Mike Sorensen: Local college teams have challenging tasks this week
Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — What some call the most exciting sports day of the year — Selection Sunday — is over and we have three weeks of college basketball to look forward to now that all of the brackets are set.
Four of the state’s six Division I basketball teams will be playing this week and perhaps beyond. Here’s a look at their chances this week beginning with the NCAA teams.
BYU — After years of feeling they received a lower seed than they deserved, for once the Cougars got a better seed than they were expecting.
All the experts had the Cougs as an 11 or 12 seed and barely making this year’s tournament, perhaps playing in one of the dreaded “First Four” games in Dayton early in the week.
Instead, BYU received a No. 10 seed, meaning it was rated ahead of at least seven other at-large teams (No. 11's Nebraska, Dayton and Providence and First Four teams Iowa, Tennessee, N.C. State and Xavier).
In Oregon, the Cougars will be playing a team they are quite familiar with, having played the Ducks in Eugene in December. Back then, Oregon was undefeated and ranked No. 13 in the country and BYU probably should have won that game before blowing a late lead and losing in overtime.
But the Cougars are going into this year’s NCAA tourney with a damper over their heads, having lost arguably their best player, Kyle Collinsworth, to a season-ending knee injury in the finals of the West Coast Conference tournament last week.
Not only will they miss not having Collinsworth, but because depth isn’t their strong point, they’ll have to go deeper down the bench with players such as freshman Frank Bartley, Skyler Halford and the always unpredictable Matt Carlino.
The Ducks are certainly more talented, and after a poor stretch in the middle of the season when they lost eight of 10, they won eight straight before losing to UCLA in the Pac-12 quarterfinals.
It looks like a one-and-done for the Cougars this year.
Weber State — The Wildcats from Utah are thrilled to be in their first NCAA tournament in seven years, and coach Randy Rahe says the team won’t have the attitude of “happy to be there.’’
But they had to swallow hard when they saw their first-round opponent would be the Wildcats of Arizona.
Arizona absolutely throttled Utah in the Pac-12 quarterfinals, winning by 32 points and completely shutting down the Utes’ offense with a suffocating defense. They did the same to Colorado the next night before losing a close game to UCLA in the league finals.
If Weber State looks to its history, it can find wins over Michigan State and North Carolina in the 1990s when the Wildcats were No. 14 seeds. But this time they are a No. 16 seed. Never in NCAA history has a 16th seed upset a No. 1 seed, and it won’t happen this year.
At least the Weebs can look back and say they were happy to be back in the NCAA tournament for a change.
Utah — The Utes had to be feeling like they were good enough to be in this year’s tournament as they watched the bracket being unveiled Sunday afternoon.
There was Colorado, a team they beat by 11 at home and lost in overtime on the road, getting a No. 8 seed. There was Arizona State, a team the Utes beat by 23 at home and lost to by four on the road, getting a No. 10 seed. There was Stanford, a team it lost to by one point on the road a little more than a week ago, getting a No. 10 seed. Not to mention UCLA, a team it beat by five at home, getting a No. 4 seed and BYU, a team it beat by 17 at home, getting a No. 10 seed.
The problem was, all those victories came at home as the Utes hardly ventured outside the Huntsman Center all year except for league games. The NCAA selection committee looks closely at schedules and road wins and the Utes failed on both counts. NCAA Selection Committee Chairman Ron Wellman said Sunday the reason SMU wasn’t selected for the tournament was its weak non-conference schedule, the same problem Utah had.
After five years without a postseason bid, the Utes are happy to be in the NIT, but they have to be disappointed not to get a home game and to go on the road against Saint Mary’s. They might be able to get past the Gaels, but considering their lack of success on the road this year, they aren’t likely to win three straight in order to get a chance to go to New York for the NIT Final Four.
Utah Valley — The Wolverines were sorely disappointed to not win the WAC tournament title last week in Las Vegas but are taking the school’s first-ever NIT berth against Cal as a nice consolation prize.
To get to New York, the Wolverines will have to win three road games, which will be an overwhelming chore, but just getting to the NIT for a school that is a decade removed from being a junior college is a huge accomplishment.
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