The No. 5 seed Utah Runnin' Utes (26-8) will face the No. 1 seed Duke Blue Devils (31-4) in their Sweet 16 game today at 7:45 p.m. MT. While Duke is the favorite to win the game, there are several reasons why the No. 5 seed Utes could come out on top.
The Wright Stuff
Utah All-American guard Delon Wright can do it all. He has size (at 6'5"), defensive prowess and the ability to beat his man on the dribble-drive to the basket. Jason from DukeBasketballReport.com told us on the U Fan Cast that Duke is vulnerable to the dribble-drive. This is where the Wooden Award candidate excels. Two of Duke's losses this season came at the hands of Notre Dame and All-American guard Jerian Grant. Duke's guard are much smaller than Wright, meaning they will likely struggle to guard him. Wright is also a good shot blocker, so he may be able to rack up a few blocks on the smaller Duke guards.
Wright's driving can also turn into driving and dishing. Utah is one of the best teams shooting from downtown. Forward Jordan Loveridge is the top three-point shooter in the Pac-12. He is joined by other talented shooters guard Brandon Taylor and guard/forward Dakari Tucker. Knocking down threes will help keep the lane more open for Wright to drive and will force Duke to guard the perimeter.
Three Big Men
Duke's best player is freshman center Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is big and athletic; he is averaging 23.5 points in Duke's first two tournament games. Stopping Okafor is likely not possible for Utah, but Jason told us that the best way to slow him down is to put him at the line, where he is a 51.6% foul shooter. Hard fouls can frustrate the big man and take him off his game. Utah has three players who can play at the five position, Jakob Poeltl, Dallin Bachynski, and Jeremy Olsen. This gives them at least 15 fouls for Okafor. Having a rotation at the five to keep guys fresh will also help since Okafor is quick with great post moves.
There is no doubt that Duke has a ton of talent in their starting lineup with players like Okafor, forward Justise Winslow, and guards Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook. However, after the starting five, there is a significant drop off. Duke only features three other scholarship players: center Marshall Plumlee, forward Amile Jefferson and guard Grayson Allen. Against San Diego State, the three players combined for only 25 minutes. If Utah can get one or several Duke players into foul trouble, that could cause the Blue Devils significant problems. Utah, on the other hand, has a much bigger rotation and can dip into their bench without nearly as much of a drop off. They can rotate to keep players fresh, which will help down the stretch. Players like forwards Brekkott Chapman and Kyle Kuzma and guard Isaiah Wright have shown promise at times off the bench. Against Georgetown, Utah's bench outscored Georgetown's 23-2, when many considered Georgetown to be the deeper team prior to the game. Utah won in convincing fashion even when Wright only scored 14. Players like Taylor, Loveridge, and Poeltl are all talented enough to take a game over in addition to Wright.
With superior depth, a good inside-out offense, and forcing Okafor out of his game and to the line, Utah has the potential to take the Blue Devils of Duke. It will not be an easy game for the Runnin' Utes, but a win would send them to the Elite 8 for the first time since 1998 when they lost in the championship game to Kentucky.