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Young Utes Team Has Chance To Get First Win At Arizona As Conference Opponents

Utah Utes forward Timmy Allen (20) shoots over Arizona Wildcats guard Brandon Randolph (5) in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The second youngest team in all of college basketball has a chance to make history on Thursday when they face the Arizona Wildcats.

Utah is 10-5 overall on the season and 1-2 in Pac-12 play, losing back-to-back games. Arizona is 11-5 overall and 1-2 in the conference. They have lost two straight and four of their last five games.

Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah is 2-14 against the Wildcats and 0-7 in Tuscon. The Wildcats lead the all-time series with the Utes 30-34. In their last meeting, Utah picked up an 83-76 win on February 14, 2019 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Utes Need To Bounce Back

The Utes have the second youngest roster in the entire country. Following a 91-52 blowout loss to then-No. 25 Colorado, the Utes are learning through these tough experiences. Head coach Larry Krystkowiak has said that his team has looked at a lot of film from that game and that the list of learning experiences is “pretty long.”

Meanwhile, they are going through a difficult stretch against teams that are ranked higher than them in the NET rankings. They have played three straight games against teams that are rated higher in the NET rankings and at least the next two games are nothing different.

In the loss to Colorado, Utah didn’t have a single player score in double figures. The Pac-12 leading scorer Timmy Allen had a season-low 7 points against the Buffaloes. He will surely be motivated to have a better performance against the Wildcats and Sun Devils, returning to his home state.

About Arizona

Much like Utah, the Wildcats have a very young and inexperienced team. But, Arizona is one of the “blue bloods” of college basketball that feature four or five star recruits that will likely play one season and Tuscon before jumping to the NBA.

Arizona’s three top scorers are expected to be drafted in the first round, some as high as top five in the upcoming NBA Draft. Freshman forward Zeke Nnaji is the leading scorer for the Wildcats with 16.5 points per game, which is ranked 10th in the Pac-12. He leads the conference in field goal percentage, shooting 66 percent from the floor. Nnaji also averages 8.5 rebounds per contest, which is good for sixth in the conference.

Star point guard Nico Mannion is the son of former Ute and Utah Jazz forward Pace Mannion. Nico is posting 14.3 points, 2 rebounds and a Pac-12-best 6.3 assists per game. He is shooting 42 percent from the field and 33 percent from downtown.

FOX Sports and Pac-12 Networks college basketball analyst Casey Jacobsen joined the Crimson Corner podcast and said that Mannion has a hard time shooting the basketball well in big games.

The third player to watch for is freshman Josh Green, who is third on the Wildcats in scoring at 13 points per game. He is a physical guard/forward who can get on the boards as well, averaging 5.1 per game.

Major Metric Rankings

Part of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee process is the information compiled from five major metrics, the NET rankings, the three metrics from ESPN, including Strength of Record, BPI and RPI. The final two metrics that are used are the rankings from KenPom and Sagarin.

Utah is ranked No. 60 in the NET ranking after dropping seven spots from 53 last week. Arizona is No. 18 in the NET rankings. They are the third highest ranked team in the Pac-12 according to the NET rankings, while Utah is eighth.

Here is where the other metrics have the Utes this week:

  • RPI – 52
  • SOR – 55
  • BPI – 117
  • KenPom – 108
  • Sagarin – 82

For Arizona, here is where the other metrics have them ranked:

  • RPI – 34
  • SOR – 56
  • BPI – 10
  • KenPom – 18
  • Sagarin – 39

Also, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses the Quadrant system where they put the opponent in a quadrant depending on their five ratings in their major metrics. Entering the game against Arizona, Utah is 1-3 against Quadrant 1 opponents. Their three losses came against Oregon, San Diego State and Colorado, while their lone win was over Kentucky in Las Vegas.

The Utes are 4-1 against Quadrant 2 teams with wins over BYU, Nevada, Minnesota and Oregon State, with their only loss coming against Tulane. In Quadrant 3, Utah is 1-1 with a win over Ohio and a loss to Coastal Carolina, both games played in the Myrtle Beach Invitational. The Utes are 4-0 in Quadrant 4 with wins over UC Davis, Weber State, Central Arkansas and Mississippi Valley State.

Arizona has not won a game in Quadrant 1 and have four losses against Baylor, Gonzaga, Oregon and Oregon State. They are 2-1 in Quadrant 2 with wins over Illinois and Arizona State, while losing to St. John’s. They are 4-0 in Quadrant 4 with victories over Omaha, Northern Arizona, San Jose State and Long Beach State.

Utah and Arizona will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.

The Crimson Corner podcast is the one-stop for all things University of Utah Athletics hosted by Utah insider Trevor Allen. Ute fans will find interviews with current players, coaches, and staff alongside expert analysis of every game, story and angle coming out of the University of Utah.

You can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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