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Utah Utes men's basketball notebook: Seeding could be vital for U. in MWC tourney

Published: Tuesday, July 28 2015 4:40 a.m. MDT

It's about time to start checking out the seeding for the upcoming Mountain West Conference Tournament, which begins in just three weeks at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

It's been a tough year for the Utah basketball team and its only hope for postseason play will rest on repeating its feat of running the table at the MWC tournament, which is March 10-13. So seeding could be important to the Utes' chances.

Right now the Utes are in the No. 6 spot, just a half game ahead of TCU for the No. 7 spot. The good news for the Utes is that they aren't likely to play in the dreaded 8-vs.9 "play-in" game that Air Force (1-8) and Wyoming (2-7) seemed to have pretty much locked up.

The bad news is that they're looking at the worst possible first-round matchup, against the hometown Rebels of UNLV on their home floor. The Rebels are currently tied with San Diego State for third place in the MWC standings.

The Rebels are also two games behind New Mexico and BYU in the loss column and unlikely to move into the top two.

Utah could fall to seventh, but holds the tiebreaker with TCU and would need to fall a game behind the Horned Frogs. The Utes could also move up to fifth, especially if they beat UNLV this week.

Colorado State is in fifth, two games ahead of Utah, but the Rams have a tougher schedule with league leaders BYU and New Mexico at home and road games at UNLV, TCU and San Diego State. The Rams could very well lose all five of those games, which would put their record at 6-9 going into the final MWC game of the season, a home game against Utah on March 6. That game could decide the No. 5 seed.

The Utes will be favored to beat Air Force on the road and Wyoming at home, which would give them six wins and they also have home games against BYU and the one with UNLV.

But if Utah beats UNLV and does move up to fifth, the Rebels are more likely to fall to fourth, which would mean a Utah-UNLV first -round matchup in the 4-vs-5 game.

Or you can look at it this way — Utah, along with league leader New Mexico, is the only team to defeat UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center this year, so maybe it wouldn't be so bad to play the Rebels in the first round of the tournament.

FOSTER BLOCKS: Ute center David Foster now has 103 blocks on the season, which has shattered Luke Nevill's mark of 92, set a year earlier. Now he can set his sights on Nevill's career record at Utah of 205. Foster only had five blocks in his limited time as a freshman, so he stands at 108.

Foster should also move into second place on the season list for the Mountain West Conference this week ahead of UNLV's Joel Anthony who had 109 in 2006-07. To break the record of Wyoming's Justin Williams of 163, Foster would need to average at least eight blocks a game over Utah's final six regular-season games and one tournament game.

NO POWS: Last year Utah led the league in MWC player-of-the-week awards with six as Nevill garnered five and Shaun Green the other. However this year, the Utes have been shut out and are the only team besides Wyoming not to receive a POW honor.

FREE THROWS: Led by Luka Drca, the Utes' free throw shooting has been improving as the season has gone along.

The Utes rank 11th in the nation at 75.4 percent and lead the MWC in league games at 77.1 percent.

Drca has been lights out since the opening game of the season when he inexplicably went 0 for 4 from the line.

On the season, Drca is 69 of 80 for 86.3 percent, but if you take away the first game he would be 90.8 percent, which would be tied for fifth in the nation.

Marshall Henderson is shooting 83 percent on the season and is second behind Drca in league games at 87.5 percent.

UTE NOTES: Wednesday's game with UNLV starts at 8 p.m. and is televised on The mtn. . . . Saturday's game in San Diego has a 7 p.m. MST start . . . Carlon Brown is sixth in the league in scoring at 13.6 points per game. In conference games only, Henderson is third in scoring at 15.8 ppg . . . Utah's home attendance average is up to 8,733, fourth best in the league, but still on track to be the lowest average attendance since the Huntsman Center opened in 1969.

e-mail: sor@desnews.com

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