(5) Utah v. (12) SFA
Time: 7:27 PM ET
Spread: UTA -6.5
M/L: UTA -300; SA +250
Betting odds c/o Bovada
The No. 5 seeded Utah Utes finished the regular season 24-8 with a 13-5 Pac-12 record, and will face the No. 12 seeded Stephen F. Foster Lumberjacks in second round action of the South region on TruTV at 7:27 PM EDT. Early college basketball lines at Bovada showed the Utes as 6.5-point favorites in the affair with the over/under set at 132.
Utah may be a tough team, but there’s no guarantee of victory in what are typically upset classics between 5 and 12s. SF Austin compiled a 29-4 record in its (very) weak schedule, losing just one game in its 18-game conference schedule to boot. But what underlies this is that SF Austin lost to almost every team it should have. It fell badly to Xavier, Baylor and even Texas A&M community college, so there’s no reason to get overly excited about the Lumberjacks here. It is a team that led the NCAA in assists per game while ranking top-10 in scoring, but it played a JV-like schedule and is now dancing with the big boys. Can it keep pace?
Thomas Walkup and Jacob Parker will attempt to see to it. Walkup averaged 15.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season, while shooting 57 percent from the floor. Parker contributed another 14.1 points and 5.5 rebounds and also shot 52 percent from the floor. In fact, the Lumberjacks shot 49.1 percent as a team while assisting on 18 of its field goals each game. The numbers all look good, and even the eye test does—but, truly, its season begins Thursday evening. That is when it faces its first tough opponent since the first stretch of the season, and though some bettors are feeling frisky on a moneyline for the Lumberjacks, it’s tough to build a case for such audacity.
That’s primarily because Utah held its own in a much tougher conference, and because of its star guard senior Delon Wright. The 6’5” 190 pound backcourt stud averaged 15 points per game this season and closed the season strong, posting 17.8 points per game over his past five contests and connecting on 8 of 14 from three-point range over that span. Wright shot 37.1 percent from three-point range this season while hitting 52.9 percent from the floor. While his field goal percentage has decreased from a year ago, it’s come at the benefit of having added a much more prolific three-point shot. In addition to that, he’s dishing over five assists per game, and the adage is that good guard play helps teams advance in March.
Utah lost to Oregon on a buzzer beating three last time out, even though it got 16 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block from Wright. The Utes also received 24 points on 9 of 15 shooting from guard Brandon Taylor, who dialed up six threes in the game and was one of three Utes to see over 30 minutes in the game (36). Taylor seems to be saving his best for this tournament, after having struggled prior to the Oregon game but increasing his marksmanship steadily leading up to it.
For the season, he’s connected on 75 threes at a 43.9 percent clip, and he’s an experienced junior having been a big minute player since his freshman season in 2012-13. Between Wright, Taylor and Jordan Loveridge (10 points and four rebounds per game), the Utes should have the firepower to dispose of SF Austin without many problems. Even though the spread is just 6.5-points, this seems like a safer 5 vs. 12 matchup, not one that should necessarily be chalked up to as a likely upset. That said, SF Austin is still kind of a mystery box team given the weakness of its schedule and the potential for shocking March Madness fans lies entirely there in the team’s 29-4 record this season, frail opponents notwithstanding.