The University of Utah kicked off the 2018 Men’s Basketball season with it’s ‘Night with the Utes’ on Wednesday night. While the Utes took the court for the first time this season in their annual scrimmage, it gave fans a chance to get an early look at the potential of this year’s team. With the season less than 3 weeks away, I wanted to take this opportunity to preview the upcoming season for Utah with my 3 biggest predictions for the Utes this season.
1- Sedrick Barefield will lead the Utes in scoring
Barefield, a senior out of California, is the Utes highest returning scorer after putting in 12 points per game in 2017-18. With Justin Bibbins and David Collette gone, Barefield should be the focal point of the Utes offense in 2018. A prolific high school scorer with 20 PPG, Barefield has seen his offensive output increase each year with the Utes. And I expect Barefield to continue to improve his offensive game this season. Fortunately for Barefield, he is not the only Ute that will be relied on on the offensive end of the floor. Barefield will be accompanied by junior center Jayce Johnson and sophomore forward Donnie Tillman, along with some impressive young talent.
2- Both Gach will play a major role for the Utes
All eyes this season will be on the highly touted freshman forward who committed to the Utes over schools like Oregon and Texas Tech. Bill Riley of ESPN 700 compared Gach to a former Ute great, Delon Wright, following Gach’s outing at the ‘Night with the Utes’ in which the freshman scored 15 points and recorded 6 assists. While Gach has a long way to go before he is listed alongside Delon Wright in terms of success at Utah, he certainly was impressive in his first appearance in a Utah uniform, albeit in a scrimmage. At 6-7 and 195 pounds, Gach has the physical tools to be a very good player for the Utes. If he can live up to expectations, Gach and Tillman could be a problem for opposing teams moving forward.
3- The Utes will finish fourth in the Pac-12
The Utes were picked to finish eighth in the conference when the pre-season polls were released on Pac-12 Media Day. But it seems that I have a bit more faith in the Utes than the media does. After all, the Utes have finished in the top-4 in the Pac-12 each of the past four seasons. The Utes boast a unique blend of both veteran leadership and youth as the team is comprised of 11 freshmen and seniors. But to me, the biggest X-factor is sophomore forward Donnie Tillman. If the Utes want to compete atop the Pac-12 with teams like Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA, then the former 4-Star recruit will need to have a breakout season.
While my expectations for the Utes are certainly higher than others, I feel as if this could be the year in which the Utes make a run at the NCAA Tournament. While Oregon will certainly be the favorite to win the conference, there doesn’t appear to be a juggernaut in the conference as there has been in recent years. So as football begins to wind down in the coming weeks, down forget to head to the Huntsman Center and cheer on the Utes as they start the season (officially) on November 8 against the Maine Black Bears.