5. Utah (24-8, 13-5/Pac-12)–Utah was one of the more impressive teams in the nation this season, and deserved a much better fate from the selection committee than a 5-seed and a Round of 64 matchup with the steamroller that is Stephen F. Austin. We think the Utes’ resume says 3 or 4-seed, but hey, what can you do.
What makes the Utes so good? Well, it all starts with head coach Larry Krystkowiak, who has done a fantastic job with this program. Utah struggled when it first came into the Pac-12 from the Mountain West, but “The Other Coach K” has turned everything around, using Phil Jackson-like methods and positive thinking.
His best player, All-American candidate Delon Wright, is a legit NBA prospect and at 6-5, can play point guard as well as look for his own offense. Wright averages 14.9 points, 5 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, and he doesn’t even bring the ball up every time.
Guard Brandon Taylor (10.7 ppg, 3.3 apg) has hit some big shots in key spots for the Utes, and could do that again in the NCAAs. This team steamrolled many an opponent this year, beating UCLA by 32, Arizona State by 42 (the Sun Devils only scored 41), and Stanford by 34 in the Pac-12 quarters. The Utes ranked sixth in the country in victory margin.
6th Victory Margin (15.2)
13th Field Goal Percentage (.485)
11th Points Allowed (56.9)
12. Stephen F. Austin (29-4, 17-1/Southland)–The Lumberjacks are one of the most popular upset picks for bracket-doers this season, and there’s a great reason why: they pulled off this upset last season. Three starters return from the team that used a late four-point play to shock 5th-seeded VCU last year, including 6-4 junior guard Thomas Walkup, who leads the team in scoring at 17.4 points per game. Walkup also puts up 6.4 points and 3.7 assists per.
Speaking of assists, this team ranks No. 1 in the country at sharing the ball. (Maybe that’s why SFA finished the season on a 27-1 stretch). The ‘Jacks also won 28 straight games heading into the NCAAs last year. This team is the clear-cut class of the Southland Conference, and should not have been a 12-seed again. They’re better than that. Shame on you, selection committee.
1st Assists per game (17.8)
9th Points per game (79.5)
5th Field Goal Percentage (.491)
PREDICTION: This could be one of the best games of the first round. Both teams have the potential to make deep runs, and if they were seeded properly, probably would have done so. Oh well. We’re partial to the Utes here, because we’ve seen them come up big all season long. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see SFA win again–and make a run to the Sweet 16.