Kragthorpe: Utah teams converge in Vegas
This could happen only in Vegas.
A reasonable possibility exists that three college basketball teams from Utah will play Thursday in conference tournament games, tipping off at the exact same minute in three arenas along Tropicana Avenue.
Such a convergence would have seemed silly four years ago. As of March 2010, who would have imagined Utah belonging to the Pac-12, Utah State being in the Mountain West and Utah Valley playing in the Western Athletic Conference? It all happened, and here they are, potentially separated by 5 miles in 1 p.m. (MDT) quarterfinal games Thursday as long as Utah and USU win first-round contests Wednesday.
Landing in these similar bracket positions took just as much effort as earning those conference invitations in the first place. Utah had to lose three overtime games and four other games by a total of 10 points to fall to the No. 8 seed in the Pac-12 with a 9-9 record. USU had to match its worst conference record (7-11) in 32 seasons to settle for the No. 8 seed in the MW, Utah Valley needed a foul on a 3-point attempt at the end of regulation just to force overtime against New Mexico State, long before the infamous brawl, to emerge as the WAC's No. 1 seed.
Personally, I was hoping for more of a spread-out schedule. The premise was the opportunity to hit multiple venues each day and watch a bunch of Utahns play, including BYU in the West Coast Conference tournament. So here are the daily options now:
• Monday: BYU vs. Pacific, WCC women's semifinals, Orleans Arena (3 p.m.); USU vs. New Mexico, MW women's first round, Thomas & Mack Center (3 p.m.); BYU vs. San Francisco, WCC men's semifinals, Orleans Arena (9:30 p.m.).
Because of The Tribune's coverage needs, I'll catch the Aggies in their first-ever MW tournament competition, then travel to the other side of I-15 for the late BYU men's game. If not for Gonzaga's game-winning drive in the WCC quarterfinals, BYU likely would have played in the early semifinal contest ending in time for the print edition's deadline. Thanks a lot, David Stockton.
• Tuesday: USU vs. Colorado State, MW women's quarterfinals, 1 p.m.; BYU in WCC women's championship game, 2 p.m.; BYU in WCC men's title game, 7 p.m.
This schedule comes with an asterisk, with teams having to win Monday in order to play Tuesday. If everybody's in, I'll take the two championship games. If everybody's out, I'll accept suggestions. Is there anything to do in this town?
• Wednesday: Utah vs. Washington, Pac-12 first round, MGM Grand Garden, 1 p.m.; USU vs. Colorado State, MW men's first round, Thomas & Mack Center, 3 p.m.; UVU vs. CS-Bakersfield, WAC women's quarterfinals, Orleans Arena, 9:30 p.m.
Utah is a compelling story, having reached the Pac-12 semifinals last March and repeatedly coming close this year, but lacking good planning and execution at the end of those seven haunting losses in conference play. That's both a tribute to coach Larry Krystkowiak's revival of the program and an indictment of his late-game work.
The Aggies should handle Colorado State for a third time this season; I'll catch the second half. UVU, the No. 7 seed, lost by 15 points at Bakersfield on Saturday and should exit early.
• Thursday: Utah vs. Arizona, Pac-12 quarterfinals; 1 p.m.; USU vs. San Diego State, MW quarterfinals, 1 p.m.; Utah Valley vs. Texas-Pan American, WAC quarterfinals, 1 p.m.
Any of these matchups is appealing after all, there's nothing like UVU vs. UTPA in a traditional WAC rivalry but Utah-Arizona would be especially intriguing, after the teams staged two great battles in the regular season.
• Friday: Pac-12, MW, WAC semifinals, 7 p.m. Rather lament the potential conflicts, I'll be happy to have anybody from Utah playing at this point.
• Saturday: Championship games in the Pac-12 (4 p.m.), MW (4 p.m.) and WAC (8 p.m.) tournaments. There must be a reason to stay one more day, right? A rematch of UVU vs. New Mexico State would be terrific.