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What I learned: This week in Utah Men’s Basketball

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It was a crucial week for the Runnin’ Utes Men’s Basketball team as the team traveled to the Bay Area to take on the Stanford Cardinal and the Cal Bears. The road trip started in Palo Alto where the Utes had failed to come away with a victory since 1971. Led by Sedrick Barefield who scored a team-high 18 points, the Utes escaped a tightly contested game with their first victory at Maples Pavilion in over 40 years.

Next up for the Utes was a matchup with the Cal Bears, who entered the game winless in conference play. While the matchup hard fought, Utah came away with the expected victory. The two wins were critical for the Utes as they look to climb the Pac-12 standings in order to better position themselves for a run in the Pac-12 Tournament and the chance at a birth in March Madness. As I look back at the road trip for the Utes I decided to highlight some of the takeaways I had.

As the Sedrick Barefield goes, so do the Utes

Coming into the season it was expected that Barefield would need to be the leader of this team after the departures of David Collette and Justin Bibbins. While 2018-19 hasn’t gone exactly as hoped for Barefield and the Utes, when the Utes have experienced some level of success it’s been on the back of their senior captain. Out of Utah’s 11 wins, only once has Barefield failed to score in the double digits. In fact, Barefield is averaging 17.1 points, 4.3 assists and 2.5 turnovers in wins compared to 14.7 points, 2.8 assists and 2.9 turnovers in losses. So while Barefield’s impact on the success of the Utes was expected, the full effect that the senior has on the team cannot be understated.

Parker Van Dyke plays a crucial role on this team

As one of only three seniors on this Utah Men’s Basketball team, Van Dyke is relied on heavily to be a leader both on and off the court. Van Dyke isn’t going to put up gaudy numbers or wow you with his flashy moves, the most exciting play Van Dyke has made was a two-handed fast-break dunk (the first dunk of his career). What the senior guard will do is make winning plays. He rarely turns the ball over (less than once per game) or takes an ill-advised shot. Instead, he will make the right pass or push the pace, little things that translate to success on the court, things that translate to Van Dyke making the go-ahead shot against Stanford on Thursday. But the other thing that Van Dyke does to benefit the team rarely happens on the court. The ESPN U broadcast of the Utah/Cal game touched on the subject a little, but Van Dyke is relied on heavily to mentor and to teach the young players on this Utah team, in particular, Both Gach.

A spot in March Madness is not out the question for the Utes

A regular season conference championship is most likely out the reach of this Utah team. Sitting at 5-2 in conference play, the Utes are currently two games behind the Washington Huskies who are undefeated in Pac-12 games. Additionally, at 11-8 on the season, an at-large bid is almost out of the question for the Utes. At this point, most fans have probably given up hope that the Runnin’ Utes will find themselves playing in the NCAA Tournament come March. But as the Utes ride a four-game win streak into this week, Utah has begun to not only play much-improved basketball but also position themselves for a run in the Pac-12 Tournament. A victory in the tournament would be the only thing that could get this team into March Madness. While the chances are still slim, they are better than I would have thought just two weeks ago.