FIRST LOOK: Duke v. Utah

After two blowout victories to open the tournament, things get much tougher as the Blue Devils head to Houston to face the Utah Running Utes in the NCAA Regional semifinal round. Here’s a first look at the next opponent.

KEY PLAYERS

Senior guard Delon Wright is the team’s best player. At 6-foot-5 the Los Angeles native’s game begins with the ability to go off the bounce and make things happen as the defense reacts. Wright can play either backcourt position and can even slide to the small forward position when needed. He leads the Utes in scoring (14.7), assists (5.2), and steals (2.1) per game. He also ranks second on the team in field goal percentage (.518) and is also shooting 84 percent from the charity stripe and 36 percent from the perimeter. As a big guard, he’s been very disruptive to opposing offenses with the ability to deflect and interfere in the passing lanes. Over the team’s last five games Wright has averaged 37 minutes per contest while putting up 16.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.4 steals.

Wright is also the younger brother of Portland Trail Blazer, Dorell Wright.

Fellow backcourt starter Brandon Taylor is the team’s best on the ball defender, and will be charged with disrupting either of the Duke point guards. In addition to being a capable ball handler, Taylor is also a very good three point shooter, hitting 44 percent of his attempts on the season. Like Wright, Taylor can be counted on to play extended minutes in tight games and has averaged 36.3 minutes over the last three contests for the Utes.

Inside Utah will counter Duke big man Jahlil Okafor with a freshman and a senior big man. The freshman, Jakob Poeltl is a true seven-footer who has displayed good mobility and the ability to finish around the basket. On the season the Austrian native is averaging 9.1 points and 6.7 rebounds, but has struggled against more physical low post opponents and has been a foul magnet in many of those match ups. His compliment has been senior Dallin Bachynski, another seven footer (although one with 40 pounds on Poeltl) who plays a similar role to Marshall Plumlee for the Utes in that he comes off the bench to provide solid post defense, rebounding, and the occasional garbage bucket or two.

THE ROTATION

The Utes may play up to 10 players depending on the matchup with Wright, Taylor, and wing Jordan Loveridge being the staples of the starting five. Off the bench they’ll distribute between five and 12 minutes to players such as freshman wing Brekkott Champman, F Kyle Kozma, and G Isaiah Wright. Of late the Utes have gotten a big lift from junior guard Dakarai Tucker who provided 31.5 minutes per game in the first two rounds and responded with 10 points per contest on 60 percent shooting from the field overall while hitting 4-of-7 from the perimeter. Prior to the NCAA Tournament, Tucker had logged more than 26 minutes just three times all season.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

The Utes stumbled into March, losing four of the final seven games of the regular season and into the Pac 12 tournament. Two of those losses were to and Oregon team that pushed Wisconsin hard in the Round of 32, with another coming to second seeded Arizona at home by six. The poor finish to the season resulted in a five seed from the selection committee.

In the opening round Utah dusted off Steven F. Austin by seven before pulling away late from a tough and physical Georgetown team. The Hoyas led by as many as 11 points in the first half before Utah closed the gap to tie the score at intermission.

WHAT THEY WANT TO DO

Utah does not want to get into a back and forth, up-tempo game with anyone. And certainly not with a Duke offense that’s among the best in the country. Instead the Utes would prefer a game played into the low to mid 60s. They will work possessions deep into the shot clock and force the Blue Devils to remain disciplined on the defensive end - especially in the half court. They will go for steals and attempt to log some fast break and transition baskets, but would be perfectly happy to grind on both ends of the court much like Virginia and Michigan State attempted with Duke.

The Blue Devils will have had some experience against the style having beaten both the Cavaliers and Spartans, and then San Diego State in the second round. The Aztecs came into the game with fifth best rating in adjusted defensive efficiency in the country, while Utah ranks seventh. Despite Duke’s terrific offense (The Blue Devils average 80.4 points per game, and have scored 63 or more in each game this season), it’s a fair bet this one will be a grind. In big games against Arizona, Utah held the Pac-12 champions to 63 and 69 points, respectively. In games against San Diego State, Notre Dame, Kansas, Wichita State and Georgetown, none of those opponents reached 70.

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING

"They've got one of the best backcourts in the country and one of the best big guys in the country and one of the best coaches in the country and one of the best records in the country. We've got our hands full in a lot of different areas. It's going to be a heck of a challenge." - Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak

“I’ve always wanted to play against Duke or North Carolina, Kentucky or a team like that. It’s real fun that we to play them in a tournament.” - Delon Wright



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