CU men’s basketball preview: Utah
MATCHUP: Utah Utes (11-4, 0-2 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (12-3, 1-1 Pac-12).
GAME TIME: 7 p.m., Friday, Coors Events Center.
BROADCAST: Radio — 760 AM; TV — Fox Sports 1.
COACHES: Utah — Larry Krystkowiak, fifth season (79-68, 121-88 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, sixth season (120-71, 176-137 overall).
LEADERS: Utah — Scoring: F Jakub Poeltl, So., 17.7 ppg; Rebounding: Poeltl, 9.3 rpg; Assists: G Brandon Taylor, Sr., 3.7 apg. Colorado — Scoring: F Josh Scott, Sr., 17.9 ppg; Rebounding: Scott, 9.5 rpg; Assists: G Josh Fortune, Jr., 3.1 apg.
NOTABLE: Utah has won three consecutive games against CU, including a pair of victories last year by an average of 26.5 points … Sophomore forward Tory Miller missed Sunday’s game at Stanford after suffering a slight head injury at Cal, but he is expected to resume his reserve role against the Utes.
It was described as the sort of matchup “worth the price of admission” by head coach Tad Boyle.
For his part in the pending battle of elite big men, Colorado Buffaloes senior Josh Scott knows he will be facing a player in Utah’s Jakob Poeltl who is bigger, stronger and a far more dangerous force than he displayed as a freshman a year ago.
The battle in the post likely will prove to be a critical factor in CU’s quest to protect its home floor on Friday night as Utah visits for a Pac-12 Conference showdown.
“He’s a good player and he’s going to make some tough ones,” Scott said. “It’s just about positioning. That’s really all that post play is about. He’s stronger. He’s definitely worked on his offensive game. He did what he’s supposed to do and got better on offense.”
Poeltl averaged 6.1 points and 9.8 rebounds last year while averaging 6.5 points and eight rebounds in the Utes’ two lopsided victories against CU.
The Austrian national clearly has raised his game this season, bringing a league-leading field-goal percentage of .687 (101-for-147) to Boulder while also ranking fifth in the Pac-12 in rebounding (9.3) and third in scoring (17.7). Scott ranks just a shade ahead of Poeltl in both scoring (17.9) and rebounding (9.5) while ranking eighth in field-goal percentage (.587).
“Josh Scott is worth the price of admission and Jakob Poeltl is worth the price of admission on their own. Playing against each other, it even is more so,” Boyle said. “Utah does a lot of switching defensively, so I don’t know of Jakob Poeltl is going to be on Josh Scott every possession every time down or not. It is a lot more than just those two, but those are two of the best centers in college basketball, there’s no question about it. It’s going to be a great matchup.”
While Poeltl gives the Utes a dynamic interior presence, the Buffaloes could be able to take advantage of a Utah frontcourt that otherwise has been dealing with injury issues. Starting forward Kyle Kuzma (11.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) remains questionable due to a tailbone injury he suffered in a hard fall during Sunday’s loss at Cal. This week, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak told the Salt Lake Tribune the team is considering pulling the redshirt from 7-footer Jayce Johnson, an early enrollee who joined the Utes in December for what, age-wise, should have been his senior year of high school.
“Obviously, Jakob Poeltl is the real deal, but they’ve got Brekkott Champan, who is a top 100 player out of high school,” Boyle said. “(Chris) Reyes comes off the bench at the four and he’s a hell of a player. If they bring somebody off redshirt then they bring somebody off redshirt. We don’t know about that and we’ll deal with it if they do.
“They’re a deep team. They’ve got great players on the perimeter. They’ve got a deep group of big guys. They’re a good team.”