Grant Bagby of the Utah sports blog Torn by Sports was gracious enough to answer some of our questions heading into tonight's showdown between the Utes and Sun Devils. His answers are below, and you can view our responses to his questions here.
House of Sparky: Arizona State and BYU play similar styles of basketball, and the Cougars only lost to Utah by four points last month. What made that one so close?
Grant Bagby: From a basketball perspective, the Utes really had issues with the zone defense BYU was throwing at Utah. Utah only shot 23% from the three point line that night. I will also give the crowd some credit, that atmosphere was electric and I don't know how well I would shoot it in that environment. Plus, the BYU game is the only edition of the Holy War rivalry the 2014-2015 schedule in basketball and football. Even coach Larry Krystkowiak was into the rivalry this year with his crimson jacket on the side lines. Rivalry games have ways of being closer than they should be.
HoS: Dakarai Tucker has averaged nearly 10 points per game since the start of conference of play. What has gotten into him, and do you anticipate him seeing an increase in minutes (or maybe starting) on the Arizona road trip?
GB: Tucker has been playing well all season. However on the road he is averaging around 5 points per game, shooting less than 30% from the three point line. Is Tucker a great player on both sides of the floor? Yes. Will he be starting? No. I expect he will play the 19 minutes he has been averaging per game.
HoS: Both the Sun Devils and Utes are no stranger to close games. If the maroon and gold are able to keep the score within single digits with just a couple minutes left, do you trust Utah to close out the victory?
GB: The Utes are 1-2 in close games this season with the only win coming against BYU. If this game is close, I will be very nervous. Add the lack of consistent free throw shooting and there will be plenty of Utah fans with near heart attacks if this game is close. I know there is a lot of coach Krystkowiak love out there, but end game situations are one of his weaknesses.
HoS: The Utes have averaged a margin of victory of 26.8 points in their first four games after being ranked in the top ten. Is that more a reflection of the competition they have faced, or do you think this team truly belongs in the conversation for a national title?
GB: In 2013, (shameless plug) I wrote an article predicting Utah would become a basketball school once more. Things have progressed as I thought, but at a much higher pace than I really expected. Now, the 26.8 point margin of victory is definitely a reflection of the competition. However, the Utes aren't just beating teams they should, they are dominating them. Should the Utes be in the conversation for a national title? Probably not. But, in a single elimination tournament, why not? The Utes are a great defensive, rebounding team. Specifically, the Utes have guards that can shut down the other teams leading scorer no matter the size advantage. (Brandon Taylor is listed at 5'10" and is typically assigned the best guard on the opponent.)
HoS: Arizona State's main struggle has been a lack of production from their halfcourt sets on offense. Herb Sendek is going to want to capitalize on every available fastbreak opportunity, so do you think Utah will try and slow the game down, or just rely on their superior talent to beat the Sun Devils?
GB: The Utes will definitely be looking to slow the game down. I expect a game plan much like that of BYU. The Utes will probably run the shot clock a bit before getting into an offensive set. They like to run, but I expect they will choose carefully when to run and gun.
GB: This game is an opportunity for Utah to prove they can win on the road. With Utah's defense and ASU trying to move the ball, I expect this game to be kind of hectic. Final score will be 65 - 53.