Tipoff is at 4 p.m. PT, and the broadcast can be found at Pac-12 Network.
This particular road trip has never been kind to WSU; including Thursday’s 78-56 loss at Colorado, the Cougs have played 17 games at either the Utes or Buffaloes since they joined the Pac-12 in 2011, and they are now 0-17.
It’s not just WSU. The Utes have the seventh-toughest home court advantage in the country, via kenpom.com (methodology here), which at least partially explains why the Cougs haven’t been able to break through.
Probably the bigger reason they’ve kept losing, though, is because it’s been quite a while since the Cougars have brought a team to the Huntsman Center that’s of roughly the same quality as the Utes. But that’s the case today, when No. 125 WSU faces off against No. 120 Utah.
The Utes’ defense is the worst in the conference by whatever measure you want to use, ranking 193rd nationally in opponent-adjusted efficiency and also ranking dead last in the Pac-12 in defensive efficiency in conference games, giving up a whopping 1.16 points per possession. For context, the Cougars gave up 1.14 points per possession in Pac-12 play last season under Ernie Kent.
The Utes don’t force turnovers, they give up a high percentage on 3-pointers, they don’t block shots, and they give up a fair amount of offensive rebounds. Most of those things play directly into the Cougs’ hands.
Utah has been a bit better on defense at home in their three Pac-12 games, but those performances have been driven by outliers — Washington turned it over a bunch to hold its efficiency down on Thursday, Oregon State had an uncharacteristically terrible day shooting 3s. Utah’s other peripheral stats were as weak as ever in each of those games, so it seems that if the Cougars do what they’re good at, there’s really no reason why WSU shouldn’t be able to score points on the Utes.
On the other end of the floor, Utah brings the 62nd overall offense in opponent-adjusted efficiency. That would indicate a tough matchup. However, the Utes have only been middling since Pac-12 play started, as the efficiencies of studs Timmy Allen and Rylan Jones have dropped off dramatically.
Allen, the Utes unquestioned go-to player, has struggled mightily with his shooting since Pac-12 play started, making just 35% of his 2s and 20% of his 3s. However, both Allen and Jones have maintained a strong free throw rate even as they’ve struggled to finish, so it’s going to be essential that WSU keep both of them off the line and make them continue to take tough shots — getting to the line is the biggest thing keeping their offense afloat right now.
The other thing the Utes rely on is offensive rebounding. The Cougars are one of the better teams in the country on the defensive glass, so if they just do what they do, they’ll remove one of Utah’s primary weapons.
It will be really interesting to see who draws the assignment of guarding Allen, who is 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds. CJ Elleby would seem to be the natural place to start, but Allen is the best player in the conference at drawing fouls, and WSU can ill afford to have Elleby riding the bench with foul trouble.
Kenpom.com predicts Utah to win this game 64% of the time by a score of 75-71. However, when you take this particular matchup between these particular teams and look at their trends … well, there’s a lot of reason to think WSU might be successful at Utah for the first time since 1946.
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