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Sleeping with the Enemy: The Utes of Utah

Your Fighting Hoyas of Georgetown get set to take on the Utes of Utah in the Round of 32 and as usual we here at THE GLOBAL PHENOMENON are bringing you everything you need to know about Georgetown's next opponent.  Here with us to shed light on all things Utes is Block U, your trusted source for all of your Utah needs.  Let's do this!

Utah! Before we get to the hoops, tell us something about Utah, the school, that we might find interesting.

The question we get all the time is: What is a Ute? I was at an NCAA Tournament game Utah played against North Carolina once when a Tar Heel fan turned to me and asked the question. I politely explained that the Utes are a Native American tribe indigenous to this region, and the state of Utah gets its name from the tribe. Then I asked, "What's a Tar Heel?"

The University of Utah adopted the name Utes and, unlike some schools with Native American nicknames, has the expressed blessing of the Utes tribal council. Utah is the only school in NCAA history to have a No. 1 overall NBA (2005 national POY Andrew Bogut) and NFL (2005 Heisman Trophy finalist Alex Smith) selection in the same calendar year.
In basketball, Utah has won the NAU, NIT, and NCAA titles. In 1944, Utah was bounced out of the NIT in the quarterfinals but was invited to play in the NCAA Tournament as a fill-in for Arkansas, a team that lost several players to a car accident. Utah won that tournament, then went on to beat the NIT champion St. Johns in Madison Square Garden, essentially winning both tournaments in the same year.

Larry Krystowiak has turned around the Utes program pretty quickly, going from just 6 wins in 2011 to where you are now. What changes has he brought to the program that have been key to his success?

Two things: putting together a talented staff, and a commitment to recruiting. Both go hand-in-hand, as one of the first things he did when arriving at Utah was to secure former Utah guard Tommy Connor, a rising star in the local coaching community and former Rick Majerus assistant, as his top assistant. That done, Connor told him he had to immediately go see a local recruit by the name of Jordan Loveridge, the top in-state talent, but one largely ignored by the previous Utah staff. The talent he has brought in has been tremendous, a mix of California kids (Wright, Taylor, Tucker, Reyes), local products (Loveridge and Chapman), and international players (Bachynski and Poeltl). In his first two years at the helm, Krystko cleaned house of any bad eggs, and he continues to evaluate his players year to year.

What is Utah's general style of play on offense and defense? What schemes can Georgetown expect to see?

Utah runs a motion offense, which is likely both a hold-over from Krystkowiak's NBA days, as well as man-to-man on defense. The thing that Georgetown fans should look for is switching on ball screens. When Georgetown sets a screen, expect the screener's man to simply step out and take the ball handler, with the ball handler's man switching to guard the screener. Utah doesn't give up many open looks on screen-roll plays. Krystko's philosophy is that his teams have given up more points on poor screen-roll defense than on switching mismatches. Also don't expect Utah to dive into the paint much to help out on Joshua Smith. Poeltl will take Smith straight up, one-on-one, and the 7-foot-1 freshman is deceptively athletic and long. All that said, Connor, who Krystkowiak calls his "defensive coordinator," has been known to throw out a box and one or triangle and two if the situation presents itself, as well as an occasional matchup zone.

Who are the main guys that Georgetown is going to need to watch out for on Saturday night?

Clearly, the main person G-town will have to prepare for is 6-5 senior All American guard Delon Wright. The Wooden Award candidate is an all-around player who can get points, rebounds, assists, steals, and even block shots of smaller guards and centers alike. Poeltl is the Austrian import who put up 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots in the Round of 64, and, again, his length at both ends may give Smith problems. (Smith's bulk might give the slim Poeltl troubles, as well.) After those two, it's a revolving door of third and fourth options. One night, point guard Brandon Taylor will go off, as he did scoring 24 against Oregon in the Pac-12 post season tournament. Another night guard/forward Dakarai Tucker will get hot from deep and score 18-20. Yet another night, junior forward Jordan Loveridge can get hot, both nailing threes and driving to the rim. Freshman forward Brekkott Chapman, known as B-Easy, can get in a rhythm, and then watch out. At 6-8, Chapman is long, can rebound, has good, quick hops, and is a solid shooter from outside as well as inside the arc.

What does Georgetown need to do in order to win this game? What are Utah's strengths and weaknesses?

Utah's strength is its shooting (where the Runnin' Utes average 48.5 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from beyond the three-point arc) and defense (limiting teams to 38.1 percent from the field and 31.2 from downtown). Utah has six players who can fill up the basket from long range in Taylor, Tucker, Loveridge, Chapman, Kuzma, and Isaiah Wright, and the Utes don't give too many good looks on the defense end. Having watched Georgetown play, the three-pointers they're used to will be both contested and farther out on the floor. The drives they're used to will be cut off. Bad passes will lead to run-outs by Taylor and Wright. Turn the ball over like the Hoyas did against Eastern Washington, and it's a long plane ride back to D.C.

The Runnin' Utes glaring weakness lately has been offensive rebounding. Even the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin beat Utah on the offensive glass 11-4. While Utah has had a definitive size advantage across the front line against most teams, they've been giving up too many offensive boards.

To win this game, Georgetown needs to crash the boards on the offensive end. (Sadly, there will be opportunities.) If the Hoyas allow Utah to force them into one-and-done possessions, it won't end well. But if G-town can get second chance points, it takes a little wind out of the sails of a team who plays defense for a full shot clock on every possession. The other thing Georgetown has to do in this game in order to win is have much better shot selection. The Hoyas might be used to beating teams like Eastern Washington on the strength of athletic ability, talent, and depth alone, but Utah is a P5 school. Utah may have more depth than the Hoyas, and it's the Utes who have the All American and two potential NBA first rounders. Utah's front line and guard line can play with the Big East squad head-to-head, so the Hoyas have to be more methodical and take good, open shots, rather than trying the one-on-one hero shot. With better shot selection and offensive boards, the Hoyas might be moving on to face Duke.

Let's say you and I are hanging out at a bar and watching the game together. Please detail your food and beverage order.

Depends on the bar. Probably a Coke (not a big fan of beer... too bitter), some Buffalo wings, and a good burger, if they have a grill. But if we're at a bar in Utah, I'll introduce you to fry sauce, a local invention, and maybe a local micro-brew like Wasatch Ale.

What's your perception of the Georgetown program?

Since the days of the elder John Thompson, as well as players like Sleepy Floyd and, of course, Patrick Ewing and Dikembe Mutombo, Georgetown has a stellar reputation as a basketball school. I suppose the perception lately would be that, while Thompson's son has done a decent job of carrying on the legacy, John Thompson III hasn't had quite the level of success that his father had, hasn't brought in quite the talent his father did, and his teams haven't dominated at the national level in quite the way his father's teams did. Still, fans in Utah know the Hoyas, respect the program, and know this is going to be a dog fight. And we're not guaranteeing anything.

Final score prediction?

62-60 Georgetown. Check our recent The U Fan Cast ( where I've predicted from the beginning of the season that the Hoyas would wreck some brackets come tournament time.