Utah and Fresno State will tip off at 5:27 MT today on truTV. Utah is favored by 8.5 points heading into the matchup and by all accounts should be able to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament. They don't call this tournament March Madness for nothing though, and despite fivethirtyeight.com giving Fresno state only a 13% chance to win this game, stranger things are a regular occurrence in March. With that in mind let's take a look at three keys Utah needs to win this game.
1. Make life difficult for Marvelle Harris
Marvelle Harris is the engine that makes Fresno go. By far and away the Bulldogs best player, Harris rarely leaves the floor averaging 36.6 minutes per game, ten minutes more than any other Fresno player. The guard is a creative scorer averaging 20.6 points per game, able to get to the basket as well as pull up and knock down a three. If Fresno State is going to upset Utah, Harris will need to lead the way. Utah will need to make sure and harrass Harris into taking poor shots. The Bulldogs are 18-2 when Harris shoots better than 40% from the field. If Utah can hold Harris to a poor shooting night, the odds of a Bulldog upset go down exponentially.
2. Feed Poeltl early and often
Utah has a Pac-12 Player of the Year, Fresno State doesn't. This is a huge advantage for the Utes. Jakob Poeltl will not have an equal counterpart from Fresno opposing him tonight. The Bulldogs best forward, Karachi Edo, is only 6-6. Fresno has a couple 6-9 guys in Cullen Russo and Terrell Carter II to match up with Poeltl, but neither are any where as skilled or talented as Poeltl. Utah needs to find way to get Poeltl the ball inside and get him established early. Poeltl can be a dominant scorer if given the opportunity and is a very effective passer when he draws double teams to get others involved. Against Fresno, Poeltl should be able to do his thing down low if Utah's guards can get him the ball.
3.Take care of the ball
Defense is one of the Bulldogs strengths. Fresno State's stingy defense has accounted for 8.2 steals per game and a +4.3 turnover margin per game. This could become a factor if Utah plays sloppy, as they have at times this season. Utah averages 12.3 turnovers a game. Against Oregon in the Pac-12 championship, the Utes turned the ball over eight times in an eleven posession stretch. Utah can not afford to have a stretch like that against the Bulldogs or any other team in this tournament. Doing so will play into what Fresno State likes to do, and would give the Bulldog players the boost they might need to believe they can win. Utah won't get away with 12.3 turnovers for long in the tournament.