’s only a fraction of what Loveridge could be doing for this team. For what it’s worth, I promise that this is the last time I will rip a guy with an offensive rating of 115.0 and a three-point percentage of 47.5 percent. The other guy I want to touch on briefly is Jakob Poeltl. We still like him as a player: like his skills; like his effort; like his upside. And sure, NBA scouts love him. But he really needs a lot of work, especially in the weight room. He got pushed around by the Wildcats all night long on Saturday. And if you go back and look at the results, anytime he has gone up against long interior players (San Diego State, Kansas, UNLV, Colorado, Arizona, even BYU), he has struggled. You can’t really throw the ball into him in the post because he doesn’t know what to do with it yet, so you have to rely on him to get his own miss off the glass if he’s going to have any offensive impact, and he’s not strong enough to do that on a regular basis. He’s still an important part of this Utah team, but his major leap forward probably won’t come until next year, at which time he should hopefully still be in college. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Improvement, Surprises and Disappointments

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 2nd, 2015

With conference play tipping off tonight, it’s time for our half-way edition of Burning Questions, where we’ve asked our panelists five different questions looking back and looking ahead. Adam Butler, Kevin Danna and Andrew Murawa offer up their opinions below on which teams and players are waxing and waning in the Pac-12.

Which team can improve the most between now and March?

  • Adam Butler: Maybe this is silly but I maintain it can still be Arizona. There have only been a handful of games in which everything has clicked for this team. I think the Wildcats are still figuring things out offensively and a part of that is in still trying to figure out their rotation. The urgency and impact of conference play will tighten that up and ensure that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is playing maximum minutes. I believe this will behoove Sean Miller’s team immensely.
While Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And Arizona Are Ranked In The Top Ten, There May Be Improvement Still On The Way (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

While Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And Arizona Are Ranked In The Top 10, There May Be Improvement Still On The Way (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

  • Kevin Danna: It’s gotta be UCLA. They have so many talented freshmen (granted, not all of them are playing) that things are bound to eventually click for this group. The 39-point loss to Kentucky looked ugly, but hey, I’d rather lose by 39 to Kentucky than lose by three to Cal State Bakersfield.
  • Andrew Murawa: On the basis of new players improving alone, I’ll give the edge to Oregon. First, the Ducks’ only legitimate big man – 6’10” JuCo transfer Michael Chandler – is finally on the court for the first time this season. Meanwhile, freshmen Jordan Bell, Dillon Brooks, Ahmaad Rorie and Casey Benson are getting more comfortable by the game and as they improve and pick up their weight, senior star Joseph Young won’t feel quite the same pressure to do everything. The Ducks have all the hallmarks of an NCAA Tournament-caliber squad.

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Dear Utah: Seriously, Can You Learn How to Close the Door?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 11th, 2014

Against Wichita State, it was sort of heartwarming; Utah getting that close-game monkey off their back (they had been 3-9 in games decided by two possesions or less since Delon Wright put on a Utah uniform at the start of last season). The fact that they had to blow a comfortable lead in the waning moments to make the game close to begin with was forgivable givne the final result. Against BYU on Wednesday night, heartwarming turned into heartburn.

Winning Easily Seems To Fit As Awkwardly On The Utes As A Suit Jacket Does On Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak

Winning Easily Seems To Fit As Awkwardly On The Utes As A Suit Jacket Does On Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak

Really, by the time this game reached the first TV timeout early in the first half, there was no doubt as to who was the better team, who had more talent. Sure, BYU’s Tyler Haws is an elite scorer capable of keeping his team in a lot of games it has no business being in. And Kyle Collinsworth? Goodness. I have neither the time nor the imminent desire to list all the things I love about that dude’s game. But beyond that, the rest of that BYU roster is more or less indistinguishable from any other random team that will likely be on the periphery of NCAA Tournament discussion in a few months. They’ve got some decent parts (Anson Winder is nice, Chase Fischer is flammable, some passable bigs), but on a whole, there ain’t a whole lot to write home about beyond those two.

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Utah: Ugly Performance, Still Plenty of Upside

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 19th, 2014

Okay, right to the point: Utah fans, back away from the ledge. The Utes lost Tuesday afternoon at #16 San Diego State as part of the ESPN Hoops Marathon and they looked pretty offensively inept in doing so. But here’s the big picture. Utah’s best two players – Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge – combined to make just four of their 20 field goal attempts, and still, the Utes went on the road to one of the toughest places to play in the west and lost by just four. Better yet, there are a lot of fixable things that happened in this game that could flip the script the next time the Utes find themselves matched up with a nationally-respected team.

