Utah’s NIT hopes are on the line as it faces Stanford in Pac-12 tourney

The Utes and Cardinal square off Wednesday night in Las Vegas.

Utah center Branden Carlson (35) and Utah guard Jaxon Brenchley (5) high-five before playing Southern California in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Ben B. Braun)

The Runnin’ Utes are limping into their Pac-12 tournament matchup with Stanford.

Craig Smith’s squad has lost five straight, and seven of their last 10, as injuries mounted late in the season.

But a win over the Cardinal might just give the Utes’ some postseason life.

The prevailing notion in the NIT bracketology world is that Utah is very much on the bubble, hovering between a 7-seed and out of the field of 32 entirely. The one thing everyone seems to agree on, though, is that the Utes have to beat Stanford to remain in the conversation.

Winning that first-round game on Wednesday night would be another Quadrant 2 victory, which would put Utah’s resume in better shape. But still, it’s a matter of how many NIT automatic bids are used by low and mid-major No. 1 seeds that lost in conference tournaments. As of Monday evening, six auto bids were out, which is a lot, and more are expected as Champ Week rolls on.

If Utah loses to the Cardinal, that would be eight losses in 10 games and a brutal ending to what has largely been an optimistic second season under Craig Smith. At that point, hindsight is 20/20 and fans will wonder what might have been if Gabe Madsen and Rollie Worster were healthy the whole way. Would Utah win at Arizona State? Could the Utes have scored a victory over the USC Trojans at the Huntsman Center?

But alas, this is the reality the Utes face.

Smith, for what it’s worth, has said his team would accept an NIT invite if it received one, despite a number of injury concerns.

How to watch

Stanford Cardinal (13-18, 7-13 Pac-12) vs. Utah Utes (17-14, 10-10 Pac-12)

Tipoff: Wednesday, 7 p.m. MT

Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas

TV: Pac-12 Networks

BOTTOM LINE: The Utes have gone 10-10 against Pac-12 opponents, with a 7-4 record in non-conference play. Utah is fifth in the Pac-12 with 9.2 offensive rebounds per game led by Marco Anthony averaging 2.4. ... The Cardinal are 7-13 against Pac-12 teams. Stanford is second in the Pac-12 with 14.6 assists per game led by Ingram Harrison averaging 3.7.

TOP PERFORMERS: Gabe Madsen is shooting 37.3% from beyond the arc with 2.5 made 3-pointers per game for the Utes, while averaging 11.5 points. Branden Carlson is averaging 15.6 points, seven rebounds and 1.7 blocks over the last 10 games for Utah. ... Maxime Raynaud is averaging 8.8 points and six rebounds for the Cardinal. Spencer Jones is averaging 15.1 points over the last 10 games for Stanford.