Imagine the Colorado Buffaloes without Josh Scott. All that low post savvy, the ever intelligent defensive awareness, the mentorship required to lead a team into the gray ... that's all gone. What's left of Colorado basketball is a solid, yet incomplete team.
Now imagine the Utah Utes without Jakob Poeltl. He is a very similar player to Scott, but he substitutes Scott's ambidextrous touch with sheer physicality. Poeltl's size and strength is mostly the difference between being a lottery selection (which Poeltl will be) and being a second round flyer (which Scott will hopefully be). But take away Poeltl and Utah becomes wildly tame, just like Colorado.
In all reality, Scott and Poeltl could very well play into a stalemate, leaving the game to be won by the each player's supporting cast. If this is the case, it's important to discuss what both teams are like without their key player. I was going to break it down player-by-player, but I couldn't quite write it effectively, so I'll just summarize: Colorado and Utah are both filled with talented players who can counted on to be contributable role players, and these players are mostly all inconsistent at best.
To summarize the summary, the role players could also play themselves into a stalemate.
To summarize my thinking, I really have no clue who is going to win.
To get a feel for how even these teams are, let's look at the recent road trip to the Bay Area. Against Cal, Colorado struggled offensively and their defense couldn't contain athletic wings, which resulted in a 14-point loss. Against Cal, Utah struggled offensively and had the same defensive issues (well, those wings plus Ivan Rabb), which resulted in a 13-point loss. Against Stanford, Colorado deserved to lose, yet won by one in a slopfest. Against Stanford, Utah definitely deserved to lose, and they did so by two points in overtime. With such similarity between playing styles and end results, one must consider if Cuonzo Martin and Johnny Dawkins used the same game plan for both teams.
Unless Poeltl or Scott drastically outplays the other, this game will need to be won with a stellar performance from a role player, or something freaky/lucky will break a tie. As much as I want Fortune to hit a hit a full court shot at the buzzer, this game will most likely be decided by a role player stepping up -- and I don't mean Fortune stepping up to hit a full court shot at the buzzer.
As you may or may not have read in my roster analysis, I thoroughly believe that George King can propel this offense to the next level if his shots are falling. That said, his shots sure haven't been falling as of late and he's capable of shooting the Buffs out of a ball game. That's why King is my favorite candidate to break a stalemate, whether it's in Colorado or Utah's favor.
Utah's Lorenzo Bonam is a solid shooter and gifted passer, though he's just as inconsistent as King. Bonam almost willed Utah to a win over Duke, but he may have doomed Utah against Wichita State. Such inconsistency is college ball, I suppose.
You know what would be hilarious? If Bonam and King both play atrociously or terrifically, cancelling each other out anyway.
I guess the ultimate tiebreaker could be the CEC, which should be rowdy for this.
Colorado 84, Utah 82 (3 OT)