The last two seasons Utah Men’s Basketball has finished 3rd and 4th in the Pac 12 Conference regular season. By most measures those are good to very good finishes. However, while finishing in the Top 4 looks good on paper and sounds good to fans, it has not yielded the desired results..namely a spot in March Madness and the Field of 68. Instead, Larry Krystkowiak’s squad has been relegated to the NIT despite their efforts in Pac 12 play. The one of the main culprits for the NIT and not the NCAA has been the Non-Conference Schedule and lack of names and wins on the postseason resume from the non-conference schedule. The NCAA Selection committee has sent the message loud and clear to teams that their non-conference schedule is every bit, if not more, important as their conference schedule.
As a result, Utah Basketball made an effort this season to improve the strength of their November and December schedule by adding two Top 10 teams(Kentucky/Nevada) and a host of other solid to good programs. Here’s a link to the 2018 Non-Conference schedule for Utah Men’s Basketball. Below I’ll give you some thoughts on a few teams. I spoke to Utah Assistant Coach Andy Hill on my show Thursday about the schedule, he is the point man in putting it together for Utah Basketball. Here’s a link to that interview.
at Kentucky on December 15th-The history between these two schools does not need repeating for Utah fans. It will be the first meeting between the schools since the Sweet 16 in 2005. The Wildcats will likely be either #1 or #2 in just about every preseason poll this year. They will once again be loaded with NBA Talent and a transfer that Utah will be familiar with, Reid Travis, who played at Stanford the last three years.
vs. Nevada on December 29th-This in most years would be a solid add to Utah’s schedule. This year it is a big time opponent. The Wolfpack, coming off a run to the Elite 8 last year, will be a preseason Top 10 squad. Eric Musselman has a team that will win the Mountain West led by Caleb and Cody Martin, plus McDonald’s All American Jordan Brown.
at Minnesota on November 12th-The Utes travel to the “Barn” in Minneapolis early in the season to Richard Pitino’s team. The Gophers are coming off a less than stellar season that saw them finish (15-17) and 11th place in the Big 10. Minnesota returns the majority of their roster from last year’s team. Should be a good early season road test for Utah against what should be a quality Big 10 team.
Wooden Legacy Tournament in Orange County November 22nd-25th-A field of good but not great competition for Utah. The Utes will open with Hawaii in their first game on the 22nd. They’ll face either Seton Hall or Grand Canyon in their 2nd round match up. LaSalle, Miami, Fresno St. or Northwestern will be third round opponents.
Tulsa on December 1st-The Golden Hurricane travel to Salt Lake City for the first game in the month of December. Tulsa is a traditionally good hoops program. Currently in the AAC and long time members of the Missouri Valley. Frank Haith’s team finished 19-12 last season and 12-6 in the AAC, good enough for 4th place behind Wichita State. They’ll return 3 of their 5 top scorers from last year’s team.
Other’s on the schedule: BYU at Vivant Smart Home, College of Idaho, Maine, Mississippi Valley, Florida A&M and Northern Arizona.
The biggest takeaway on the 2018-19 schedule is that it has been upgraded at the top from the last two seasons. Kentucky and Nevada will be marquee match ups that will draw national attention and give Utah a shot at making an early season statement, akin to what Arizona State was able to do last season against Kansas and Xavier. The downside to the schedule is four opponents that finished in the bottom 50 of all 351 teams in Division One College Basketball last year. Northern Arizona (310), Florida A&M (332), Maine (338), Mississippi Valley St. (349). Utah will need to post some wins in the games highlighted above to balance out the bottom end of the schedule.