Bleeding Red: Utes need to finish strong as tourney nears

Yes, the Red Rocks rocked the house once again
While the Runnin’ Utes fell in Oregon
And with the post-season fast approaching
For different reasons both teams are smoking

COMMENTARY – This week, Utah went 0-2 on a road trip to Oregon and Oregon State. The Ducks’ victory over the Runnin’ Utes was their ninth straight. Perhaps someday Utah will actually be able to compete with and beat Oregon. The Beavers’ win was their first conference win in 15 tries this year.

utesAfter a strong start in Pac-12 play, the Runnin’ Utes have faltered heading into the home stretch, losing four of their last six. However, with only three games left in the season, Utah is currently in sixth place in the Pac-12, which is still significantly better than the ninth-place finish the media predicted at the beginning of the season.

Nevertheless, with only 15 wins over Division I schools and a current RPI of 94, the Runnin’ Utes only real hope of making it to the NCAA tournament is to run the table and win the conference tournament (which would require four wins in four games over four days, with at least one — if not two — of those wins coming over top-10 teams).

There are still plenty of reasons to watch Utah play over the coming weeks.

The Runnin’ Utes still have a chance to climb as high as fourth place heading into the conference tournament and ending the regular season way ahead of where they were predicted to finish.

Utah’s final three games (Colorado on the road and Cal and Stanford at home) are all very winnable. None of the games will be a gimme, and the Runnin’ Utes have proven they can lose to almost anyone. But Utah can realistically close out the season with three wins and overall conference record of 11-7. That would put the Runnin’ Utes in the hunt for the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament. But they are going to need some help.

Utah is currently a half-game behind USC. The Runnin’ Utes own the tiebreaker over the Trojans, thanks to beating them handily at home back in January. USC’s final four games include road games against Arizona and Arizona State, and home games against Washington State and Washington. If USC can beat Arizona in the McKale Center in Tucson, then the Trojans deserve the four-seed (or at least the five-seed). However, if USC drops one of its final four games and Utah wins out, then the tiebreaker favors the Runnin’ Utes. 

Catching and passing Cal, which is currently 1 1/2 games up on Utah, is going to be more problematic. The Golden Bears’ final four games include homes games against the Ducks and Beavers, and road games against the Runnin’ Utes and Buffaloes. If Cal can beat Oregon then it deserves the four-seed. But if the Golden Bears fall to both the Ducks and the Runnin’ Utes, then Utah would tie Cal. If either Colorado or Oregon State also beats Cal, then Utah gets the nod. Otherwise, the tiebreaker gets somewhat complicated.

The first tiebreaker is head-to-head competition, but the Runnin’ Utes and Golden Bears would have split the two-game series.

The next tiebreaker is each team’s winning percentage against the first-place team, and then continuing down through the standings until one team gains an advantage. Notably, the key factor is winning percentage not number of wins and losses. Utah and Cal would both be winless against Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. Similarly, they both won their sole matchup with USC. Additionally, they would have both won all games against Colorado and Arizona State, with identical splits with Stanford, and would have won all games against Washington State and Washington. So, the tiebreaker falls all the way to the 12th-place team, and because the Runnin’ Utes split their games with the Beavers, whereas the Golden Bears swept them, Utah would ultimately lose the tiebreaker to Cal.

Even if Utah, Cal, and USC all end the season tied with identical 11-7 records, because both the Runnin’ Utes and Golden Bears won their sole game against the Trojans, then USC immediately falls out of the tiebreaker and Cal ultimately wins the two-team tiebreaker with Utah as explained above.

Regardless of what happens in the Runnin’ Utes’ remaining games in Pac-12 play, Utah should be in line for an invitation to the NIT. While most people are not thrilled to watch the Runnin’ Utes (or, quite frankly, anyone) play in the NIT, there is one potential wrinkle that could add some real excitement to such a scenario.

Odds are that the team-down-south’s only hope of postseason play is also the NIT. Similar to the rivalry game matchup in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2015, I can see NIT organizers intentionally pairing Utah and BYU in an early round NIT game (which would probably be played on The Hill, much to the chagrin of Cougar fans). If that happens, it will likely be the most publicized and exciting NIT game in the first few rounds. Just remember, you heard it (or read it) here first.

In any event, it should be an exciting finish, so stay tuned to the Runnin’ Utes! 

Even more exciting than basketball, the Red Rocks rocked the Huntsman Center last Saturday night. The No. 5-ranked Utah squad faced off with No. 4 UCLA. 

Utah gymnastics | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics

The meet was heated from the beginning as both teams started strong and it continued until the final event when the Red Rocks’ MaKenna Merrell, Baely Rowe, and MyKayla Skinner scored three straight 9.95s on the floor to seal the victory with a final score of 197.875-197.500. The 197.875 was the highest score of the season for Utah.

Because national rankings are currently based on average scores of all meets, the Bruins remain to be ranked fourth with the Red Rocks hot on their heels in fifth.

Freshman sensation MyKayla Skinner won the all-around yet again this season for the Red Rocks and even beat out the Bruins former Olympian, Madison Kocian, in the all-around for both teams. 

Skinner is having a blast performing with Utah and that was even more apparent as she pumped up the crowd before performing her floor routine.

“This is fun,” said Skinner. “I like to get myself pumped up and ready to go, especially before my floor routine.”

Well, we hope that Skinner continues to have fun and to dominate for the Red Rocks! 

Looking ahead, the Runnin’ Utes play at Colorado this Thursday while the Red Rocks go on the road to face Arizona State on Saturday. 

Here’s hoping that the Runnin’ Utes and Red Rocks can finish their seasons on a high note!

Today’s Bleeding Red sports column is guest-written by Josh Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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