Going up against a team such as Duke in the Sweet 16 can make any other team look, well, the underdog. The scrapper. The new kid at school who is stoked to be there but not quite sure which table to sit at during lunchtime.
Well, Utah knows what table it wants to be at, and everyone else might want to consider giving the Utes a chance to earn their seat.
Yes, this Utes squad has a freshness and vigor that contrasts with the Blue Devils’ notoriety and prowess.
But hear this: Kareem Copeland of the AP reports that the No.5 seed, seeking its first national title since the 1940s, “insists they won’t be star-struck” come tip off on Friday. Quite frankly, we shouldn’t expect them to be.
Let’s look past the “Coach K. vs. Coach K” angle that the big outlets seem to be so enamored with, and look at how the guys on the court match up. These programs are pretty similar on paper, with the Utes averaging about 72 points a game and the Blue Devils averaging about 80–with about a fourth of those points coming from freshman phenom Jahlil Okafor. Utah doesn’t give up as many points on average as the No.1 seed does, and has found a great defensive stride in their last few games.
Utah’s first key to success will be doing exactly what they told Yahoo: Not getting star-struck.
With the weapons that they have and the wins they have racked up, they came out flat-footed in the regular season against big dog Arizona. Yet their victories over SF Austin and Georgetown in this NCAA tourney show that the Utes have grown past that mentality and are ready to duel Duke on the big stage.
The second key is, of course, maintaining that smothering backcourt pressure. It kept a high-scoring Lumberjacks team off the board and did wonders stymieing the Hoyas. There is really no better test of that D than going up against the Blue Devils in the Sweet 16.
Tip off between Duke and Utah is scheduled for 9:45pm Eastern time.
*Section Photo credit to Associated Press; Featured Photo (above) credit to Robert Beck, Sports Illustrated