The Utah Utes men’s basketball team was on the wrong side of the East Coast bias that exists in the NCAA. While the premiere ACC put 8 teams in the NCAA tournament, the PAC-12 only had their conference champ Arizona as a four seed and put Arizona and UCLA in the First Four play-in games. All three teams bowed out in their first games to further the justification for the gap between the East and West. To make matters worse, other conferences in the west such as the WCC and Mountain West both have teams competing in the Sweet 16 this week.
Meanwhile the Utes were the next best team to be left out of the NCAA tournament despite posting a much better conference record than Arizona State and an equal conference record to UCLA. The Utes could have rolled over and played dead. What they have done in the NIT so far though is beyond extraordinary.
First they easily dispatched UC Davis by 10 points in the first round. Bibbins had 21 points. They were just getting warmed up though. The Utes then ran away from the LSU Tigers of the mighty SEC by 24 points! This time they spread the wealth as all five starters scored in double figures.
With UVU losing last night in the CBI tournament and BYU barely losing to Stanford in the first round of the NIT, the Utes are the only team left standing in the College postseason.
Could the Utes be the future of basketball in the Beehive State? Weber State and UVU always have a chance to win in their respective conferences. Utah State has arguably the most solid backcourt in the Mountain West as the possibility of Gonzaga entering the Mountain West Conference looms large. A departure of Gonzaga could also open the door for BYU to start winning conference titles in the WCC. The NCAA tournament drought shouldn’t last too much longer for the Beehive State.
The Utes appear to have the most polished resume after this year as they have recorded 21 wins with two of them being in the postseason. Their one blemish was a loss in Provo to BYU. They however are still playing and BYU is not. While the Elite 8 they will play in tomorrow isn’t the same level as the Big Dance one that will be played this weekend, it is a step in the right direction.
The Utes as of now may not always be in the best team but they are in the most respective conference in the West as they did put three teams in the Big Dance. Yes two of them played the Wild Card games in Dayton but that’s beside the point.
The WCC put only Gonzaga in the tournament even though St. Mary’s was ranked for much of the season. With highly ranked Nevada losing in the quarterfinals of their tournament the Mountain West managed to squeak two teams into the tournament. The WAC and Big Sky have and will always be one bid leagues.
The Utes just have to be one of the three undisputed best teams in their conference and they are the most likely team to end the dancing drought for Utah. They were so close but still so far. They earned a 2 seed in the NIT so they weren’t one of the first four out but they were one of the “next for out”.
Hey, this is what life is like on the outside of the tournament bubble. Just like BYU did two years ago, the Utes hope to earn a trip to New York and actually finish the deal for the first time since 1944 when they won the NCAA tournament.