Why You Shouldn't Overlook the Utah Utes This March
Last year, we saw three teams seeded between numbers 4 and 8 enter the NCAA tournament as favorites on paper to win the national title. A large majority of people even favored these teams -- Michigan State (4 seed), Louisville (4 seed), and Kentucky (8 seed) -- over the 1 seeds in their respective bracket regions.
Two of these teams made it all the way to the Elite Eight, with one of them, Kentucky, moving on to the Final Four and the National Championship game.
In the national title game, Kentucky met another mid-seeded team in Connecticut, a 7 seed overlooked by many to win the title, who would cut down the nets when all was said and done.
Are there any teams like a 7-seeded UConn this year? I doubt it. Are there any teams like the 8-seeded Kentucky team? Impossible.
But what about a team like Louisville or Michigan State at a 4 seed -- teams that won two and three games in the tournament respectively? Quite possibly.
This year, that kind of team might turn out to be the Utah Utes. Here's why.
According to our numbers, the Utes possess the 16th best offense in the country and are in the 97th percentile of all NCAA offenses. They're what you would call a solid, efficient offensive team.
Utah is 25th in the nation in Adjusted Offensive Rating with 112.6 points per 100 possessions and 16th in Offensive Rating with 114.3 points per 100 possessions. They're not at the very top of college offenses, but the Utes are in the top 25 in both categories. Even with the 229th fastest pace in all of college basketball, they put up 72.4 points per game.
How do they do it? They shoot a very high percentage from both inside and outside the arc. The Utes shoot 40% from three point land and an impressive 48.8% from the field -- ninth in the nation in that category.
But, as efficient as the Utes are offensively, they're even more efficient on the defensive end. In fact, they're among some elite company in a year in which defense has been so dominant.
The Utes are the seventh best defense in the country, according to our metrics, and fall just outside the 99th percentile. They own a Defensive Rating of 88.1, which is eighth in the nation -- and when we adjust for their opponents, they're even better. Their Adjusted Defensive Rating is also 88.1 points per 100 possessions, but that ranks fifth in the nation.
Utah is eighth in the nation in points allowed, giving up just 55.8 points per game, and they have held their opponents under 50 points on 10 different occasions this season. They have done so by forcing their opponents into tough, low percentage shots. The Utes are in the top 30 in blocks and hold their opponents to just 37.5% from the field -- fifth among all NCAA teams.
After having all those numbers fly in your face, what would you say is the Utes' current projected seed? A two? Maybe a three?
You would be wrong. Joe Lunardi currently has Utah as a 4 seed while our numbers have the Utes pegged as a 5 seed. But why?
I know, the Utes have six losses on the season and four within the Pac 12 conference, but let's examine those losses further.
Utah has lost just one game on its home court this year -- just five days ago to the Arizona Wildcats, the second ranked team in our power rankings. Their other five losses have come on the road at the hands of three teams in the RPI top 50, including Arizona.
The Utes also possess a scoring margin of 15.9 points per game, an RPI of 13, and a nERD (our in-house metric that predicts a team's expected point differential against an average team) of 17.50.
Utah's nERD of 17.50 is eighth in the nation -- so, in other words, Utah should be a 2 seed. But, with six total losses, I can see why they will likely end up on one of those lines. A seeding like that is ripe for the picking for us bracket busters, and we should take full advantage come tournament time.
When it comes time for Utah to face off against a 4 or 5 seed, depending on their own seed, you shouldn't be afraid to pick the Utes. As of right now, our bracket would put them up against the Cyclones of Iowa State, just the 14th overall team in our rankings. Lunardi's would see Utah face Arkansas in the second round -- a matchup in which our nERD numbers would expect the Utes (17.50) to defeat the Razorbacks (11.76) by an average margin of 5.74 points.
Therefore, when it's time make your picks, don't overlook the Utah Utes. They're primed for a run.