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Colorado visits Utah in season finale

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Saturday's tip-off is at 7:30 on ESPNU.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

In their regular season finale, the 21-9 (10-8) Buffaloes will visit 23-7 (12-5) Utah. The Utes were the only team to beat Colorado at the CEC this year, so the Buffs are looking to return the favor.

As far as NCAA Tournament implications go, CU is playing with house money. If they lose, it won't matter because no one expects them to win and they'll remain where they are in the eyes of the selection committee. But if they win, this will leapfrog the Arizona game as their signature win. Colorado would then move up from their likely 7- or 8-seed to at least a 5-seed.

There certainly is a reason, or reasons rather, why no one expects Colorado to win. First, Utah is a damn fine college basketball team. They're currently ranked 13th by the coaches and the press. They're No. 8 in RPI. Ken Pomeroy has them rated as the 25th best team in the nation. No one wants to mess with the Utes.

Second, Utah has played their basketball of the season in these past few weeks. Since being swept in Oregon in early February, Utah has been on fire. In the preceding three weeks, the Utes swept the Washington schools at home, beat UCLA and USC in L.A., and edged Arizona after blowing out the Sun Devils. In those six games, they have outscored their opposition by 107 points combined, a margin of about 18 per game. Most of those 107 points come from lopsided wins over Wazzu and ASU, but the point stands: Utah has been stellar recently.

Also, Utah had a five-game winning streak before their Oregon trip. Those five games were home wins over Oregon State, Cal and Stanford, and a sweep in Washington. Since visits to Oregon tend to end in dismay (‘sup Dom), we should probably just say that Utah is riding an eleven-game win streak.

Third, Utah is nearly impossible to beat the Huntsman Center. This season, only the road warriors from Eugene have upset the Utes in SLC. Last season, they only lost to No. 7 Arizona. The season before that, they lost two overtime games to No. 10 Oregon and No. 4 Arizona. In 50 home games between those three seasons, Utah only lost four games, and they were against three top-10 teams and another who would be in the top-10 a few weeks later. So yeah, it's pretty hard to win at the Huntsman Center.

On a side note, can we stop overreacting to Arizona losing two close games to two really good teams in two of the toughest places to play? Those aren't bad losses! Arizona was overrated before those games and looking at a 2- or 3-seed in the tournament. Now they're being underrated and are looking at a 5- or 6-seed. The only way two road losses in the Rockies would make that much of a difference would be if they were at BYU and CSU.

As I said in my previous Utah preview, Coach K's squad plays a lot like the Buffs. Take away Jakob Poeltl and Josh Scott, and these rosters are strikingly even.

"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. ... 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. ... The role players could also play themselves into a stalemate."

Since that game, not much has changed, even though a lot has changed. As a team, Utah's offense is running more efficiently than ever. Much of that can credited to gradual improvement from their role players, most noticeably in guards Brandon Taylor and Lorenzo Bonam. The Utes are no longer reliant upon the success of Poeltl.

But the Buffs have improved just as much since then. CU's biggest deficiency was always their turnover problems, but they've curbed those problems as of late. Josh Fortune, who may or may not have cost the Buffs a chance at beating the Utes with costly turnovers, has played his best ball recently. Wesley Gordon has grown into a source of wanton destruction with his defense, rebounding and offensive improvement. Dom Collier had cut down his turnovers and emerged as a lockdown defender. I don't know if either improvement will be lastly, but both are certainly welcome. The Buffs are no longer reliant upon the success of Scott.

Again, this game looks like it will be a stalemate between two very similar teams. However, this game will be in SLC instead of Boulder, which, again, is significant. In order to overcome this and pick up a massive win, the Buffs will need to win matchups that would otherwise be stalemates. As much as I'd love for George King to bust this open with three-pointers galore, I don't see Colorado winning unless Josh Scott overpowers Poeltl. It's possible, but not probable.

Prediction

Utah 81, Colorado 75

Hopefully I'm incorrect.