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Utah Utes Game Preview & How to Watch

Washington starts off Pac-12 play tonight on the road in Boulder

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Utah Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

How to Watch (and bet)

Date: Sunday, 12/31/23

Tip-Off Time: 3:00 pm PT

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Streaming: Pac-12.com/live

Radio: Huskies Gameday App, Sports Radio KJR

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Betting Line: Washington Huskies +9.5

Utah Utes 2023-24 Statistics:

Record: 10-2 (1-0)

Points For per Game: 80.6 ppg (42nd)

Points Against per Game: 67.6 ppg (81st)

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 116.0 (21st)

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 96.5 (42nd)

Strength of Schedule: 49th

Utah Key Players:

G- Rollie Worster, Sr. 6’4. 206: 10.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 6.3 apg, 40.6% FG, 31.6% 3pt, 74.0% FT

Since transferring in from Utah State Worster has always struggled to shoot the ball. But he has taken yet another step as a floor general with a sky high assist rate and a career low turnover rate while drawing more fouls and getting more steals. Worster leads the team in minutes played and is indispensable right now to making the dynamic Utes offense run.

G- Cole Bajema, Sr. 6’7, 187: 9.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.8 apg, 41.5% FG, 35.4% 3pt, 85.2% FT

A familiar face for Husky fans. Bajema likely isn’t having many regrets about his decision to transfer so far. He is putting up almost an identical season to the one he had last year at Washington except he’s shooting a career best on 2-pointers so far (50%). Otherwise you know that he’s going to take a lot of 3’s and get the occasional steal or rebound and that’s his game.

G- Gabe Madsen, Sr. 6’6, 200: 14.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.0 apg, 50.0% FG, 45.7% 3pt, 76.5% FT

Meanwhile Madsen has become the player UW fans always wanted Bajema to become. He has been an absolute flamethrower from deep and has shot at least 33% from 3-point range in 10 of Utah’s 12 games including an 8/15 performance against Houston and 16/32 over their last 4 games. He had never shot better than 35% in his career on 2’s but is at 58% right now so we’ll see if that regresses to the mean a bit but he has become a legitimate all-conference candidate.

F- Branden Carlson, Sr. 7’0, 225: 17.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.9 apg, 47.4% FG, 37.8% 3pt, 76.9% FT

For the first time in his career Carlson has seemingly plateaued in his production but he has done so at an all-conference 1st team level. He’s playing more power forward this year with the addition of Lovering and can knock down shots everywhere on the floor and will always be taller than the guy guarding him. He’s a problem.

C- Lawson Lovering, Jr. 7’1, 235: 8.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 53.2% FG, 28.6% 3pt, 66.7% FT

Lovering was the weak link on Colorado last year but has done better transferring in to Utah where he has become a solid free throw shooter (below 50% before this season) and more than doubled his assist rate. He’s even trying the occasional 3-point shot and has blocked 11 shots in Utah’s last 4 games.

The Outlook

Washington got to start out conference play with the toughest road trip in the Pac-12 this year and let slip a golden opportunity on Friday night with Colorado missing 2 of their best 3 players. They’re not expected to get any luck with injuries tonight against a team that is just as good if not better.

Utah is currently riding a 7-game win streak that includes a road win at Saint Mary’s and a home win over a top-15 BYU squad. They just pounded a pretty good Wazzu team by 22 points on Friday night. They definitely look like a clear NCAA tournament group.

The first thing you notice when looking at Utah (other than a group of players that look like they are from Utah) is their height. The Utes have been the tallest team in the country based on their minutes played this season with the average player bigger than 6’7. They run with a twin towers lineup of 7’1 Lawson Lovering and 7’0 Brandon Carlson but this isn’t a Sean Miller Arizona situation. Carlson has a clear perimeter game and the Utes still stretch the floor shooting 38.2% from deep on the season (24th in the country).

PG Rollie Worster and C Lawson Lovering aren’t much of a perimeter threat but the other 3 starters all make at least 35% of their attempts from deep and they are great at passing the ball until they find an open shooter or the defense has broken down in the paint for an easy layup/dunk. The Utes are 21st in the country assisting on more than 61% of their field goals. They don’t get to the free throw line very often, don’t get a ton of offensive rebounds, and are only good but not great avoiding turnovers. But when you put it all together it’s still a top-25 offense by the metrics.

The key for Utah on defense all revolves around free throw shooting. Utah first of all just doesn’t commit fouls, with opponents only getting 0.23 free throws per field goal attempt (12th in the nation). Then when they get to the line they only make 61% which is 3rd in the country. That could be very good luck which will normalize but is also probably a function that Utah is more likely to foul centers than they are guards. Put it all together and no team gives up fewer free throw makes than Utah. That will be a contrast with a UW team that loves to get to the line.

It shouldn’t be surprise but Utah is pretty good at both blocking shots and securing defensive rebounds with their overwhelming height. They don’t gamble for steals very often but stay in front of their guy with their hands up and that’s usually enough to alter shots just enough.

Washington really needs to come away with a victory if they want to keep alive dreams of an NCAA tournament berth. The Pac-12 is extremely weak this year and there are really only 3 chances for a premium road win. UW already blew one of them on Friday night and it’s not realistic to think they could win in Tucson against legitimate title contender Arizona. That leaves this game.

With Franck Kepnang in the lineup it might be doable. Washington has been a much worse team when he’s off the court this year and the hope was he’d return versus Colorado. But once again the coaching staff appears to have lied about how severe an injury was and I can’t possibly pick UW to win a tough road game with him sidelined given the way Braxton Meah has played this year. Maybe UW ends up going on a run with a healthy Kepnang and Yates at the end of the year but it’s getting late real early for Hop’s chances of keeping his job right now.

Prediction

My record this year: 10-2 Straight Up, 3-8-1 Against the Spread

Washington Huskies- 67, Utah Utes- 80