Punching your ticket into the Big Dance is really only about one-fourth of the work. Who you have to play in the first game is a whole other battle. If anybody knows that, it’s Utah.
The Utes had quite the season, thanks to a rejuvenated program. Players such as stand-out star Delon Wright gave Utah a fresh boost.
But after a not-quite-as-stellar end to the regular season, the conference’s second-ranked team has found new challenges around each bend. First, a heartbreaking 67-64 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 semis. Now, they will have to bring their A-game in the Second Round of March Madness in a duel with sleeper Stephen F. Austin on Thursday.
Yes, Utah has the ability to tango with some of the countries best teams–and really, you can’t dwell on that buzzer-beating three-pointer from Oregon’s Joe Young in tourney play. But the Lumberjacks are a whole other caliber of a team, and Wright and company shouldn’t read into the talk that this opponent is anything but.
SFA is averaging 79.5 points a contest and leads the NCAA with 17.9 assists a game. They also know how to capitalize on their opponents mistakes, on top of ranking fifth overall in shooting at 49.1%. Their offense is smart and their defense is thick–it’s no wonder they topped the Southland conference. That, my friends, doesn’t sound like much of a “sleeper” team.
A shot at victory starts with Utah’s backcourt. While they typically allow about 56-57 points a game, Stephen F. Austin can light up the scoreboard into triple digits. A squashing defense that takes some of the pressure off the forward game would be beneficial. They will have a shot at the mighty ‘jacks, they just have to be ready for them.
Tip off between the Utes and Lumberjacks in the South bracket is scheduled for 7:27pm Eastern time this upcoming Thursday.
*Section Photo credit to Ethan Miller, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Christopher Hanewinckel, USA Today Sports.