The shock and outrage over Larry Krystkowiak canceling next year's basketball game against BYU continues to linger a week after the decision was made public. Meanwhile, Krystkowiak and the Runnin' Utes have more important things to worry about, namely their Pac-12 home opener against the Oregon Ducks on Thursday night. Utah (12-4, 1-2) returns home after a disppointing road swing to begin the Pac-12 season, where they dropped two games in the Bay area before surviving against Colorado. Back home, Utah hopes to have better luck when they open the home slate by whiting out Oregon at the Huntsman Center.
The Ducks (13-3, 2-1) come to Salt Lake led by head coach Dana Altman, now in his sixth season in Eugene. The Ducks are winners of two straight, beating both Stanford and Cal last weekend in Eugene. Oregon did struggle in their Pac-12 opener against rival Oregon State, who Utah will see on Sunday, falling 70-57. This will be the first time Utah and Oregon will have met since Oregon knocked the Utes out of last season's Pac-12 tournament on a last second 30 foot three point shot by departed Duck guard Joe Young.
This season the Ducks are led in scoring by 6-7 sophomore forward Dillon Brooks. The highly touted Canadian averages 15.2 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game and dishes out 3.1 assists per game. Brooks put up an impressive stat line in Oregon's most recent game against Stanford, when he scored 15 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had 7 assists almost becoming the first Oregon player to record a triple double in thirteen years. This year as a sophomore, Brooks has gone for over twenty points five times and has actively tried to take on more of a leadership role.
Behind Brooks, freshman guard Tyler Dorsey is a rapidly rising NBA prospect. The 6-4, 180 lb. guard is projected by some NBA draft analysts as a late first round pick in this year's upcoming draft. On the court at Oregon, Dorsey is the team's second leading scorer, averaging 14.6 points per game and is second in the Pac-12 three point percentage shooting 46.8%.
Senior 6-6 forward Elgin Cook averages 12.8 points per game to go with 5.3 rebounds per game and is one of the Ducks most veteran players. The fifth year senior is in fact, the only Duck on scholarship to ever play in a game at the Huntsman Center. Fellow senior forward Chris Boucher is a 6-10 190 lb. shot blocking machine, averaging 3.3 blocks per game. Also good with the ball in his hands, Boucher averages 12.1 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game. Other players Utah should be aware of are forwards Dwayne Benjamin and Jordan Bell who give the Ducks depth inside.
Oregon has some big wins this season such as the pair against the Bay schools and beating number 20 ranked Baylor early in the season. While Oregon is a terrific home team with a record of 11-0, they are still learning how to fly away from the nest. Away from Matthew Knight Arena, the Ducks are only 2-3 with one of those wins coming against Navy on a neutral court in Hawaii. The other win away from home was against a mediocre Alabama team.
History would appear to be on Oregon's side in this matchup however. The Ducks have owned Utah on the hardwood since Utah joined the Pac-12. The Ducks have won 7 of 8 games played, with Utah's only win coming in 2013 at the Huntsman Center. On the flip side, Utah has won 44 of 47 home games since 2013 with it's only losses at home coming against top ten ranked team's, one of which was Oregon two seasons ago. The only other team Utah has lost to at home since 2013 is Arizona.
Utah would help themselves out by getting off to a fast start on Thursday night. In all of Oregon's losses on the road, the Ducks have struggled to establish anything early. The Ducks strategy to win will be to use their athleticism to their advantage. Oregon can run the floor with the best of them and will try to dictate the tempo in their favor.
Utah has an advantage on the inside with the likes of Jakob Poeltl, Kyle Kuzma, Brekkot Chapman and Chris Reyes all standing over 6-7, but Oregon is very deep on the inside and will be able to rotate players in to help guard the paint. Rebounding could be the deciding factor in this game. Oregon ranks ninth in the conference averaging 37.3 rebounds per game, while Utah sits seventh averaging 39.9 rebounds per game. If Utah can get off to a fast start and establish the post, Utah has a great chance to improve their impressive home record. If Oregon is allowed to push the tempo and run the Utes up and down the court, Oregon could solve their road woes.
The game tips off at 8 pm on Thursday. It will be broadcast by Pac-12 Networks or you can listen to the call on ESPN700 with Bill Riley and Jimmy Soto.