This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Pay no attention to what you saw happen to Utah on Saturday.
OK, pay some attention to it, but don't freak out.
The Utes are so much better than what they showed against Oregon.
OK, so maybe they're not that much better specifically against Oregon.
But they are better than Fresno State, their first-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament. And, if they advance, they're likely better than Gonzaga and Seton Hall, one of which will be their next opponent.
If you look at the Midwest Region, the bracket the Utes were assigned to by the selection committee on Sunday, their outlook is relatively bright. Seton Hall did beat Villanova in the Big East Tournament championship, a fine accomplishment. The Pirates play tough defense and feed off of it to ignite transition points. Guard Isaiah Whitehead is a terrific player, the MVP of the conference tourney. Another guard, Derrick Gordon, will be the first openly gay player in the NCAA Tournament.
If that region goes chalk, Utah would make it to the Sweet 16 before facing second-seeded Michigan State of the Big Ten.
There's nobody in their path that could do what Oregon did to them. And the Ducks are the No. 1 seed over in the West, out of harm's way until the Final Four, and if the Utes were to meet them there, nobody around here would be complaining.
That's just a bad matchup for Utah. That much had already been determined before the Pac-12 championship game became the thrashing that it was. Everybody already knows the Utes are 0-for-3 against the Ducks.
There aren't many any? teams like them. Not that Oregon is the best team in the land. It's just that the combo-pack of athleticism and skill, mixed with the psychological damage created inside Utah's collective brain by way of two previous losses, home and away, to the Ducks, swelled into too much for the Utes to handle.
With 20 turnovers, they couldn't handle much of anything.
The NCAA Tournament, though, will not stir that kind of devastation within them at least not for a while. Which is to say, the Utes will be OK. They're going to make their way in the big tournament, the one that really counts. That's a decent way to bet.
In breaking what might have been a world record for reaching for a postgame positive after a wipeout, Larry Krystkowiak said late Saturday, "I like being humbled."
Well. The aforementioned selection committee on Sunday made Utah the No. 3 seed in the aforementioned Midwest Region, pairing it with the Mountain West tournament champion Bulldogs, the No. 14 seed. Fresno State is not Oregon. They are … Fresno, a team that has won nine straight games, but that also lost to Nevada, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Arizona, Evansville, New Mexico, Boise State, San Diego State and San Jose State.
The most ominous thing on Fresno State's resume is a mere five-point loss to … You-Know-Who in Eugene. The Bulldogs beat Oregon on the boards that night, 41-32, but still lost. In the MWC Tournament championship game, FSU beat San Diego State, in part, by causing 15 turnovers, which translated into 18 Bulldog points.
Utah will have to take care of the ball this time and slow Fresno's Marvelle Harris, who averaged 22.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.6 steals. Despite getting crushed by the Ducks, and aiding them in that crushing with sloppy floor and tired board work, the Utes have a unique opportunity now.
Jakob Poeltl will be a high lottery pick in the NBA Draft. It's not often that the Utes have a guy like him. As long as they get the ball to Poeltl in comfortable low-post positions, positions where he's less likely to cough it up, he'll be difficult for most tournament opponents to handle. If he gets going, the other Utes will come along, too.
In the wake of Saturday night's kick in the shorts, look for Utah to bounce back. Given that the college game, in a general sense, isn't much to look at this year and this isn't meant as a backhanded compliment the Utes have a terrific chance to go deep in the dance.
Considering the Utes' full frame of reference, confidence shouldn't be a problem. They're better than what they last showed. The selection committee knew that and so should everybody else, the Utes themselves included.
Utah, normally, is a fantastic executing team and that's on what March Madness typically turns and tilts. Is re-establishing that poise really that farfetched?
Not if their fresh humility is put to good use.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.