It feels like it's been months since Utah's last game - a 61-58 defeat to rival BYU sometime at the beginning of the turn of the century. Finally, after a ten-day wait, they return to the hardwood and look for their seventh victory of the year ... which would best their entire total from the 2011-12 season.
Their opponent, SMU, has put together a fairly quiet 8-2 record ... with one of those wins coming against Utah back at the end of November. The Mustangs controlled much of the game and pulled off the 62-55 home victory. Since that win, they've defeated Hofstra 73-47 and lost to a 3-7 Rhode Island team 72-50 - suggesting that SMU is certainly beatable ... especially for Utah, a team in dire need of confidence prior to the conference slate beginning.
I know we've debated how good the Mustangs might be in the past, but I maintain this is a game the Runnin' Utes should win ... if only for proof of their improvement. Ken Pomeroy, and his generally well respected college basketball ratings, puts SMU at 186th nationally - five spots behind Utah.
Of course, the Mustangs are coached by the legend Larry Brown, who's had success at both the collegiate and professional levels. Rarely has he not seen success where he stops - however temporary those stops may prove to be. He's a good coach, and certainly having him on the bench for SMU puts them at an advantage over most teams. Still, this is a team that was picked to finish in the bottom-half of the Conference USA for a reason and why they lost so lopsidedly against a bad Rhode Island team Saturday. While the coaching is there, and some of the talent is raw, they're still finding their identity and I suspect that will continue tonight.
For Utah, a victory would prove momentous if only for besting last year's win total. In fact, these are games the Runnin' Utes really need to win considering their conference slate begins with a swing through the state of Arizona ... where one of their opponents, the Wildcats, sit at 4th nationally.
If they're not good enough to beat the 'Stangs (can I call 'em that?) of Southern Methodist, I'm not so sure this team will be capable of winning too many Pac-12 games. And I've seen a great deal of progress the last few weeks, a blowout home win over Boise State and a competitive, shouldn't have lost, defeat to BYU on the road, to believe this team is at least good enough to beat SMU. That's just me, though. Maybe I shouldn't get my hopes up because we're still dealing with a young team that is prone to inconsistencies. But then, the sign of an improving team is when the fans start believing in 'em again. I haven't really bought into the idea of Utah basketball since their last tournament run - roughly four years ago.
Here's hoping they prove my optimism right.