Chris Reyes, Along With Jakob Poeltl and Brekkot Chapman Stood Out For The Utes (Chris Detrick, Salt Lake Tribune)

Chris Reyes, Along With Jakob Poeltl and Brekkot Chapman Stood Out For The Utes (Chris Detrick, Salt Lake Tribune)

First, the good. And believe it or not, there was plenty of good. The Utes were the better team on the glass against the long Aztecs in part because the pair of frontcourt newcomers – seven-foot freshman Jakob Poeltl and 6’7” sophomore Chris Reyes – proved themselves ready to be difference-makers at this level. Poeltl, in his first match-up against big and talented players at this level, pulled down five offensive boards (plus two on the defensive end) and blocked seven shots. He only was able to attempt three field goals (in part because the Utes did not prioritize feeding the post against the long Aztecs defense), but he did get to the line six times (although free throw shooting is still a work in progress). Reyes, meanwhile, was terrific in his own part in his debut on a national stage. In just 21 minutes, Reyes grabbed six offensive boards, was perhaps the most adept Ute at feeding the post, and showed a motor and intensity that was sorely needed. He’s an asset for this team, but it will be interesting to see if his minutes remain steady as freshman power forward Brekkot Chapman emerges. Chapman, for his part, was also mighty impressive, scoring eight points on four field goal attempts in 15 minutes. As the year goes on, expect that trio to share frontcourt minutes, with senior Dallin Bachynski’s role limited to that of a fourth big. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 First Weekend Notebook

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 17th, 2014

After a single weekend of games against generally lesser competition, I feel like I could write a book about all the different things I saw this weekend around the Pac-12. But, we’ll let these teams get a few more games – preferably against better competition – before we make any grand proclamations. Still, you have to come away from this weekend pretty impressed with the level of play out of the gates. We saw a lot of teams look better than we had any reason to expect. And we also had USC. Below, we’ll take a look at a few of the bigger non-Arizona takeaways from the first weekend of play around the conference.

Utah

Let’s save a more in-depth look at the Utes until after they play San Diego State on Tuesday afternoon, but a couple new names to keep an eye on in that game: First, freshman Jakob Poeltl is going to be a huge factor for the Utes this year. He’s an active and skilled seven-footer who, frankly, is not long for the college game. Because he runs the floor well and is aggressive and confident, he is going to be a challenge for opposing defenses all year long. Then there’s his frontcourt starting partner, JuCo transfer Chris Reyes, a strong and active power forward who is a great combination of skill, athleticism and motor. A lot of the reason people were high on the Utes coming into this year were returnees and maybe freshman Brekkot Chapman, but Poeltl and Reyes are a couple of new elements that may push Utah over the top. And Jordan Loveridge? His body looks better than it ever has before; he’s quicker than he’s been in his first two seasons; and he looks far more comfortable in his role. Let’s put it this way: If I were filling in a Top 25 poll right now, I’d probably have the Utes in the top 15. I think a lot of people are going to have their eyes opened tomorrow afternoon.

Jakob Poeltl's Double-Double Debut Should Raise Eyebrows Across the Conference (Utah Basketball)

Jakob Poeltl’s Double-Double Debut Should Raise Eyebrows Across the Conference (Utah Basketball)

Colorado

Given the level of competition they were playing against (Drexel is a pretty solid mid-major), what the Buffaloes did to the Dragons was impressive. Josh Scott looks like he took another step forward in his development during the offseason, looking stronger and more aggressive on the glass and on defense while showing more comfort with the face-up jumper (he even hit a three). Pairing him alongside Wesley Gordon in the middle makes for an intimidating one-two punch. Head coach Tad Boyle went with a strange starting lineup due to some disciplinary measures, and Xavier Johnson and Askia Booker as a result never really got in the flow when they entered the game, with Booker in particular looking pretty bad with a 2-of-14 effort. As far as the big question about the point guard spot, one guy that we routinely overlooked in trying to come up with an answer there was junior Xavier Talton. For now, at least, he appears to be the leader for that job. He’s a facilitator who isn’t going to wow anybody with his athleticism or play-making ability, but he’s very good at making the easy play, keeping the offense moving, and playing solid defense. Whether he’ll lock down that spot for good remains to be seen, but he’ll be a big part of the Colorado rotation all year long. Freshman Tory Miller also deserves a mention. His body and athleticism are already Pac-12 ready and as the game slows down for him, he’s got a good chance to become a solid defender and rebounder off the pine this year, with upside for the rest of his career in Boulder as his offensive game develops.

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Pac-12 Season Previews: Utah Utes

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Utah.

