The No. 13 Runnin' Utes head to Kansas City, Mo. on Saturday for a 1:25 MT tip off against the No. 10 Kansas Jayhawks. The Utes will look to build on their 65-61 road win against BYU on Wednesday and come home from their road trip unscathed. The Jayhawks will prove a more difficult challenge than the BYU Cougars however and a win will be hard to come by. Here are three reasons why the Utes may come up short in Kansas City.
Reason 1: Talent
The Utes are a talented squad, and Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak has done a great job rebuilding this program from the ground up. Being able to keep Jordan Loveridge home, finding Delon Wright in the Juco ranks, and the recent additions of Kyle Kuzma and Brekkot Chapman have all been fantastic recruiting coups for the Utes. Kansas, however, is a notch or two above the Utes when it comes to recruiting.
Kansas is able to tap into a pool of elite caliber players that only a few schools such as Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina can. This is something Utah is not able to match...yet. Players like sophomore guards Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr. are monster talents that never even considered a school like Utah. Forwards Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander also fall into that category. This isn't to say that recruiting rankings win games, or that the Utah starting five will be outmatched, but top to bottom Kansas has more strength, length and speed than the Utes. Despite this fact, I think the Utes are playing better as a team than Kansas currently, but overall talent and depth could play in Kansas' favor on Saturday.
Reason 2: Free Throws
Free throws have been a weakness for the Utes this season, and Wednesday's game in Provo was no exception. The Utes struggled down the stretch at the line, and BYU was able to make a late run because of it. The Utes currently rank 234th out 351 division I schools in free throw percentage. The Utes shoot only 66.2 percent from the line so far this season, and Jakob Poeltl who has been to the line more than any one on the team is shooting only 44.9 percent. Kansas on the other hand ranks 50th in free throw percentage. Nine players on the Jayhawk Roster shoot over 65 percent on their free throws, including everybody in the entire starting five. If the game comes down to free throws late, Kansas holds a distinct advantage.
Reason 3: Location
This game is supposedly taking place on a "neutral" court. That court, however, is only 40 miles east on I-70 from the University of Kansas campus. That's like saying BYU's game against Hawaii in EnergySolutions Arena was on a "neutral" court. Utah will be at a disadvantage in the same manner they were Wednesday night. The game is nationally televised in an arena that will have 18,000-plus Jayhawks fans going crazy. It's going to be a tough atmosphere to play in, no question. The Utes will have to travel 1,071 miles and stay in a hotel, as compared to the Jayhawks, who will wake up in their own bed and take a 40-minute bus ride to the arena. The Utes have shown this year they are mentally tough and can handle the adversity of playing on the road; however, against a team like the Jayhawks, the road weariness might make the difference between pulling off the upset and coming up empty.