Seven times this season the Utah Utes men's basketball team has faced a ranked opponent, and six times the Utah Utes have lost. Now is the time of the year when everyone finds out if tough scheduling like that pays off or not. Still, the Utes were good enough to earn an opening-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament this week, and they will take the floor on Thursday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time to face either the California Golden Bears or the Oregon State Beavers, depending on which team emerges from its Wednesday afternoon contest.
Regular season stats: 78.9 points per game scoring (55th of 351 NCAA Division I schools), 67.6 points per game allowed (63rd of 351)
Conference record: 11-7 (4th place)
Overall record: 20-10, .667 winning percentage (67th of 351)
Home record: 14-3
Road record: 5-6
Best win: The one game against a ranked opponent the Utes did win as against Southern California on January 12 in Salt Lake City. And Utah didn't just win the game; it blew out USC by 22 points. While the Trojans were struggling to hit 37 percent of their shots, the Utes lit up the arena by shooting 55 percent of their shots. That was the game right there, as Utah just performed better than USC did at the most crucial aspect of the game.
Worst loss: Being the only Pac-12 victim of the Oregon State Beavers this season easily qualifies as the Utes' worst loss. OSU went just 1-17 in conference play this year, and Utah let a late lead slip away in that game on the road. Give credit to the Beavers for never giving up during a bad season, but the Utes have to know that game hurt their NCAA Tournament hopes. Oregon State had just five wins all season, and Utah shouldn't have been losing to a team like that.
Best Player: Somehow junior forward Kyle Kuzma got away from Tom Izzo and his Flint, MI, recruiting network at Michigan State, because he's been nothing but awesome for the Utes this season. Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, and he shoots 54.9 percent from two-point range. Utah's coaching staff should tell him never to attempt any other kind of shot.
Pac-12 Tournament outlook: The Utes have a tough draw, as they probably will face the California Golden Bears in the Thursday afternoon quarterfinals. Utah lost to Cal on the road in overtime, but back in Salt Lake City, the Utes took the Bears behind the woodshed and pounded them by 30 points. Both teams could be on the NCAA bubble for this matchup, giving the victor an inside edge on a ticket to March Madness. Utah can't afford to blow that opportunity.
Tickets to Session 3, featuring the Oregon Ducks and the Utah Utes on Thursday afternoon, can be purchased here.