Utah Utes

Strengths. If you’re reading this microsite, there is a good chance you already know about the Utes’ stars such as Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge, but just about every team in this conference has a star it can point to. Rather, what makes this team a sexy choice as the second-best team in this conference is not merely those two stars, but the quality of depth throughout this roster. Veterans like Brandon Taylor, Dallin Bachynski, Dakarai Tucker and Jeremy Olsen are all accustomed to big roles on this team. Add in a talented batch of newcomers, including four-star power forward Brekkot Chapman, talented JuCo transfer Chris Reyes, international recruit Jakob Poetl, three-point specialist Kyle Kuzma and floor general Isaiah Wright, and Larry Krystkowiak is swimming in talented options up and down his roster.

Larry Krystkowiak and The Utes Will Have To Deal With The Pressure Of Expectations For The First Time (Utah Basketball)

Larry Krystkowiak and The Utes Will Have To Deal With The Pressure Of Expectations For The First Time. (Utah Athletics)

Weaknesses. We’re not even going to pick nits with the roster. There are some weaknesses here which will become apparent as the season wears on, but where this squad really has to prove itself is in its ability to win games. The Utes lost all seven of their games decided by a single possession last season and, given a serious uptick in the quality of their non-conference schedule, their mettle will be tested early and often this year. Utah has plenty of guys who have been through plenty of battles, but until they can prove their ability to pull out their best effort when the chips are down, there will remain questions about the ceiling of this team.

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Pac-12 Media Day Roundup: Part One

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on October 24th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas. He covered the Pac-12 Media Day in San Francisco on Thursday. Check back later in the day for his notes on the conference’s other six teams.

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

USC

Coach Andy Enfield took the stage with his starting power forward (or center, Enfield noted both), Nikola Jovanovic, and provided opening remarks lasting about as long as a USC possession: 16 seconds. It was swift and brief. He was complimentary of his fellow, on-stage Trojan, and left the rest to us. Which is probably indicative of the program he’s building. It is just year two and arguably the least interesting season during a rebuild. It’s neither new and exciting nor developed enough to garner much attention. His team is picked to finish 10th, but he likes what he’s building, “We have more athleticism, better shooting. We have an elite freshman point guard (Jordan McLaughlin) we recruited,” said Enfield. These components, he notes, are and will become major parts of what we presume is the Enfield system, aka Dunk City, aka Galen Dunk Center. The addition of McLaughlin is huge, and, without directly saying it, Enfield knows how important he is to their future, “We’re expecting big things from him. I think he came to USC for that opportunity, to be relied upon as a freshman. He’ll have that opportunity. We’re excited for him.” Which is great because I am, too! I’ll be closely following McLaughlin’s progress as his commitment to USC, rather than UCLA when the Bruins were in dire need for a 2014 point guard, is a fascinating storyline to this season. USC might play in flashes and make swift opening remarks, but they just might be a program to stick around awhile.

Washington State

Easily the most charismatic of the coaches, Ernie Kent considered himself back from sabbatical: “Any coach that has coached 30-plus years needs a sabbatical. I’m just amazed at what it’s done for me in terms of your energy, your spirt.” Energy and spirit he provided. He was colorful and funny, even having a slight back-and-forth with his accompanying star, DaVonte Lacy. The two seemed to understand the challenges ahead considering the roster in Pullman and the depth of the conference. But Lacy believes they have the unique opportunity to come together, build on chemistry and do something special. It’s something he learned in his short stint with the Pac-12 All-Star team while in China and it’s something he expanded upon when I asked him about leadership, “Being someone that’s been through the fire already, preparing [newcomers] to go through it, that’s how I’m approaching leadership.” Lacy hopes to galvanize this group, building chemistry and subsequently surprising a few people with what the Cougars can do. And speaking of surprises, can you imagine a “lost” Ernie Kent knocking on your door looking for directions? “Hi, I’m lost. I’m also your new basketball coach.” It’s something Kent has been doing in trying to energize the Cougars fan base, “I’ve tried to make myself available as much as possible… it’s been fun getting out and meeting people in Pullman.” Like I said, the most charismatic of the 12 lead gentlemen.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.23.14 Edition

