Utes Attempt To Get Massive Road Win Against USC Trojans

Jan 28, 2020, 9:08 PM
Utah Utes players cheer as they lead the Washington State Cougars in the final moments of the game ...
Utah Utes players cheer as they lead the Washington State Cougars in the final moments of the game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)
(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The University of Utah men’s basketball team has a tough task ahead of them when they begin a quick road trip against the USC Trojans on Thursday night.

The Utes are 12-7 on the season and 3-4 in Pac-12 play having won their last two games.

USC is second in the conference, holding a 16-4 overall record and a 5-2 mark in the Pac-12.

Utah leads the all-time series 21-17 against the Trojans. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Utes are 10-4 against USC and 4-2 at the Galen Center. They have won the last two meetings.

Rylan Jones Stepping Up

Over the last two games in sweeping the Washington schools, the Utes have picked up a big boost from true freshman point guard Rylan Jones. Against Washington, Jones scored all 13 points in the final 8 minutes of the game, including the game winning free throws. He also had 9 assists and 7 rebounds in that game.

In their win over Washington State, Jones scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half to help the Utes cruise past the Cougars. After the two performances, Jones was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week.

Jones had the help of two other freshman on Saturday against Washington State with Mikael Jantunen dropping 16 points and 5 rebounds, along with 12 points, 2 rebounds and 3 blocks from Branden Carlson.

USC Led By Talented Freshman

The talented USC Trojans are led by freshman big man Onyeka Okongwu, who is leading the team in points, rebounds and blocks. He is posting 17.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game. Okongwu is seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring, third in rebounding and second in blocks per game.

The young and talented freshman will certainly demand attention from the Utes but they will need to be locked in defensively and not let the others go off for big games. Senior guard Jonah Matthews will present a problem for the Utes especially from the perimeter, averaging 13 points on 38 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Senior big man Nick Rakocevic is recording 11 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.

USC is a very tough team on the defensive end. If Utah wants a chance to get the road upset, they will need to execute on the offensive end and make their open shots.

Finally, Utah will have to win the battle of the boards because USC is leading the conference in rebounds per game with 39.9.

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. 74 in the NET ranking after moving up three spots after their win over Washington State. USC is No. 40 in the NET rankings, staying the same after their win over Oregon State. They are the fifth 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 – 56
  • SOR – 64
  • BPI – 117
  • KenPom – 114
  • Sagarin – 82

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

  • RPI – 22
  • SOR – 21
  • BPI – 49
  • KenPom – 50
  • Sagarin – 49

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 USC, Utah is 2-5 against Quadrant 1 opponents. Their five losses came against Oregon, San Diego State, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State, while their two wins coming against BYU and Kentucky in Las Vegas.

The Utes are 3-0 against Quadrant 2 teams with wins over Nevada, Minnesota and Washington. In Quadrant 3, Utah is 2-2 with both losses coming against Tulane and Coastal Carolina in the Myrtle Beach Invitational and their two wins coming against Oregon State and Washington State. The Utes are 5-0 in Quadrant 4 with wins over Ohio, UC Davis, Weber State, Central Arkansas and Mississippi Valley State.

USC has a 3-3 record in Quadrant 1, beating LSU, Stanford and TCU while losing to Oregon, Marquette and Washington. They are 5-0 in Quadrant 2 with wins against Nevada, Oregon State, Harvard, Washington State and UCLA. The Trojans have a 3-1 record in Quadrant 3 with their wins coming against Pepperdine, South Dakota State and California, while losing to Temple. They are 5-0 in Quadrant 4 with victories over Portland, Fairfield, Long Beach State, Florida A&M and Florida Gulf Coast.

The Utes and Trojans will square off on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on FS1.

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