Utah-Bradley: Game Preview

The Utes hit the road for the MWC-MVC Challenge...

Facts and Factors
The Utah men's basketball team (4-2) heads to Peoria, Ill., to face Bradley (4-3) in the MWC-MVC Challenge Saturday. Tip-off between the Runnin' Utes and the Braves is slated for 7:05 p.m. CT.

Utah is coming off a 13-point home victory against Fresno State last Tuesday, as the Utes topped the Bulldogs, 76-63. Bradley has dropped three straight contests, including a one-point loss at Western Carolina in its last outing, 66-65.

Utah junior wing Will Clyburn is coming off another near double-double performance as he recorded game highs of 21 points and nine rebounds.

Clyburn has been Utah's leading scorer in all six games this year and the Utes' top rebounder in four of them. He is averaging 20.0 points per game, second-best in the Mountain West Conference, to go with 7.7 boards, which ranks second in the league.

Junior guard Josh Watkins is second on the squad at 16.0 points per game, eighth-best in the MWC, and leads the team in assists at 3.5 per outing, which ranks ninth in the league.

Bradley's top scorer and rebounder is Andrew Warren, who averages 17.9 points per game to go with 6.0 rebounds. Sam Maniscalco led the team in assists at 4.3 per game, but it appears that he will sit out the remainder of the year and apply for redshirt status. Dyricus Simms-Edwards is averaging 3.1 assists per contest as well.

Utah is 0-1 on the road this season, while Bradley is 3-1 at home.

In the statistical matchup, Utah leads nearly every category, including a +11.6 points per game scoring differential and a 5.4 boards per game edge in rebounding margin.

The Runnin' Utes hold a 3-2 all-time record against Bradley, including a 2-1 mark on the Braves' campus.

Utah head coach Jim Boylen, now in his fourth year at the helm for the Utes, owns a 60-44 (.577) record. Bradley is coached by Jim Les, who holds a 142-120 (.542) mark in his ninth year.

The Game

Utah is coming off of a fairly dominating performance in the win over Fresno State to snap a two game losing streak in easily their best performance of the season. Chris Kupets had his coming out party with 17 points against Fresno State with many of those coming at the free throw line. His ability to make free throws is going to keep him on the floor in tight games. Will Clyburn has been a monster this year with his average now up to 20 points to go along with almost 8 rebounds per game and is going to be a tough matchup for Bradley. Hes' looked unstoppable at times and should have another big game.

The Utes have struggled in their last four games from distance knocking down only 23.9% of their three point attempts. If they're going to win on the road against a Missouri Valley Conference opponent, they'll need to be over 30% for the game.

Bradley is one of the top and most consistent programs in the always deep Missouri Valley Conference. Up until last season they had won 21 games or more in four consecutive seasons before dropping to 16 last year.

Bradley has been somewhat of an enigma this year with their better offensive play coming in their three losses. In Bradley's four wins to start the season, the Braves shot only 38.8% from the field, 30.5% from 3-point range, 63.6% from the free throw line and were outrebounded by 9.8 boards per game. In the last three losses, Bradley has shot 41.3% from the field, 37% from 3-point range, 75.9% from the stripe and outrebounded the opposition by .7 boards per game. So why the difference in the results? In the four wins, Bradley's defense forced 21.0 turnovers per game, benefitted from a +7.0 turnover margin and made one more free throw (56) than the opposition attempted (55). In the three losses, the Braves have forced only 13.3 turnovers per game, have been hurt by a -3.7 turnover margin and have attempted only three more free throws (54) than the opposition has made (51).

They've also had a tough start to the season medically as hours prior to the 2010-11 season-opener, Bradley announced junior forward Taylor Brown would be forced to sit out the season for precautionary medical reasons related to on-going cardiac testing. The 6-foot-6 forward averaged 13.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game last season, when he was voted The Valley's Most Improved Player.

Prior to Tuesday's game at Western Carolina, Bradley announced senior guard Sam Maniscalco would seek a medical redshirt as he continues treatment for the chronic pain in his left ankle. Maniscalco was a second-team All-MVC choice last season, ranks 28th on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,210 points and was The Valley's active career assists leader (355) at the time of the decision.

Everything now is going to center around Andrew Warren. Warren is a versatile player that is averaging almost 18 points and 6 rebounds per game. He's scored 22 or more in each of the Braves' last three games and will need to put up numbers similar to get them a win against the Utes.

Bradley has had trouble on the boards this year being outrebounded by over 5 per game including 17 rebound margins in contests against Loyola Marymount and West Carolina. The Utes will look to use their inside size of Jay Watkins, David Foster, Jarrod Washburn and Will Clyburn to dominate the glass and pick up a lot of points in the point, as Bradley lacks a shot blocker that plays major minutes.

Without the shot blocker and inside presence, Utah will be hitting the offensive glass hard, trying to exploit their size advantage. They had 25 second chance points against Fresno State and should put up a comparable number against Bradley.

Bradley plays top ranked Duke on Wednesday and may be looking ahead to the chance to pull off the shocker on national television. If the focus isn't there right off the bat, the Utes could jump out to an early lead like they did against Fresno State.

Prediction

These are two mediocre teams bound for the NIT (or one of many other new postseason tournaments). The home court advantage and the experience of playing in the most underrated conference in the country gives the Braves a small edge, but the loss of recently injured Sam Maniscalco is devastating for Bradley as the size inside for Utah is going to be too much for them to overcome. Andrew Warren goes for 20, but Will Clyburn tops him with 25, Jiggy Watkins throws in 12, and Chris Kupets has his second straight strong game getting into double digits. The fallout from the Jace Tavita transfer ends doesn't end up being much of a distraction as the Utes jump out early and hold off Bradley in a game that sees neither team lead by double digits at any point.

Utah 72 Bradley 66

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