Any chance that the Runnin’ Utes have at making the Big Dance hinges on this road trip to Oregon on Thursday. The team’s outlook on the tournament already looked pretty bleak, but after going winless on the road trip to northern California in early February, things are looking a little more fiNITe (see what I did there?) for the Utes these days.
That said, a win over the No. 7 Ducks would bolster Utah’s resume significantly. Will it be enough to convince the NCAA Selection Committee that the Utes are a tournament-worthy team? Potentially, but a win in Eugene is easier said than done, especially for Larry Krystkowiak and Utah.
Since taking over in 2011, Krystkowiak is just 1-11 against Dana Altman and the Ducks. Most of those times, Oregon boasted one of the best team’s in the Pac-12, and sometimes even the country. This isn’t an excuse for Krystkowiak and company, but rather just illustrating a point that Oregon has a great program and Altman is an even better coach.
That said, the Runnin’ Utes have to beat the Ducks at some point, right? They were close to doing so in January when they hosted Oregon in the Huntsman Center. Had a few more calls gone in Utah’s favor in the 73-67 win for the Ducks, this preview would be written much differently.
The Utes should feel pretty good about themselves that they were in a position to win the previous matchup late in the game, but this time, it’s in Oregon’s house. The Ducks haven’t lost inside the confines of the Matthew Knight Arena all season long (15-0) and are looking for ways to increase its future seed in the NCAA Tournament. Another convincing win over the Utes would do that.
Of course, everyone knows who the emotional and physical leader for Oregon is in Dillon Brooks. The versatile playmaker is averaging 14.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game and is also one of the team’s best defenders. But this team is hardly a one-man show, as these Ducks are stacked.
There are four other players averaging double-digit points, but it’s the defensive end where Oregon really thrives. The Ducks have the most blocks of any team in the country with 179, with Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell combining for 118 of them.
Beating Oregon at Oregon is a tall task for Utah. It is easily the toughest game of the season when all things considered, but at the same time, not impossible. The Utes held things close last time and if the Ducks have an off night or maybe look ahead to Colorado, who beat them in their previous matchup, things could get interesting.
Here’s to hoping for a Utah win and that Brooks looks more like a basketball player than flopping fish out of the water.