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 23rd, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Let the dissection of the Pac-12 media poll begin. The league will have its media day from the San Francisco headquarters today, and the schools will be represented by each head coach and a few select players. The Pac-12 Networks and website will have live coverage, and here’s a schedule of when to expect each coach to take the stage and address the media in attendance. Who’s ready for commissioner Larry Scott’s rose-colored declaration about how the league is stronger than it’s ever been and another non-story update on the failed DirecTV negotiations? If there is such thing as suspense on this day, it will come from the predicted order of finish behind the likely favorite, second-ranked Arizona. In fact, the folks in Tucson are already wondering whether the Wildcats can run the table in conference play.
  2. Speaking of Wildcats and running the table, USA Today’s Scott Gleeson highlighted the group from Kentucky and skimmed through its schedule to pinpoint the toughest tests that stand in the way of a perfect season for the preseason No. 1. Among the contests circled was the December 20 matchup with UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic. Quality opponent and neutral court – the game will be played in Chicago – is a good start to the makings for an upset. And, as Gleeson pointed out, the timing of the game should give both programs a fair barometer and good sample size to mesh. That will be particularly important for the Bruins, who add Isaac Hamilton and Kevon Looney to the mix but are short on experience and in search of a defensive identity.
  3. The intrasquad showcases continued Wednesday as Stanford put on a Cardinal and White scrimmage. Head coach Johnny Dawkins has work to do in reloading the program’s first NCAA Tournament qualifier of his six-year tenure. It appears he has already found the breakout star of Year 7, as Rosco Allen turned heads with a winning performance in the dunk contest and 11 points and six rebounds in the 20-minute scrimmage. A team that finished in the top five in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting, the Cardinal have another dead-eye shooter to watch as Dorian Pickens edged out Chasson Randle in the contest. Randle, a first-team all-conference pick last season, led all scorers with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
  4. In Salt Lake City, Utah hosted its “Night With the Runnin’ Utes.” After a lackluster intrasquad scrimmage last Friday, head coach Larry Krystkowiak said his team is “making progress” and has the ability to go two-deep at each position. Utah played 16-minute halves that include a halftime shakeup in the rosters. It was a good night to be on Jordan Loveridge’s team as the junior scored a combined 27 points in split duty for each squad. The forward finished 8-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, and converted all seven of his free throws. The sidebar of the night belonged to 7-foot freshman Jakob Poetl, who returned after missing a week of practice because of a concussion suffered while playing dodgeball during a team dinner at Krystkowiak’s house. The Austrian collected 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
  5. At Colorado, sophomore guard Jaron Hopkins is making it a point to be more aggressive. Head coach Tad Boyle, who is looking to fill the void left behind by standout Spencer Dinwiddie, said the notable difference is in Hopkins’ decision-making. Hopkins received a crash course in his first year as the Buffaloes adjusted after Dinwiddie’s season-ending injury, so the transition should be more accelerated and less foreign this time around.
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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 15th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Utah.

What Went Right

For the first time since Larry Krystkowiak took over a shell of a program from Jim Boylen, Utah basketball fans had a team that they knew could be competitive night in and night out. Of the Utes’ 12 losses this season, seven were by a single possession. The talent level is clearly back to the point where the Utes can be competitive in the Pac-12, defense has become a priority, and the future appears bright.

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak's Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak’s Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

What Went Wrong

So, those seven losses by a single possession? Well, that’s not good, is it? Time and time again, the Utes had chances to win close games down the stretch, and time and time again they wound up with losses in those games. Their record in games decided by a single possession was 0-7. They lost all three of their overtime games. And only six times all season did they win games decided by fewer than 10 points. In other words, unless the Utes were blowing out their opponent, odds were good that they were losing. Chalk some of that up to bad luck, another portion to a young team still learning to win games, and more to some coaching breakdowns. But the good news is that if next year’s Utes can find some ways to win those close games, they should be looking at a very good record.

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Rounding Up Pac-12 Quarterfinal Thursday

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 14th, 2014

The big talk around the conference tournament on Wednesday was Utah’s potential. A KenPom darling ranked in the upper 30s by that metric with a history of playing everybody – including conference elite Arizona – tough, they were usually somewhere around the “Next Four Out” section of most bracketology projections. A win over Arizona in Thursday’s quarterfinal, and maybe they jump California for the seventh Pac-12 team in line for an NCAA bid. For the first segment of the game Thursday afternoon, things were fine, with the Wildcats holding a 7-6 lead at the under-16 timeout. And then. Well. Adjectives fail to adequately describe, so let’s jump right to the numbers: over the remainder of the half, Arizona outscored the Utes 27-6 and 44-11 over the next roughly 23 minutes of game time. At the half, Utah was averaging less than a point every two possessions (0.48 PPP). Arizona was grabbing 92.9% of defensive rebound opportunities and 53.8% on the offensive end. They were leading 8-0 in fast break points, 9-2 in points off turnovers and 16-8 in points in the paint. Three Utes scored in the first half, and their top-three leading scorers on the year – Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brendan Taylor – were not among them. We could go on.

