Who'd have thought at the beginning of the season the Utes and Aztecs would be playing for sole possession of first place in February? I'm guessing not many, since San Diego State and Utah were picked to finish third and fourth respectively when the pre-season polls were released back in October. Yet here we are, it's February 9th and in two days, the two will meet in Salt Lake City with the top-spot on the line.
What this means is that Utah might be ahead of schedule in terms of rebuilding. Most of us thought it'd be a good two or three years before the Utes returned to the NCAA Tournament, yet a win here and it's very likely Utah safely locks its spot in the Big Dance. Sure, it's not a given and they still could have a late-season meltdown, but as each game passes, that seems less and less likely.
If, though, the Utes were to lose this game, it would not only knock them from probably winning a regular season championship, but it could endanger their at-large hopes. Yes, their RPI is high right now (11th), but once the losses come, that RPI drops pretty fast and with road games against New Mexico and BYU, along with UNLV at home, it's not out of the question Utah drops a few more games along the way. Add the tournament, which only one team can win, and things become more complicated.
So this is probably the biggest game of Boylen's short career. I know I said that about the BYU one, but that only made this moment possible. So much hinges on a victory Wednesday and the Utes can't afford dropping a home game to the Aztecs. San Diego State is good and very capable of coming into the Huntsman Center and winning, so they can't get too ahead of themselves, but the writing is on the wall for this one: it's a must-win.
I should have more on this game in the coming days, as well as looking at Utah's tournament chances. But as I mentioned, much of that hinges on whether they can win Wednesday.