A lot has happened since Utah dropped a heartbreaker to Arizona State back in January. At the time, the Runnin' Utes actually had a winning record and a ton of optimism ahead of 'em. Since, though, everything that could go wrong has pretty much gone wrong - as the program has only managed two wins out of eleven games.
Not exactly the path many of us thought the team would take when they left Tempe one-point losers. And yet, here they are, 2-9 in conference play and in dire need of victory if they're going to match last year's conference win total.
Fortunately, as they proved earlier in the conference season, they can play with the Sun Devils. In fact, had it not been for a missed rebound, the Utes probably win that game and who knows the course the season takes from that point forward. Instead, Arizona State managed to tie the game up and eventually won in overtime after Utah blew through four chances to win the game at the end.
So, tonight is about a bit of revenge. Of course, ASU is good. They're having a very solid season and find themselves one-game out of tying Oregon and Arizona atop the Pac-12. For a team that contended with Utah for the bottom last year, it's quite the improvement. On the season, they're 18-6 and potentially looking to pad their standing after a loss to Stanford this past weekend.
But I like Utah's chances. In fact, I'm going to say it, I think Utah should win this game. The Sun Devils are good - but they're still not NCAA Tournament good - even though they can very well play their way into an at-large bid.
I mentioned how tonight could be one of the last chances to tie last year's win total and I stand by that. They really need a win, especially if they want to exceed last year's conference total and right now, it's hard to envision a scenario where they win four Pac-12 games and lose to Arizona State.
That makes tonight's game, purely for momentum purposes, fairly important. I don't know if it'll change perception that much if Utah wins, but solely from the perspective of the eyeball test, it's hard to really get on board with the idea there is improvement when the team matches last year's conference win total. At this point, I'll just take a one-game improvement and that's basically the only thing I'm cheering for at the moment.
Hopefully they get a bit closer tonight. I'd like to think they should, but with this team, you never know. Still, I'm optimistic - though mostly because of how close the team came in Tempe. If they wilt here, and then lose, you could make the frightening case that this team is actually regressing as the season goes on and that's something I don't think any of us want to admit.
Here's to us not discussing that due to a Utah win ... and instead, we're focusing on some good progress.