Arizona's Defensive Dominance Was Displayed Early and Often Thursday Afternoon (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona’s Defensive Dominance Was Displayed Early and Often Thursday Afternoon (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

There are more stats to be spouted about how dominant the Wildcats were on Thursday afternoon, but there will be more opportunities for them to show off for the rest of the country. Put simply, if the Arizona team that showed up today, and that showed up a couple weeks back dominating the Bay Area schools, continues to be the default Wildcat team, they’ve got a very good chance of cutting down the nets in April. As for Utah, they’ll have an opportunity to continue their season in the NIT, and they’ll be a very tough out there. And next year, behind Wright and Loveridge, they’ll be a favorite for an upper-division Pac-12 finish and an NCAA Tournament invitation. Neither of those things, however, give them much solace now.

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Pac-12 Roundup: Week 15

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) & Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 26th, 2014

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the 15th week of Pac-12 basketball. 

Power Rankings (as voted upon by Connor Pelton, Andrew Murawa, and Adam Butler)

Arizona is once again the unanimous number one in our weekly power rankings, but no team except the Wildcats and last place USC were completely agreed upon. Check the results below to see the jumbled mess that is the Pac-12.

Nick Johnson Led Arizona To A Huge Sweep In The Rockies Last Week

Nick Johnson Led Arizona To A Huge Sweep In The Rockies Last Week

  1. Arizona (25-2, 3 Points)
  2. UCLA (21-6, 7 Points)
  3. Stanford (18-8, 8 Points)
  4. California (18-9, 15 Points)
  5. Colorado (20-8, 18 Points)
  6. Arizona State (19-8, 19 Points)
  7. Utah (18-9, 21 Points)
  8. Oregon (18-8, 22 Points)
  9. Washington (15-13, 26 Points)
  10. Oregon State (14-12, 27 Points)
  11. Washington State (9-18, 33 Points)
  12. USC (10-17, 36 Points)

Best Game – Arizona at Utah: This baby ended up being much better than the more-hyped game between Arizona and Colorado that was played three days later in Boulder. Desperate for a resume-boosting win, Utah fought the Wildcats for 45 minutes as hard as anyone has all season. The visitors led by as many as 12 in the second half before the Utes came storming back. Sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge split a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 56, and the two teams went to overtime when Wildcat guard T.J. McConnell missed a jumper at the buzzer. Fourth-ranked Arizona would survive in the extra period, making five free throws in the final 20 seconds to win, 67-63. Sean Miller‘s team all but locked up a one seed in the NCAA Tournament with the sweep of Utah and Colorado. The Utes kept their slim at-large hopes alive by blowing out Arizona State on Sunday, but they likely still need to win their final three regular season games thanks to a low RPI.

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#rushthetrip Day 15: Ute Revival Put On Hold in Salt Lake City

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 21st, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

Wednesday brought me back into Utah (which is quickly becoming the official home state of #rushthetrip!) for a rendezvous between the Utes and #4 Arizona. As of Tuesday, few bracketologists (including our own Daniel Evans) had Utah in the field — or even in that first crop of teams missing out — but finding a way to nip the Cats would surely thrust Larry Krystkowiak’s group into the bubble discussion. And for the once-spoiled turned long-suffering Utes’ fans (just one NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005 after making 10 of 11 trips from 1995-2005), the opportunity at hand had to make this one of the biggest college basketball games Salt Lake City has seen in the last decade.

The Young Utes Have Yet To Fully Arrive, But The Huntsman Center Offered One Of The Best Atmospheres This Trip Has Seen

The Young Utes Have Yet To Fully Arrive, But The Huntsman Center Offered One Of The Best Atmospheres This Trip Has Seen

The Huntsman Center atmosphere supported that thesis. Fans filled the sizable gym (a listed attendance of 14,266 fell a few seats short of capacity), and despite a first half that featured little in the way of positive developments for the Utes, stayed involved throughout. The student section was amazing, nearly stretching all the way from floor to rafters, a sea of red fully prepped to swallow up the Wildcats. Their consistent engagement would pay off in the latter portions of the second half, as the Utes scrapped their way back into a game that they had trailed by 12 with 13 minutes to play. I was more than happy to be forced to spend most of the final 10 minutes (plus overtime) standing behind the Huntsman Center masses. Once that Ute surge began in earnest, there was nary a seated fanny in the building; I can’t recall too many games where I’ve seen seats used less frequently. Clearly, Utah fans wanted this game.

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