College Basketball

Scouting the South Region

Duke’s opponent, the Utah Utes, features Delon Wright (55), who averages 14.7 points and is known for defense, shown here in the first round against Stephen F. Austin.
Duke’s opponent, the Utah Utes, features Delon Wright (55), who averages 14.7 points and is known for defense, shown here in the first round against Stephen F. Austin. GETTY

No. 5 Utah (26-8)

Coach: Larry Krystkowiak (3-2 in NCAA tournament)

How they got here: A great guard and defense. Delon Wright is a senior All-American point guard, averaging 14.7 points and 5.2 assists per game, but his biggest contributions to the Utes may come on defense, where he is a lock-down, on-ball defender. As a team, Utah ranks seventh nationally in basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. The Utes’ offense, though, is efficient as well, ranking 18th nationally.

Utah dispatched 12th-seed Stephen F. Austin (57-50) and No. 4 seed Georgetown (75-64) to reach the Sweet 16.

Must stop: Wright, who doesn’t need to score to make his teammates better. Utah likes to run high ball screens for Wright, and he frequently dishes to an open teammate as the defense collapses on him. He’s big for a guard, too (6-foot-5), which could create problems for Duke’s relatively small backcourt of Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook.

Advance if: Wright constantly makes the right read against the defense, calling his own number when warranted (he shoots 51.8 percent) and passing the rock to teammates when they’re open.

No. 2 Gonzaga (34-2)

Coach: Mark Few (18-15 in the NCAA tournament)

How they got here: Gonzaga did its thing, winning the West Coast Conference regular season or tournament championship for the 15th time in 16 years under Few. This Gonzaga team has a few standouts (guard Kevin Pangos and Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, a 6-foot-10 forward) but it also has depth. The Bulldogs beat No. 15 seed North Dakota State (86-76) and seven-seed Iowa (87-68) to advance to the second weekend.

Must stop: Wiltjer, who leads the Bulldogs in scoring (17.1). Wiltjer can knock down 3s, and he has plenty of help down low with 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski and reserve forward Domantas Sabonis (6-foot-10).

Advance if: The Bulldogs have the fourth-most efficient offense nationally (behind only Duke in the region) and lead the nation with a 52.6 field goal percentage. They have the bigs to win a war of attrition with Duke, and none of the teams in Gonzaga’s way specialize in defense.

No. 11 UCLA (22-13)

Coach: Steve Alford (9-8 in the NCAA tournament)

How they got here: After a questionable invitation to join the field of 64, UCLA (20-13 in the regular season) has made the most of it, advancing to the Sweet 16 – barely. A controversial goaltending call gave the Bruins the basket it needed to beat No. 6 SMU, 60-59, in the first round, and then yet another break from the basketball gods matched UCLA up against No. 14 UAB, which used up all its magic to knock off No. 3 Baylor. UCLA dominated the physically-inferior Blazers 92-75.

Must stop: Point guard Bryce Alford, who paced the Bruins last weekend with an average of 24.5 points in UCLA’s two victories, including a 9-for-11 mark from 3-point range in the opening round (the ninth came via that controversial goaltending call). For the year, Alford averaged 15.4 points, 4.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game.

He also has the option to dump the ball inside to forward Kevon Looney, a potential lottery pick at 6-foot-9, 220 pounds.

Advance if: The Bruins keep shooting 52.4 percent from the field and and 51.7 percent from 3-point range, as they did the first weekend. Otherwise, a reduced offensive output, combined with shaky defense (ranked 69th nationally by Ken Pomeroy) will probably end the Bruins’ run.

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