NCAA Tournament Midwest Region: (3) Utah Utes vs. (14) Fresno State Bulldogs

Big South Tournament
Utah is 8.5 point favorites over Fresno State in NCAA tournament action Thursday night.

3 UTAH vs 14 FRES
Time: 6:25 PM CT
Spread: UTA -8.5
Total: 138.5

Betting odds c/o 5dimes

The Utah Utes finished the regular season 26-8 and it lost 88-57 to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. The Utes will hope to get back on track facing Fresno State in the opener of the NCAA tournament. College basketball oddsmakers favor Utah by 8.5 points while setting the over/under at 138.5.

Utah is led by Jakob Poeltl, a seven-foot sophomore forward. Poeltl averaged 17.6 points, nine rebounds, two assists and 2.2 blocks/steals per game this season in 30 minutes a night. He was not that visible against Oregon though, attempting just six field goal attempts in 27 minutes. Poeltl was coming off a 27 point, 11 rebound performance against then-No. 24 California before facing Oregon in the final. Poeltl has had 10 or more rebounds in three of his past five games, and the Utes will need him to crash the glass in this tournament.

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Utah boasts four other players averaging nine points per game or better. Senior forward Jordan Loveridge was No. 2 in scoring and the senior averaged 11.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 0.6 blocks/steals in 30 minutes per game. He has struggled badly shooting the ball though. Loveridge is just 39.4 percent from the floor this season, and he has hit just 16 of 56 in his past five games. He has never shot a high field goal percentage in his time at Utah, but he is a three-point shooter. Loveridge knocked down 40 percent from three this season while attempting 6.3 per game. Because over two-thirds of his shots are triples, the low field goal percentage is perhaps a little understandable.

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Utah also is a chic pick in this tournament because it boasts a senior point guard who can bring experience in Brandon Taylor. The 5’10” spark plug averaged 9.6 points and 3.8 assists per game this season while also coming up with 1.6 steals per game. But about Taylor is that he keeps his turnovers down (just 2.2 per game) and he can hit the three. Taylor shot 34.4 percent from three this season on 5.3 attempts per game. Like Loveridge, his overall field goal percentage is under 40, but Utah does shoot a very respectable 48.9 percent as a team.

The Fresno State Bulldogs finished the regular season 25-9 and Fresno State won the Mountain West Conference tournament by defeating San Diego State 68-63. Though the Bulldogs won, they shot just 38 percent from the floor. Marvelle Harris had 18 points on 7 of 19 shooting, and he has been a consistent source of explosive offense recently. Harris had 34 points in the 86-85 win over Utah State on Mar. 5, as he hit 12 of 23 from the field and 8 of 11 from the line. He has averaged 20.6 points, 4.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds this season and his great talent gives the Bulldogs a card to play in this game.

No. 2 leading scorer Torren Jones went down with a season-ending left knee injury in January, and that was a blow. He averaged 10 points per game up until that point, but Fresno State has had to look elsewhere to replace the 6’9” forward’s production. 6’6” junior forward Karachi Edo has helped shoulder a lot of that load, averaging 9.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season. Edo is also a shot blocker despite not being huge. He averages 1.6 blocks per game, and he plays just 24 minutes a night.

Fresno State has a great card to play with Harris. He is capable of carrying the team and the Bulldogs were very good this season. But the buck likely stops here at Utah. Poeltl is a top prospect in the NBA draft and he is going to meet little resistance with Fresno being weak on the interior. The Utes are favored heavily enough for the team to be an easy pick in brackets, but calling the spread is an entirely different matter here.

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