We are still at least five months out from the Utah Runnin’ Utes playing their first preseason game, so here’s a way too early look at the 2018-19 season.
The Utes extended their season longer than any Pac-12 team and advanced to the NIT national championship where they were upset by Penn State at the Madison Square Garden. The Nittany Lions sent the Utes packing with a 82-66 loss. Some people might have thought this; ‘The Utes got that far and lost?’ But I like to look at it this way; the Utes were able to get five extra games under their belt, play against out-of-conference teams and their freshman received valuable playoff experience.
If you don’t agree with me there, maybe this will help. NIT play was great for starting guard Sedrick Barefield. He made the most of Utah’s run and averaged 16 points – that’s four points higher than his season average – in five games. Barefield led the Utes with 22 points and went 8-for-11 shooting during their championship game against Penn State. Barefield finished the season on a high note. If I were a betting woman, I’d bet that Barefield comes back next season and dominates on the boards. As the only returning starter, he will be expected to take more of a leadership role on the team. He has been to and played in the NIT. Coming back with a chip on his shoulder after the Utes were snubbed a seat in the NCAA Tournament; Barefield knows what it will take to get his team to the big dance.
The Utes hope to continue the streak that they finished the season on. Losing four starters, it will be a tough road because the team but reaching the NCAA Tournament is doable. Other players, such as Donnie Tillman, Jayce Johnson and Parker Van Dyke, will have to step up. I think that’s where the NIT experience will help.