There is no doubt that the No. 5 seed Utah Runnin' Utes (24-8, 13-5 Pac-12) are a good basketball team. They have wins over several other tournament teams including at BYU, Wichita State, and UCLA. Utah will meet No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin (29-4, 17-1 Southland) in Portland, Ore. today at 5:27 p.m. MT for their round of 64 matchup. After starting the season 1-3 (falling to tournament teams Northern Iowa, Xavier, and Baylor), they have won 27 of their last 28 games. As a No. 12 seed last season the Lumberjacks knocked off No. 5 seed VCU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. SFA is a hot upset pick by many in the national media. We breakdown three reasons why the Southland Conference champion may knock off the Runnin' Utes.
Too Much Three Ball:
When All-American guard Delon Wright is not able to drive into the lane, the Utah offense often stalls and resorts to passing the ball around the three-point line. They have players who can shoot the three well in guard Brandon Taylor, guard/forward Dakari Tucker, and forward Jordan Loveridge (who leads the Pac-12 in 3-pt %). As a team, Utah is No. 7 in three-point percentage (0.404). In games where Utah loses, they often have an off night shooting, which is more likely to occur away from home. Their three-point percentage shrinks to 0.307 in losses (which would put them at No. 312). Utah is playing a team that can score points (see the last point), so they cannot afford to settle for poor shots from deep and waste offensive opportunities.
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers:
On the defensive end, Stephen F. Austin tries to create turnovers. They steal the ball well (7.6 steals per game, No. 41) and can create havoc with their press defense. They are +3.2 in turnover margin (No.18), compared to a Utah team that is only +0.2 in turnover margin (No. 167T). Utah averages 11.4 turnovers per game (No. 67). However in losses, Utah averaged 13.3 turnovers per game. The only game where they were under their season average in turnovers was their lone loss at home against Arizona. Utah often has Wright bringing the ball down the court. Having such a reliance on one player to handle the ball can create problems against a well-run press defense.
Can Utah Keep Up?
Stephen F. Austin may come from a poor league, but don't let that fool you, this team can score points. They are No. 9 in scoring (79.5 points per game), No. 1 in assists per game (17.8 assists per game), and No. 5 in field goal percentage (0.491). They are not afraid to make the extra pass to get a better shot. The Lumberjacks also crash the boards well to try to maximize second-chance opportunities. In five of Utah's eight losses, Utah was out-rebounded by their opponent, giving up too many second-chance opportunities. The Lumberjacks can feast on extra scoring opportunities. SFA has taken 1,819 shots this season compared to 1,627 shots taken by their opponents. If this game turns into a high scoring affair, the Runnin' Utes may not be able to keep up (their score 72.1 points per game, ranking No. 59 in the nation).