The University of Utah last advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in 2005. Some names on that roster were Luke Nevill, Bryant Markson, Marc Jackson and a player who went #1 overall in the 2005 NBA Draft, Andrew Bogut. The 2014-15 Runnin Utes had a chance to join that team and reach the Sweet Sixteen. But they had to go through College Basketball Powerhouse Georgetown to get there. The Utes picked up the win 75-64 despite trailing by as much as 11 points in the first half. Brandon Taylor led the way for the Utes with 14 points including 4-8 from downtown. Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl each had 12 points. The Utes improved on taking care of the ball after recording 17 turnovers against Stephen F. Austin in the 2nd round. Against Georgetown, Utah only turned the ball over 9 times. They were also hitting their shots, shooting 58% from the field and 57% from downtown. That was the key to the Utes getting the win. Aiding this, they also played extremely well on the defensive end, shutting down the Hoyas to 32 points apiece in each half. With that win over Georgetown, the Utes advance to the Sweet Sixteen and will face another College Basketball Powerhouse, Duke.
The Blue Devils reached the Sweet Sixteen coming off of wins over Robert Morris (85-56) in the second round and over San Diego State (68-49) in the third round. Duke comes in with a 31-4 overall record with their four losses coming at NC State (87-75), Miami (90-74), at Notre Dame (77-73), and another loss to Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament Semifinal, 74-64.
Duke isn’t a very deep team. Coach Krzyzewski only plays 8 guys, 4 are freshmen (Grayson Allen, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor), 1 is a sophomore (Matt Jones), 2 juniors (Marshall Plumlee, Amile Jefferson) and 1 senior (Quinn Cook).
Here is some stats on the key players for Duke:
Jahlil Okafor – 18.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 67% FG, 51% FT in 30.3 MPG
Justise Winslow – 12.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.3 SPG, 48% FG, 61% FT in 28.7 MPG
Tyus Jones – 11.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.5 SPG, 41% FG, 38% 3PT, 88% FT in 33.4 MPG
Quinn Cook – 15.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.1 SPG, 46% FG, 40% 3PT, 89% FT in 35.7 MPG
Notice how I only listed 4 players? That is because those are the only 4 players that the Utes should be worried about. This is not a deep team but boy are they talented! For instance, Okafor scored 21 points in their win over Robert Morris and 26 points in the win over SDSU in the tournament. He will be a tall task for Jakob Poeltl and Dallin Bachynski on Friday night. The key is to get him out of the paint and make him work without using a lot of fouls because the Utes will need their bigs going down the stretch if they want any shot at an upset. The Utes will need to play their absolute best game to beat this talented team. I will tell you one thing, Larry Krystkowiak will prepare his guys accordingly and his guys will give their best effort in Houston.
Keys to a victory:
1. Take care of the ball – Utah can’t have 17 turnovers against Duke. If they can keep it to under 10 turnovers, the Utes will have a shot at a win.
2. Limit Okafor – You won’t be able to shut him down, but at least contain him. If you get him tired by bruising him in the paint early and making him work and not let him take over, life will be easy for the Runnin Utes.
3. Hit your jump shots – The Utes are the 7th best 3-point shooting team in the nation; they will need to get in a groove on offense led by Brandon Taylor. He will need the services of Dakari Tucker, Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright to help carry the load.
The Utes come in as a 5.5 underdog in this game against Duke. I think this team has what it takes to knock off the Blue Devils, it just depends on which team shows up.
Catch all of our coverage of the Utes starting with the pregame show with Sean O’Connell and Josh Grant at 6pm with tipoff with Bill Riley and Jimmy Soto at 7:45 MT on ESPN 700.