The no. 9- Runnin’ Utes (21-4, 11-2 Pac-12), fresh off a big road win against Oregon State in Corvallis, will travel down Interstate 5 on Sunday afternoon to take on the Oregon Ducks (19-8, 9-5 Pac-12) in Eugene.
Thursday’s win over the Beavers snapped Oregon State’s 14-game home win streak and served as further evidence Utah has left their road troubles of year’s past behind. Despite struggling to score, especially early in the contest, the Utes manged to escape Gill Coliseum with a 10-point victory.
The Utes will face another bubble team in Oregon on Sunday in the hostile environment of Matthew Knight Arena. The two teams enter this game in very different situations, but still with plenty to play for. The Utes are still in the hunt for the Pac-12 regular season title. They Likely need to win out and knock off Arizona at home on February 28th to claim the Pac-12 title and earn the top seed in the Pac-12 tournament. The Utes are a lock to make the NCAA Tournament at this juncture, regardless of how the rest of the season goes. Currently the Utes are forecast anywhere between a two and a four seed in the tournament and need to finish out the season strong to get as a high a seed as possible.
Oregon currently ranks third in the Pac-12 standings, however it is clear Utah and Arizona are head and shoulders above the other ten schools in conference. The Ducks began the season slowly, and as recently as a month ago, were a long shot to reach the tournament. The Ducks have won seven of their past nine games however, and forced their way into the tournament discussion, placing themselves squarely on the bubble. Currently Joe Lunardi has Oregon in the "First Four Out" group in his "Bracketology".
The Ducks have a decent conference record at 9-5, but have struggled against quality opponents. Oregon is 0-3 against teams ranked in the top 25 and 2-5 against RPI top 50 teams. Combined with only have played seven road games this year with an away record of 3-4, the Ducks are in dire need of a resume’ building win. No. 9 Utah is the last chance for the Ducks to knock off a ranked team before the Pac-12 tournament and Ducks coach Dana Altman knows a win against the top ten Utes could push his team over to the right side of the bubble.
The Oregon offense revolves around senior guard Joseph Young. The 6’2" guard has flown under the radar this season, but has been the driving force and unquestioned leader for this Oregon team. Yound is averaging 20 points per game 4.5 rebounds per game and 3.8 assists per game. He is shooting 44.7% from the field, 35.7% from beyond the 3-point line and 92.6% from the free throw line. In the past five games, Young has stepped his game up a notch increasing his scoring, averaging 25.6 points per game on 50% shooting from the field and 37.8% shooting from behind the arc.
The Duck's other main contributors are a pair of undersized forwards in 6'6" Junior Elgin Cook and 6'5" freshman Dillon Brooks. Cook averages 12.6 points per game to go with 5.6 rebounds per game. He shoots 51.2% from the field but is not much of a threat from long range, only averaging 0.5 3-point attempts per game and converting only 21% of the time. The freshman Brooks, averages 12.1 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game. Brooks shoots 45.8% from the field and is a little better than Cook from distance shooting 31.8% on 2.4 3-point attempts per game. Down low, freshman Jordan Bell averages 5.6 points per game to go with 6.5 rebounds per game. Standing 6'8" and weighing 225 lbs. Bell could find himself overwhelmed by the Utes length inside with Jakob Poeltl and Dallin Bachynski both listed at 7' and Jeremy Olsen listed at 6'10".
Much like Thursday's game against Oregon State, the Utes will find themselves in a hostile environment with a rowdy fan base on Sunday afternoon. The Ducks are 16-2 at Matthew Knight Arena having only lost to Arizona and Ole Miss. Sunday is the final home game for the Ducks, and the Oregon Pit Crew ,Oregon's student section, is sure to be out in force for their tourney push. The Ducks will also be sporting a new uniform titled "disruption" from Nike's new Hyper Elite line.
When it comes to the basketball actually being played on the court however, the Utes should have a pretty clear advantage. As has been mentioned so many times this season, the Utes have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to depth this year. Outside of Young, Cook and Brooks, the Ducks struggle to find consistent scoring. The Utes also are significantly longer and more talented down in the post, meaning the Utes should have an advantage in rebounding this game. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award finalist Jakob Poeltl should find himself in a position to have a big game as long as the refs don't saddle him with questionable foul calls.
In the back court Utah will have the advantage as well. As good as Joseph Young has been for the Ducks, Delon Wright has been even better for the Utes. Wright was just named a finalist for yet another award, the Bob Cousy award, which is given to the best point guard in the nation. Wright, averaging 14.1 points per game 4.7 rebounds per game and 5.4 assists per game, is now a finalist for the John Wooden, Oscar Robertson, James Naismith and Bob Cousy awards.
Offensively Oregon is the no.1 scoring offense in the Pac-12, however Utah also happens to be the no. 1 team in the Pac-12 in scoring defense allowing only 55.6 points per game to opponents. Conversely Oregon ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing 71 points per game to opponents while Utah is 4th in scoring offense. Even with their impressive home record, the Ducks will need an entire team effort to knock off the Utes. The Utes have one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball and should be able to score against an under sized Oregon team known for giving up points. On the other end the Utes should be able to limit Oregon's scoring enough to leave Eugene with a win.
Sunday's game is at 1 p.m. MT and will be televised on Fox Sports 1. Aaron Goldsmith and former Arizona wing Sean Elliott have the call.