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Pac-12 scheduling equity has gone out the window, but Utah playing 19 of 20 league games is a win

Utah plays UCLA Thursday night, with three more games afterwards to close the regular-season

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utes react as they get into foul trouble in the second half as the University of Utah host the Arizona Wildcats, Feb. 4, 2021 at the Jon M. Huntsman Arena.

The University of Utah basketball team is not going to wind up getting the full 20 Pac-12 conference games played this season.

If there are no more interruptions to the regular-season schedule, COVID-19-related or otherwise, the Utes will wind up playing 19 of the 20. Given what this season has been, what with COVID pauses, full COVID shutdowns, games postponed and the schedule tweaks a bunch of times, getting to the finish line with 95% of your conference schedule played sounds like something Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak would have signed up for.

Keep in mind, the early days of Utah’s season were marred by a program-wide virus outbreak, which made its way to not just players, but Krystkowiak, too.

“It’s getting closer to palatable for everybody to get the full 20 in, but I also think it’s a little bit of a stretch to think that we were going to actually get all 20 in,” Krystkowiak said Wednesday on a Zoom call with reporters ahead of UCLA’s visit to the Huntsman Center on Thursday night. “Doing the math on that, the next-best thing is to get to play 19, so if we don’t have any further hiccups in the next couple of weeks, I would definitely hit the deal button if that were proposed at this point.”

Added Bruins head coach Mick Cronin: “The kids wanted to play, so that was the first thing, to give these kids a chance to chase their dream. Not just play the games, but practice, chase their dream, try and develop their career. That’s a huge win, in and of itself. That’s why I’m less concerned when people say, ‘We have to get all these games in to have an equitable Pac-12 champion.’”

The Pac-12 coaches and the league have all worked diligently to give everyone an equitable schedule, but when the league released its likely-final set of scheduling tweaks on Tuesday, it became clear that equity was not going to happen.

Like Utah, if UCLA has no more problems, it will wind up with 19 games. Among those 19, a March 3 trip to Oregon came under the spotlight Tuesday after two Bruins-Ducks games in Los Angeles on Jan. 28 and March 1 were postponed because the Ducks were in a COVID pause.

UTAH VS. UCLA

At the Huntsman Center

When • Thursday, 6 p.m.

TV • Pac-12 Networks

Meanwhile, a program like Arizona State, which has had all sorts of COVID problems this winter, could get to 18 games if everything goes smooth, but will have to play five games in 10 days to get there. Oregon is in a similar position, needing to play five games in 11 days to get to 18 by the end of the regular season.

Despite the inequity of league games played, the Pac-12 Tournament will, as always, be seeded based on winning percentage.

A league spokesman told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month that to be crowned the league’s regular-season champion, a team would need to play within three conference games of the average number of games played. Through Wednesday, the average number of league games played among the 12 teams is 16.2. League-leading USC has played 16 games, and is lined up to get all 20 in, which would make this point moot.

“I think it’s been done really well up to this point and we’re at the point of the season now where we’ve got two weeks to go and it’s probably not going to be a win-win,” Krystkowiak said. “We can’t work it out on our own and the league has taken some direction. They’re going to make decisions on what games are going to be played. It’s not going to make everybody happy, but it’s what needed to be done and it’s a good sign that we have it set, at least on paper.”

Krystkowiak indicated Tuesday that at some point, the idea of playing the Pac-12 Tournament earlier than its March 10-13 window was floated. That likely had something to do with the NCAA mandating seven consecutive days of negative testing before arriving in Indianapolis for the NCAA Tournament, but the idea does not appear to have ever had any real momentum.

The Pac-12 Tournament remains scheduled for March 10-13 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The event will only have 11 teams due to Arizona self-imposing a one-year postseason ban.

Mikael Jantunen quarantine situation

Krystkowiak again declined to go into specifics when asked about the availability of Mikael Jantunen, who missed three games while playing for the Finnish national team in EuroBasket qualifying.

Jantunen returned to the United States on Saturday evening, a day after he scored 11 points to go along with four rebounds as Finland defeated Switzerland. The Finns qualified for EuroBasket 2022 next summer thanks to that win, plus Serbia’s victory over host Georgia later Friday afternoon.

Jantunen’s quarantine situation has been unclear, but CDC guidelines recommend those traveling to the U.S. from Georgia quarantine for seven days. Even a five-day quarantine would put his availability Thursday for UCLA in doubt. Utah is home to USC on Saturday, followed by Oregon State on Wednesday and Arizona State on March 6 to close the regular season.

“I’m not going to get into it at all,” Krystkowiak said. “We’re going to keep grinding and not talk too much about his deal. Some of that is still in the hands of our medical people, so that’s outside of my area right now. I’m just focusing on what we’re doing.”

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