As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats are through Monday, March 16.
Record: 24-8 (13-5 Pac-12)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 113.0 (18th)/90.6 (8th)
Seed: South No. 5
Impact player: Delon Wright, senior, guard. 14.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 129.3 offensive rating
The Case For: Utah has one of the best players—and best defenses—in the country. Wright is an SI All-America who ranks 15th nationally in offensive efficiency, per kenpom.com. But Wright’s biggest contribution might be on the other side of the ball, where he’s one of the best on-ball perimeter guards. That’s why Utes’ defense, in particular, has been the motor behind their season.
Utah allows a Pac-12-low 56.6 points per game, and its adjusted defensive efficiency ranks eighth nationally, according to kenpom.com. Defense is a big reason why the Utes hold nonconference wins over Wichita State and BYU alongside tight losses to Kansas and San Diego State. But this team also boasts a strong offense, ranking 18th nationally in offensive efficiency behind Wright, guard Brandon Taylor and forward Jordan Loveridge. Utah can play like a Final Four-caliber squad that makes opponents pay on both ends of the court.
The Case Against: The Utes sputtered down the stretch during the regular season. After jumping out to an 11-2 record in Pac-12 play, they lost three of their final five games prior to the league tournament, including a 77-68 loss to a reeling Washington team. "We lost some pride and hopefully it's a nice little wake up call for a bunch of guys that have been drinking some Kool-Aid that think we're a lot better than we are," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak told reporters after the loss to the Huskies.
The Utes also struggled against the only team ranked higher than them in in the conference, according to kenpom.com's rankings: Arizona. Utah’s Pac-12 foe won both contests between the two programs this season. Are Wright and company legit contenders for a deep tournament run, or did they simply take advantage of a not-so-deep Pac-12? After all, the Utes and Wildcats are the league’s only representatives among kenpom.com’s top 40 teams.
SI prediction: Beat Stephen F. Austin in Round of 64, beat Eastern Washington in Round of 32, lose to Duke in Sweet 16