I never bought into the idea of Utah really making a run at the NCAA Tournament. I had hopes, of course, and definitely felt more optimistic after their great start to the season - especially after they knocked off BYU - but, really, this team was going to have to work hard to make it back to the Tournament - especially with their abysmal RPI.
When Utah lost to Oregon, and then Washington, the hopes of an at-large bid pretty much went out the window. Still, progress was never going to be measured by whether this year's team made the tournament. Instead, most of us hoped it would at least culminate in a NIT berth and we'd call it a success.
It's hard to imagine even that after Utah's loss to Washington State Sunday evening.
Which, unfortunately, means the season could be playing out just like last year - where our sole hopes of postseason play rests with the CBI, CIT, CPUSA ... or whatever the hell these desperate tournaments call themselves.
Don't get me wrong, I'll take it, especially after last year, but I really talked myself into believing Utah had a shot at the NIT, and while they still feasibly do, it's not likely. Not with their current RPI, and not with their current standing.
So, what is the most realistic next step for the program? The Utes can still play their way into the NIT, especially if they sweep their home stand this week, but it's going to be hard, and, inevitability, it will require no more bad losses. With how this team has played on the road, does anyone think that won't happen?
I'm not sold.
Going forward, Utah has to continue its home court domination. Oregon is their lone loss in the Huntsman Center this year, and while I anticipate that number to grow, if they can get through the season winning, say, all but two of their remaining home games, they'll sit at 17 wins. That is good enough to be a fringe NIT team - but getting to the point where they're actually considered means they need to win on the road and probably advance beyond the first round of the Pac-12 tournament.
Is that likely with this year's squad? A week ago, I would have thought yes. Now? I'm not so sure.
This next stretch will help answer that question. Utah won't go undefeated, or even maybe win most their games, but if they can get out of January, and into early February 15-7 on the season, things just may open up and, at that point, our hopes of a postseason will rise again.
But right now, based on how they looked in Washington, the cold shooting Utes do not look like a team capable of putting together the type of run needed to do that.
Here's to it changing this week - starting tonight, of course, against USC.