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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 7:00 PM

The jury is still out on how seriously we should take the Utah Utes as a National Championship threat in college basketball. At their best…they’re a great team. At HOME, they’re a great team. But, they’ve had an embarrassing knack lately for laying eggs just went the world starts taking them seriously.

In the “game of the year” in the Pac 12 back on January 17, the Utes were outclassed as underdogs of +5.5 in a 69-51 loss at Arizona. That seemed to cement Arizona in position as “the team who matters most” in the Pac 12. But, in Utah’s next real test in the watered down Pac 12, the Utes lost at UCLA 69-59 as favorites of 5.5 points. Yes, they had crushed UCLA earlier in the season 71-39. Only one team showed up for the rematch!

You definitely have to respect Utah. College basketball guru Ken Pomeroy has then at #5 in his computer rankings! Are they THAT good? Should Utah be a #2 seed in the Big Dance that’s seen as a virtual equal to Wisconsin, Duke, and Villanova? Or, is this just another Western basketball pretender that’s going to underachieve in the tournaments?

We won’t get a complete answer Thursday night when the Utes host Stanford in Pac 12 action. That is a home game…and Stanford is only in the 30’s in the computers rather than a powerhouse. But, the Cardinal did win a road game at Texas, and took UCLA to overtime on the same floor where Utah lost.

Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats have to say about what might be the most important game on the Thursday night schedule…


Adjusted Offensive Efficiency

Stanford: 113.4 per 100 possessions (#21 in the nation)

Utah: 113.9 per 100 possessions (#19 in the nation)

No difference on offense here once you adjust for possessions and caliber of opposition. It’s important for handicappers to note that Utah grades out well here. They play slow…and are much like Wisconsin in terms of being very efficient at a slow pace. This is a GOOD offense that plays slow games…not a bad offense. The media typically gets these teams wrong.


Adjusted Defensive Efficiency

Stanford: 98.5 per 100 possessions (#107 in the nation)

Utah: 87.7 per 100 possessions (#6 in the nation)

Huge difference here. Utah plays a lot of low scoring games because they have a terrific defense that stays well-rested at slow paces. If you can pull them out of that…as both Arizona and UCLA did at other sites…then they’re in trouble. This is why Utah may be in real trouble in the Pac 12 and NCAA tournaments. They’ll run into teams who can take them out of their comfort zone and turn them mortal. Stanford doesn’t have a Dance caliber defense, and will have to outshoot people to beat them. Though Stanford isn’t as bad as Indiana on defense, the general stat parameters here are similar to what we saw in a recent Indiana/Wisconsin preview. Wisconsin won that one easily, but didn’t cover a very tall spread.


Pace Ranking

Stanford: #191

Utah: #303

Stanford’s close to national average, but slightly below. This isn’t a team that can start running and find success. So, the home team is likely to impose its preferred pace on proceedings. Really…if Utah struggles Thursday night it’s going to be a huge strike against the Utes! The stats paint the picture of a top offense patiently working for easy shots in a halfcourt game against an outmatched defense.


Against the Spread

Stanford: 11-11-1

Utah: 15-5-1

Stanford has failed to cover its last three games…and may have become overrated after an 11-8-1 ATS start vs. the number. They’ve been fairly shaky of late. Utah…WOW! We mentioned the two tests they “flunked.” They’re 15-3-1 against the spread in all other games! That’s why the computers love them. They really do run up the score in favorable situations. Oddsmakers have underrated them in terms of game-by-game performances…though the computers are probably overrating them in terms of the tournaments. See if you can pick your spots intelligently with that knowledge!

Stanford/Utah may or may not be part of the final slate for JIM HURLEY on Thursday depending on the widely available pointspread. You can purchase the final word right here at the website with your credit card in the hours leading up to first tip. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours.

Tomorrow we’ll jump ahead to look at an early Saturday tip-off in the Big 10. Our dance across the nation continues for the next several days as we check in on a variety of major board conferences…

Friday: College Early Look…Ohio State at Michigan State in the Big 10

Saturday: College Basketball GameDay…Connecticut at SMU in the AAC

Sunday: NBA State of the League at the All-Star Break

Monday: College Basketball Preview…Kansas at West Virginia in the Big 12

Tuesday: College Basketball Preview… LSU at Texas A&M in the SEC

Wednesday: College Basketball Preview…North Carolina at Duke in the ACC

We’re still deciding what next Thursday’s game is going to be. Utah at Oregon State is on the short list because that could be one of the slowest games played all season. It would be fun to preview a race or tortoises! But, Temple at SMU is looking kinda tasty as well with Temple’s recent surge.

It’s a great time to be a college basketball fan. Keep riding down THE ROAD TO MARCH MADNESS with proven winner JIM HURLEY!

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