While not invited to the Big Dance
The Runnin’ Utes still have one last chance
It’s also time to pump up football
For this week is the start of Spring Ball
COMMENTARY — I would be lying if I said I was not disappointed by Utah’s performance at the Pac-12 Tournament. But the cold, hard reality is, like many fans, I simply had unrealistic expectations for the Runnin’ Utes this year.
There were many reasons for Utah fans to be overly optimistic. As a lawyer, I can make a fairly compelling case that the Runnin’ Utes had a very good year by highlighting selective facts and downplaying others. Utah stormed through its non-conference schedule unscathed, blew by BYU as if it was standing still, and experienced multiple near-misses in conference play against some of the top teams in the nation.
However, with precious few exceptions the Runnin’ Utes had an absolute cupcake non-conference schedule and losing to many of those teams would have been far more telling than beating them. For example, beating the Evergreen State Geoducks is nothing to brag about, but losing to them would have been humiliating.
Utah thoroughly dominated BYU in their one match-up this year. But let’s be honest, the Cougars are barely the second best team in the West Coast Conference, suffering losses to last place Loyola Marymount, eighth-place Pacific, seventh-place Portland and middle-of-the-pack Pepperdine. Similar to the outcome in football in which BYU went bowling and Utah stayed home, if the Runnin’ Utes and Cougars had played each other’s schedules in basketball then Utah would likely be dancing while BYU would be relegated to the NIT.
In conference play, seven of the Runnin’ Utes’ nine losses were by four points or less, and three of those games went to overtime. If Utah could have just gotten over the hump on less than half of those games and won three of them, then they would have had a 12-6 conference record with a bye in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. In fact, all year long Utah was only beaten by double-digits twice. However, Utah’s finale against Arizona demonstrated in dramatic fashion the large gap between the nation’s elite and the current level at which the Runnin’ Utes are playing (and Arizona didn’t even win the Pac-12 Tournament).
Now don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to be a fair weather fan that is unnecessarily raining on Utah’s parade. If the truth be told, the Runnin’ Utes had a good season and have improved dramatically over teams of recent years. In fact, the biggest problem is that Utah surprised its own fans by being better than anyone expected, and then the expectations (admittedly including my own) skyrocketed through the roof to an unrealistic level.
Accordingly, I would like to tip my hat to this year’s squad and sincerely thank them for giving me a reason to be truly excited about basketball on The Hill again.
The Runnin’ Utes season is not over yet, but rather they get one last mulligan with an invitation to the NIT. Here’s the bracket Even Utah legend Rick Majerus got his start in the NIT before his teams became perennial contenders in the Big Dance. At this point, I would rather see this young squad have a chance to experience some success in the NIT and come back next year hungry for even bigger and better things than get crushed in a one-and-done scenario in the NCAA.
The Runnin’ Utes open post-season play on the road Tuesday night, Mar. 18, against St. Mary’s from the West Coast Conference.
And last, but certainly not least, spring ball on The Hill is now upon us! Yup, that’s right, in a little more than five short months the Utah football season kicks off (Aug. 28). The first step toward that new season, and renewed hope, will be taken on Tuesday as the players step on the practice field for the first time this year.
The Utes will hold a total of 15 spring practices over the next five weeks, including two scrimmages, and culminating with the annual Red-White spring game on Saturday, April 19. The public is invited to attend all outdoor practices regardless of location, with indoor practices closed to the public only because of safety reasons.
As I mentioned a few weeks back, the competition at the quarterback position could be very compelling drama during the spring practices. If Utah hopes to right the ship and be competitive this next year, then the Utes simply have to get better quarterback play on a more consistent basis.
Here’s hoping the Runnin’ Utes will still give fans something to cheer about beyond this week, and that Utah’s football team will give fans a reason to eagerly anticipate the upcoming gridiron season.
Dwayne Vance is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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