Even though it's becoming less and less likely Utah will make the NIT, let alone the NCAA Tournament (that'll only happen if they win the conference tournament), there is still a slim chance. But that pretty much hinges on Utah's next four games -- which will make or break Jim Boylen's first year with the Utes.
The schedule is mixed, especially since Utah has only one home game left. However, outside of UNLV -- the last game of the season -- each remaining game is a possible win. But as we've seen this year, Utah is very capable of dropping a game they really have no business losing.
For Utah to make the NIT, they will need to probably win 3 of their final 4 games, along with a victory in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament. That would give them 19 wins on the season and they could then make their case for inclusion, but even that could be a long shot. Looking at the schedule, it does seem probable for Utah to at least win 18 games, but that isn't a given. Here's a quick breakdown of the 4 remaining games to get a better feel of Utah's chances.
- @ TCU: Utah demolished the Frogs earlier in the season and though TCU isn't horrible like last year, they're not good. At 5-7, they're most likely on their way to a third consecutive losing year in Mountain West play. Utah also gives them match-up issues, which was evident in their 74-58 win back in January. But it is a road game and though TCU isn't a great home team, the Utes still have struggled away from the Huntsman Center this year. If this is a close game, Utah could be in a world of trouble, since they wilt down the stretch. For Utah to end the season on a high note and build a case for postseason play, this is a must win.
- @ Wyoming On paper, the Cowboys should be an easy win. Yet that isn't the case, since the Utes lost to Wyoming in Salt Lake earlier in the month -- their lone conference road win. If the Cowboys can win at Utah, they can easily win in Laramie, especially with Utah's road problems. This will probably prove to be the toughest out of the 3 possible wins.
- CSU: The easiest of the final four and a game Utah has no business losing. The Rams still are winless in conference play and the last time they met, in Fort Collins, Utah rolled to a 67-52 win. There is no reason we shouldn't expect the same on March 4th.
- @ UNLV: It ain't happening for Utah. Yeah they managed to beat the Rebels in Salt Lake, but I would be shocked if they could defeat UNLV in Las Vegas. The fact the Rebels haven't lost a home conference game this year tends to solidify this reasoning. If Utah somehow manages to win, though, then -- unless they muck it up in the 3 games prior -- they should easily get an NIT berth.
If I had to make a prediction, I think Utah splits the next four games. They'll probably slipup at either Wyoming or TCU, lose to UNLV and defeat CSU. That puts their record at 17-12, which would mean they would need to at least make the conference championship to receive and NIT berth, which isn't likely.
Hopefully I'm wrong, but I don't see any evidence to suggest this team can finish on a strong note, especially after the performance Saturday against the Lobos. Maybe next year.