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Utah basketball: Runnin' Utes have upper hand in tiebreaking scenarios with Cal

Published March 3, 2017 5:39 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

How big was Utah's win over Cal on Thursday night? Technically, 30 points. But in the Pac-12 standings race, huge.

Utah is in position to clinch a 4-seed and a bye on Saturday, and it doesn't have to necessarily win to do it. Cal plays at Colorado at noon, and Utah hosts Stanford at 2 p.m. As long as Cal loses the first game, Utah will have clinched the 4-seed. But if Cal wins, Utah can still get it by winning (as long as certain results go their way elsewhere in the league).

Larry Krystkowiak said he tried not to talk about finishing fourth in pregame, but focused on it postgame. In a year where UCLA, Arizona and Oregon all have top-10 programs, finishing fourth, he said, would be an achievement in the league.

"We've lost a lot of close games against really good teams, so to be able to say in this particular Pac-12 season where you've got the fourth-[sic], sixth-, seventh-ranked teams in the country," he said. "There's some national buzz, which typically doesn't happen with the little bit of the East Coast bias, so I would take great pride in saying we finished fourth in this particular season, and we're going to keep our fingers crossed for postseason."

At the moment, Utah and Cal are tied for fourth with 10-7 records and have split the season series. Because they haven't beaten any of the teams ahead of them, the tiebreakers drift down pretty far. It's important to recall in tiebreaker scenarios that you must combine teams with the same conference record.

Here are the scenarios based on Saturday's results, which have been vetted by the Pac-12:

If Utah wins and Cal loses • Utah wins the 4 seed outright (Utah 11-7, Cal 10-8).

If Utah loses and Cal wins • Cal wins the 4 seed outright (Utah 10-8, Cal 11-7)

If Utah loses and Cal loses • Utes and Cal tie at 10-8, and Utah gets the tiebreaker with Colorado record, having swept the Buffs when Cal split (or combining for a 3-0 record against a 3-1 record if ASU ties Cal). Even if USC wins its game with Washington and ties at 10-8, it loses tiebreakers with both by being 0-2 against Utah and Cal this year and falls to the 6 seed.

If Utah wins and Cal wins • Utes and Cal tie at 11-7. Then it gets interesting.

Stanford would finish at 6-12, and both Utah and Cal have split the season with the Cardinal. But if Washington State loses (the Cougs are an underdog at UCLA), Stanford and Wazzu would tie in the standings, and Utah would beat Cal by virtue of having a better winning percentage against the two teams combined (3-1 vs. 2-1).

There's always the chance for the upset: If Washington State wins, then the tiebreaker continues down all the way to Oregon State, where Cal swept the Beavers and Utah split. So Cal would get the 4 seed based on how they played the last-place team in the league. Insanity.

At the moment, KenPom has Utah favored in Saturday's game, and gives a slight edge to Colorado over Cal. The Buffs can clinch the 4-seed for the Utes — but junior Kyle Kuzma said the Utes are trying not to think that way.

"We gotta take care of our business," he said. "I've been saying this for weeks that we've just gotta focus on winning, and if we do what we gotta do, then things can fall our way hopefully, but we just gotta win first. Honestly, [the Cal-Colorado game] don't matter, to me at least, we just gotta win."

Twitter: @kylegoon






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