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Utah Game Preview & How to Watch

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Washington begins the mountain road trip fresh off a loss at Arizona

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 10 Pac-12 Tournament - Utah v Washington Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

How to Watch (and bet)

Date: Thursday, 1/6/21

Tip-Off Time: 6:30 pm PT

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Streaming: Pac-12.com/live

Radio: Huskies Gameday App

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

DraftKings Betting Line: Washington Huskies +9.5

Utah Utes 2021-22 Statistics:

Record: 8-6 (1-3)

Points For per Game: 72.7 ppg (115th)

Points Against per Game: 67.9 ppg (139th)

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 108.0 (61st)

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 99.5 (131st)

Strength of Schedule: 76th

Utah Key Players:

G- Rollie Worster, So. 6’4, 201: 7.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.4 apg, 36.8% FG, 34.2% 3pt, 75.0% FT

Worster followed head coach Craig Smith from Utah State where as expected he has put up just a little bit worse stats essentially across the board. His offensive rating and assist rate are both slightly worse but he has been less turnover prone to partially compensate. The finishing around the rim is down significantly and that could continue to be a problem against the Huskies with their rim protection options in the zone.

G- David Jenkins, Sr. 6’1, 204: 11.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.9 apg, 41.1% FG, 43.0% 3pt, 85.7% FT

This is stop #3 for Jenkins coming out of Tacoma after previous stints at South Dakota State and UNLV. It’s also a career low in scoring as he has gone from 19.7 to 14.8 and finally 11.8 this year (although it corresponds with fewer minutes each time). Jenkins is an elite 3-point shooter and that hasn’t changed across stops as his career low is 38.2% as a true freshman. If left open he will punish the Husky zone and there needs to be someone attached to his hip at all times. Beyond his role as a 3-pt sniper though he doesn’t do much else of note on the court.

G- Marco Anthony, Sr. 6’5. 223: 8.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.0 apg, 41.2% FG, 35.3% 3pt, 72.4% FT

Anthony marks the second of 3 consecutive 3-stoppers as he started out at Virginia then went to Utah State before also following coach Smith to Salt Lake. He should probably be a jumbo shooting guard but on this roster Anthony has been an undersized 34 hybrid which accounts for his huge increases in rebounding numbers. After barely seeing the floor with Virginia he has turned into a solid role player under Smith even if he isn’t a star.

G- Both Gach, Sr. 6’6, 189: 11.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.2 apg, 46.7% FG, 36.7% 3pt, 75.0% FT

Finally, Gach pulled off the boomerang transfer going to Minnesota and then back one year later after their coach was fired. We’ll see if it’s sustainable but Gach is hitting a career high of 3-pointers and has been super efficient in Pac-12 play so far. The Utes are 1-3 in those games but Gach is averaging 15.5 points on 63/53/75% shooting splits. At some point he’ll regress to the mean which is probably close to where his overall season stats are right now but we’ll see if he continues to be on fire.

C- Branden Carlson, Jr. 7'0, 216: 13.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 50.9% FG, 29.6% 3pt, 87.5% FT

He doesn’t get credit as one of the best centers in the Pac-12 but Carlson is just a good basketball player. I don’t think two 3-pt attempts per game is probably helping his efficiency but presumably coach Smith is encouraging him to stretch the floor. He has shot between 55-58% on 2-pointers with a block rate between 7.2-8.4% every season of his career (the latter of those good for top-75 every year). His biggest weakness is that he just hasn’t been on the court all that much, averaging just 24 minutes per game. He also isn’t a superlative offensive rebounder but likely will do well in that regard against Washington.

The Outlook

It’s a retooled Utah roster under a new head coach but there was some optimism entering the year that they could quickly rebuild. After a quick 5-0 start things have taken a turn for the worse as the Utes are just 3-6 since then with a COVID pause thrown in for good measure. Some of that drop-off is certainly because the schedule ramped up. The Utes are 8-2 against teams ranked 65th or worse at KenPom with both losses coming on the road and 0-4 against the 4 best teams on their schedule. It’s worth noting that only one of those 4 games came at home as it has been a road heavy start to the year for the Utes.

So far it has been a “by committee” approach for Utah with 7 players averaging between 21 and 29 minutes per game. An injury to Illinois State center transfer Dusan Mahorcic has hurt the big man depth for Utah and led to lineups almost always playing 3 guys between 6’4 and 6’7. That quality size at the guard sports/on the wing allows Utah to be 26th in average height despite only playing one player taller than 6’10 and starting a 6’1 guard.

The defensive approach under Craig Smith has been pretty clear. The Utes want to take away opposing 3-point attempts and will sacrifice just about everything else to do it. And they’ve done their job. Opponents are making just 27.8% of their long range shots against Utah and get only 23.1% of their total shots from beyond the arc which is the 345th highest mark. That’s probably good news for a Washington team that can’t shoot the 3 anyways and should be taking fewer of those shots.

In order to make sure that opponents can’t get off open 3-point looks Utah doesn’t gamble for steals. They are 355th nationally out of 358 teams in turnover rate on defense and 350th in steal rate. Against Arizona on Monday night the Huskies held a 21 to 6 turnover advantage and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that play out again against the Utes.

There are some clear strengths for Utah on the offensive end. Carlson is an efficient post scorer and Jenkins is one of the better 3-point shooters in the sport. Gach and Anthony are both solid all-around wings who are capable of knocking down both 3’s and midrange jumpers. There just isn’t that one point guard who really stirs the drink. PG Rollie Worster’s assist rate is quite a bit lower than Terrell Brown’s for instance. But just about everyone in the rotation has a higher assist rate than UW’s 2nd place passer Daejon Davis. The Utes move the ball as a team even if no individual commands the ball.

The other big advantage for the Utes is at the free throw line where they’re shooting 78.5% on the season. Despite remaking their team that’s nothing new as Utah was 8th nationally at 79% in that category last year. 7-foot center Branden Carlson is making 87.5% of his attempts and their 8 leading minutes getters all make at least 72%. If the Huskies try to extend the game late by fouling then they’re going to be in for a bad time.

If the Huskies play in this game like they did in the first 35 minutes against Arizona then they are going to have a real shot to steal this game. Washington can’t fall into a pattern of taking contested 3’s and need to use pump fakes to get past their guy and get to the basket. If Branden Carlson gets in foul trouble there’s not much else in the way of rim protection to prevent it from being a layup line for Brown/Davis/Fuller. There’s a reasonable shot the Huskies keep it close given the matchup but can’t predict them to win on the road in conference until I see them do it.

Prediction

Washington Huskies- 72, Utah Utes- 76