The University of Utah men’s basketball team had no choice but to be flexible this week, even though it meant its schedule got harder as a result.
The Utes were to host Oregon State late Wednesday night, but COVID-19 issues with the Beavers postponed that game. The scheduling trickle-down effect in the aftermath of that postponement was profound.
Utah (4-3, 1-2 Pac-12) will host No. 17 Oregon on Saturday night at the Huntsman Center, a game that was supposed to be on Sunday afternoon. Colorado plays at Utah on Monday, a game that was supposed to be the regular-season finale on March 6. Stanford comes in on Thursday, instead of the originally-scheduled Wednesday tilt, and Cal’s visit will remain on Jan. 16.
In summation, Utah will play four home games in eight days. It will have one less day to prepare for Oregon, undoubtedly one of the three-best teams in the Pac-12 at the moment, and roughly 40 hours before a Colorado game that essentially came out of nowhere.
UTAH VS. NO. 17 OREGON
At the Huntsman Center
When • Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
For what it’s worth, if the NCAA Tournament were seeded right now, the Ducks, Buffaloes and Cardinal would all be comfortably in the field of 68, no questions asked.
“I think in college basketball, and specifically the Pac-12, you’re seeing a variety of games postponed and canceled, and it’s not like football where you’ve got one game a week and equity in terms of rest,” Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said Friday afternoon. “Basketball, you get into a lot of moving parts with multiple days of the week and some competitive advantages, disadvantages.”
Competitive advantages and disadvantages in terms of practice and opponent prep are glaring right now in the Pac-12, but it is no one’s fault given the state of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Given the Oregon State postponement, Utah will have had a full week of practice ahead of playing Oregon, which it is 2-17 against since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. Conversely, the Ducks (8-2, 3-1 Pac-12) played at Colorado on Thursday afternoon, a 79-72 loss.
Beyond Saturday, the Utes get the aforementioned 40 hours before facing the Buffaloes, who will have been off since that Thursday game against Oregon. Colorado’s own Oregon State matchup on Saturday was also postponed.
“We were getting ready to prep for Oregon State and all of a sudden, that game gets canceled and now we’re playing Oregon and Colorado,” sophomore point guard Rylan Jones said. “Nobody thought that would happen, so you just have to take every day not knowing what’s going to happen. That kind of makes it fun. You just have to prepare the best you can, play your game and hopefully, you play better than the other team.”
Added Krystkowiak: “We can cry, and moan, and get upset about it, but at the end of the day, we’re playing 20% of our conference games in hopefully a week-long period, and there’s not going to be a lot of prep time.”
One underrated scheduling factor thanks to the Oregon State postponement can be seen at the end of the regular season. With Colorado coming to Salt Lake City Monday instead of March 6, Utah’s regular season is now scheduled to end Feb. 27, giving it 11 days before the Pac-12 Tournament begins March 10 in Las Vegas.
The expectation is that gap in the schedule will be used to make up any postponements in an effort to get a full 20-game league schedule in. Aside from the Beavers, the Utes also need to make up a Dec. 22 postponement at Arizona State. The cause of that postponement was a positive Utah test and ensuing contact-tracing protocols, although that positive was later found to be a false positive.