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Pac-12 Tournament: Utah Game Preview & How to Watch

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Can the #10 seed Huskies pull the upset over #7 seed Utah?

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Utah Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Essentials

Date: Wednesday, 3/10/21

Tip-Off Time: 4:00 pm PT

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: KJR 950/KVI 570

Streaming: Pac-12.com/live

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Betting line: Washington +8

Utah Utes 2020-21 Statistics:

Record: 11-12 (8-11)

Points For per Game: 70.4 ppg (177th)

Points Against per Game: 67.8 ppg (89th)

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 110.3 (60th)

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 97.7 (95th)

Strength of Schedule: 63rd

Utah Key Players:

F- Timmy Allen, Jr. 6’6, 204: 16.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.0 apg, 46.5% FG, 26.3% 3pt, 74.8% FT

If Allen could reliably hit an outside shot he would be a potential All-American. As it is he’s still a very good scorer who plays more bully ball than you would expect for someone at his size. He’s a perfect option in that high post area with his passing abilities and size. Allen is averaging 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7 assists against UW this year.

F- Mikael Jantunen, So. 6’8, 220: 8.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 61.0% FG, 34.8% 3pt, 87.0% FT

Jantunen is an efficiency monster who led the conference in 2pt field goal percentage during Pac-12 play last year and is in first again this year. Expect him to spend plenty of time lurking on the baseline waiting for the Husky center to commit and then use a variety of cuts and floaters to score in the paint. Jantunen is averaging 7 points and 5.5 rebounds against UW this year.

G- Rylan Jones, So. 6’0, 175: 4.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 4.0 apg, 35.7% FG, 30.0% 3pt, 70.6% FT

Jones was one of the more underrated freshmen in the conference last season but his scoring has failed him so far this year. Despite those shooting struggles he’s still a very good passer and boasts a nearly 4/1 assist to turnover ratio. He has had multiple shoulder injuries recently leading to him only playing 19 minutes in Utah’s last 6 games. Jones can be considered doubtful to play. Jones is averaging 4.5 points and 3 assists against UW this year.

G- Alfonso Plummer, Sr. 6’1, 175: 13.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 43.9% FG, 37.3% 3pt, 82.1% FT

Plummer absolutely has a “shooters gotta shoot” mindset and leads in Utah in % of shots taken when on the floor. His efficiency is down a little bit since his minutes have doubled since last year but he’s possibly Utah’s best all-around scorer as a deadly shooter who can still finish at the rim. Plummer is averaging 17 points and 2.5 steals against UW this year.

G- Pelle Larsson, Fr. 6’5, 215: 8.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 47.2% FG, 50.0% 3pt, 93.8% FT

The Swedish freshman guard has come in and instantly been one of the best shooters in the conference. He’s only taking about two 3’s and free throws per game so it isn’t high volume but his efficiency is through the roof. However he’s averaging over 2 turnovers per game so when he doesn’t get a shot up he has struggled on that end of the floor. Larsson is averaging 5.5 points and 4.5 assists against UW this year.

F- Riley Battin, Jr. 6’9, 234: 6.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.4 apg, 38.6% FG, 31.5% 3pt, 89.3% FT

Battin is a solid stretch 4 option for Utah who’s a better ball handler than you’d expect for someone who’s his height. He’s another player who could really cause some issues for the Huskies if they set him up at the free throw line. His shooting from the field has tanked this season but his turnovers have been cut by more than half so he’s playing a much different role in the Utah offense. Battin is averaging 10.5 points and 4 rebounds against UW this year.

C- Branden Carlson, So. 7’0, 218: 9.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 54.9% FG, 52.9% 3pt, 61.9% FT

Carlson is the only true rim protector that the Utes have so getting him foul trouble early could really open up scoring opportunities against Utah. He’s a really poor offensive rebounder for a 7-footer which is great news for UW considering their struggles in that area. He only takes one 3-pointer per game but has hit a very high percentage so can knock it down if left wide open. Carlson is averaging 13.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks against UW this year.

Utah Shot Chart Against Washington in 2020-21 (2 games)

Synergy Sports

The Outlook

We’ve finally arrived at what could be the last game of what has been a disappointing season for the Huskies. Washington will at least get the benefit of playing one of the 4 teams in the conference they’ve beaten in the first round for the right to play...USC. Who has clobbered them twice and is an atrocious matchup.

But we’ll gladly worry about USC if we get there. In order to figure out the Huskies can pull off the upset this time it’s probably instructive to look at how they did it the last time to see if that’s sustainable.

In Washington’s 83-79 win in Seattle there were a few things that stood out. The first is that Jamal Bey went supernova with a career high 28 points on 10/11 shooting. Bey could certainly have a big game again but he’s not going to shoot 90%+ from the floor again. In fact the overall scoring was incredibly unbalanced. Bey, Quade Green, and Erik Stevenson combined for 66 of Washington’s 83 points and no one else had more than 5. Notice that all 3 of those guys play on the perimeter which isn’t a coincidence. Utah doesn’t exactly have uber-athletic guards and so Washington should again be able to try to find matchups they like by having those 3 drive and either get to the basket or kick it out to one of the others waiting for a 3-point opportunity.

Given that Washington’s leading 3-point makers led the team in scoring it’s not surprising the Huskies shot 12/24 from deep. Bey and Green combined to go 8/9. Is it possible that happens again? Technically yes but it doesn’t seem likely. Washington has had a handful of red-hot shooting nights but the only ones that have come against good defenses have been at home.

Finally, the Huskies managed to fight to a draw in total possessions. Utah narrowly won the rebounding battle 32-28 but Washington made up for it with a 16-12 edge in turnovers. The Dawgs are normally a terrible rebounding team but that isn’t Utah’s strong suit either. The Utes rank 258th and 262nd in offensive and defensive rebounding rate respectively which is better than Washington on both accounts but not by all that much. Meanwhile, Washington forced 9 steals which is more than they’ve had in any game since. Utah’s an efficient offense when they get off a shot but if the Huskies can consistently get fast-break opportunities by getting steals again it would make things much easier.

The Utes are coming off a game in which they beat Arizona State as badly as the Sun Devils crushed Washington a few weeks ago (39 points and 33 points respectively). If the Huskies run into that version of Utah or that version of themselves then they have no shot. A win is certainly possible, as proven by it happening once this year, but it requires UW to play well and Utah to play poorly.

Utah is 2-4 in games without starting PG Rylan Jones with one of the wins a narrow 1-point victory over lowly Cal and the other the blowout against Arizona State. It’s tough to say how much of an impact that’s going to have. Jones is a minus on defense and can’t score but he keeps the ball moving for an offense that is always opportunistic about finding cutters headed to the basket for an easy bucket.

Per Synergy Sports Utah is 23/34 (68%) on 2-point attempts when the Huskies ran a man-to-man defense in the half court against them this year. That’s been more common for UW of late but they will either need to go back to trying a healthy dose of zone or show some serious improvement over their recent 10-day break to feel good about not getting shredded by Utah.

In the end a win over a pretty mediocre Utah team before getting blown out by USC wouldn’t really be all that satisfying of a way to end the season. But given how little has gone right for Washington this season it is certainly something that Mike Hopkins would much prefer happen than the alternative of what I think will occur. I feel confident in saying that this team is going to keep fighting for Hop but I wonder whether the early season horrors of playing in Vegas will be in the team’s mind a little bit and lead to some pressing early on in the game. Here’s to hoping the men’s team fights off elimination for another day like the women did last week but within 24 hours I’m expecting the season to be over.

Prediction

Washington Huskies- 66, Utah Utes- 78

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