Washington is tough and if this game were not being played on their home court, I would feel a bit better about the outcome. As is, however, I think Utah loses tonight. Not to say it isn't possible the Utes pull out the victory (and if they do, I'll gladly admit I'm wrong), but I'm not going into this game expecting it. With that said, there are a few things I want to see from Utah.
- Competitiveness. Even though Utah had some nice wins against decent opponents last season (Washington State, Virginia, Air Force), they also had more embarrassingly bad losses than I think we've ever seen in Utah history. And when I say embarrassingly bad, I'm not talking Southern Utah (that's in another realm of bad), rather I'm talking about blowout losses to Northwestern, BYU and UNLV in the MWC tournament. Even if Utah loses tonight, but keeps this game very competitive, I'll feel good about where this team is heading.
- Defensive effort. I've been pretty impressed with the Utes' defense in the first two games of the season and would love to see that effort carry over to a real team. If Utah can keep Washington in check and not allow them to light it up from the field and behind the arc, they could be in position to win the game and most likely will at least keep it close.
- Borha's continued success. Lawrence Borha has been a surprise success so far under Boylen and it would be great if that continues tonight against the Huskies. His play is vital to Utah's scoring options and he might carry the burden of being the difference between a good team and one that is just mediocre.
I know these sound like "duh" statements, but the fact we rarely saw any of this under Ray Giacoletti shows me it's not a guarantee and that these issues could be the difference between a close game and one that has Ute fans banging their heads on the wall.
This is an important game for Jim Boylen, as it's his first true test as Utah's head coach. Now while I'm not going to say this game will make or break his coaching career, it should show us how much the program has grown under his leadership. And that means there can be positives in a loss, though hopefully we're discussing a victory instead.
Prediction: Washington 67, Utah 61