Next two games could potentially change course of Utah’s season

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Even with the loss of three starters from a team that pulled off a surprising run to the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament, the Utah Utes had the appearance of a team that could make a move in the Pac-12. Forward Jordan Loveridge and guard Brandon Taylor would be sophomores, and a group of newcomers led by junior Delon Wright would raise the level of talent at Larry Krystkowiak’s disposal.

After picking up their first true road victory of conference play on Thursday night, beating USC 79-71, the Utes are 17-7 with a 6-6 record in Pac-12 play. Given the quality of their non-conference schedule, Utah has a lot of work to do when it comes to reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. With this being the case the chances of the Utes making the Field of 68 are slim.

However, in front of the Utes are two games that could potentially change the course of their season should they find a way to win. Those games: at UCLA this weekend, and No. 2 Arizona at home next Wednesday.

Find a way to win those two, and Utah would have two much-needed quality wins on its resume. And while beating USC does little for Utah’s hopes of climbing into the NCAA tournament discussion, the fact that they were able to close out a game on the road is a step forward for a program that has struggled for much of its brief stay in the Pac-12.

Most importantly, Utah finally didn’t panic when a team made a run. Unlike Arizona, and Colorado, the Utes didn’t wilt when USC made a big push. And that’s why Utah finally can say it won a road game.

The differences against USC were three-point shooting and the way in which Utah distributed the basketball. The Utes made ten of their 19 attempts from beyond the arc, with Loveridge, Taylor and Dakarai Tucker accounting for all ten makes. And of their 24 made field goals 17 were assisted, resulting in an assist percentage (70.8%) much better than their rate for the season (58.4%).

There are areas to address however, most notably the 14 turnovers committed against USC. But Utah has a chance to turn this season into something more, a scenario few expected even after the Utes entered conference play with a gaudy 11-1 record. And even if that doesn’t result in a trip to the NCAA tournament, that’s a positive sign for Utah basketball in the future.

Wichita State’s 0-3 week makes chances for at-large bid small

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

We’ve reached the nightmare scenario for Wichita State.

Having entered the season as the overwhelming favorite in the Missouri Valley, a top 15 team and a legitimate threat to reach a Final Four, after two weeks, the Shockers are in serious danger of missing out on the NCAA tournament altogether.

That’s not hyperbole, either.

Wichita State fell to 2-4 on the year after getting mollywhopped by Iowa in the 7th-place game of the Advocare Invitational. They ended up in the 7th-place game because they lost to USC and Alabama in the opening two rounds. The Hawkeyes look like the might be able to eke out an at-large berth if things fall the right way for them, but USC and Alabama are projected to finish at or near the bottom of their respective conferences. Even Iowa would do well to finish in the top half of the Big Ten.

Individually, none of those three losses are particularly terrible, and that’s before you factor in that all-american point guard Fred VanVleet sat out the trip to Orlando with a bad hamstring. They were also without back up point guard Landry Shamet in the tournament and it’s unknown when they’ll actually get Anton Grady back to full stretch. That matters to the NCAA tournament selection committee. They’ll factor it in when they determine where the Shockers will be seeded, or if they will even get an invite.

But throw in the loss at Tulsa from the first week of the season, and the Shockers are now 2-4 on the season.

And unlike the rest of the preseason top 25 — unlike the rest of the nation’s high-major programs — Wichita State won’t have a chance to load up on quality wins during league play. The Valley is better than we probably realized (more on that in a second), but it’s not like there are going to be a myriad of top 50 wins for the taking.

Look at Georgetown, for example. They Hoyas went 1-3 in the first week of the season, a stretch that included a home loss to Radford. But they also play in a conference where they’ll get home-and-homes against the likes of Villanova, Butler and Xavier.

The Shockers need to do their damage during the non-conference. They need to get the bulk of their resume put together before Valley play starts. Assuming they do win the rest of their non-league games, we’re not exactly looking at a daunting profile, either. The Shockers still have to visit Saint Louis and Seton Hall and host UNLV, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico State. UNLV and Utah should look like quality wins on Selection Sunday, but the rest of them?

Wichita State is putting themselves in a position where they may end up needing to win the Missouri Valley tournament just to get into the Big Dance, and the problem is that the Valley looks like it is really going to be tough this season. Northern Iowa notched a win over North Carolina already this year. Illinois State gave Maryland a fight and entered the season as a favorite to upset the Shockers. Evansville has two of the league’s five best players in D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius.

They’re not waltzing through that conference by any stretch of the imagination.

That’s not exactly what VanVleet and Ron Baker had in mind when they decided to return to Wichita for one final season.

Carter leads No. 2 Maryland past Cleveland State, 80-63

Melo Trimble
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) Robert Carter had 17 points and eight rebounds to help No. 2 Maryland beat Cleveland State 80-63 on Saturday night.

Jared Nickens added 16 points, and freshman Diamond Stone had a season-high 15 points for Maryland (6-0), set for a showdown with No. 9 North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night.

Demonte Flannigan scored 11 of his 20 points in the first half, and Rob Edwards added 14 points for Cleveland State (2-4), which was 3 of 12 (25 percent) from 3-point range. Vinny Zollo went 5 of 7 from the field and had 11 points for the Vikings.

Maryland led by just four at the break and took control by increasing the pressure to open the second half. A dunk by Stone capped an 8-0 run and the Terrapins led 45-33 with 17:06 left.

From there, the Terps used their size and depth to wear down the Vikings, who could not get closer than nine points the rest of the way. Nickens and Jake Layman hit 3-pointers and Maryland opened a 64-49 lead with 7:43 remaining.

The 6-foot-7 Flannagan picked up his fourth foul with just under 10 minutes left, hampering the Vikings at both ends of the court. A putback by Nickens and a pair of free throws boosted Terrapins’ margin to 70-53 with 5:18 left and they were never threatened the rest of the way.

Maryland was 15 of 18 from the free-throw line and had a 27-22 rebounding edge.

Maryland could not shake Cleveland State in the opening half and a jumper by Kenny Carpenter gave the Vikings their first lead, 25-24, with 8:03 left. Nickens responded with three straight 3-pointers that helped the Terps take a 37-33 lead at halftime

Maryland shot 14 of 23 (60.9 percent) in the opening half.


Cleveland State: The Vikings also lost their only other matchup against the Terrapins, 95-84, on Dec. 5 1984. … Maryland was Cleveland State highest-ranked opponent since Nov. 26, 1999, when it lost to No. 1 Cincinnati, 90-56.

Maryland: The Terrapins won their 29th consecutive game at home against an unranked team. … Maryland extended its winning streak in November to 16 games, having not lost since Nov. 17, 2013, against Oregon State (90-83).


Cleveland State is at Toledo on Wednesday night.

Maryland plays at No. 9 North Carolina on Tuesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.