The University of Utah men’s basketball team spent one Monday in January in first place in the conference standings and another Monday in 10th place. The Utes are right in the middle of the Pac-12 as of mid-February. And that space is crowded.
Pac-12 basketball is crazy this season. The level of play might not be great, but it certainly is competitive among the top nine teams. Utah (7-6) is in a four-way tie for sixth place with five games to play and only one game out of second. The Utes could be seeded anywhere between No. 2 and No. 9 in the Pac-12 tournament, which starts March 7 in Las Vegas.
Where will they end up? Sixth is the best bet, judging by the Utes having the easiest remaining schedule among the teams they’re tied with — Arizona State, Colorado and Stanford.
Arizona State 7-6
Oregon State 5-7
Washington State 1-11
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index has Utah finishing sixth based on a projection of 10.3 conference wins. Yet second place is not out of the question, with UCLA and USC tied for that spot and both teams coming to the Huntsman Center next week.
The Utes first will go to Washington and Washington State. Thursday’s game at Washington could have a lot to say about Utah’s chances for a top-four finish, which carries a first-round bye in the tournament.
PROJECTED CONFERENCE WINS
Arizona State 10.6
Oregon State 6.7
Washington State 3.1
Source: ESPN Basketball Power Index
Arizona (10-3) is in great position to win the regular-season title with a two-game lead over UCLA and UCLA. The rest of the standings are jumbled to the point where just about anything could happen. Looking ahead to the tournament, Oregon State as the projected No. 10 seed could cause some problems. Think about this: Two of the teams currently tied for sixth likely will play each other in a first-round game and another will meet OSU.
As for the NCAA Tournament, an at-large bid is not out of the question for the Utes (15-9). But they’ll have to do something extraordinary in what’s left of the regular season then perform well in Las Vegas to give themselves such an opportunity.