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NCAA tournament: Fresno State hopes to upset Utah

Fresno State will have an uphill challenge when they face No. 3 seeded Utah out of the Pac-12.

Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

Selection Sunday came and went, and when the dust settled the 2016 Mountain West Conference champions, Fresno State (25-9) earned a No. 14 seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament and will face No. 3 seed Utah (26-8) in its first round game, that can be seen on truTV on Thursday at 4:27 p.m. PT in Denver, Colorado.

At the Pepsi Center, home to the Denver Nuggets.  The Bulldogs earned the invitation to the big dance after defeating San Diego State 68-63 on Saturday, securing the Mountain West's automatic bid.  The last time the Utes and the Dogs' tangled, Utah won 90-77 during the 2013/14 season.  The stakes are certainly a lot bigger this time around, as this is the first ever meeting in the tournament.

It's Utah's second straight year in the tournament. Last year, the Utes reached the sweet 16 before losing to eventual tournament champion Duke.  The Utes defeated seven tournament teams this past season.  Utah lost this past Saturday night in the PAC-12 championship to Oregon, the top seed in the west 88-57.  Oregon defeated Utah three times this season.  Utah is led by PAC-12 player of the year, sophomore center Jakob Poeltl.

The seven footer is averaging 17 points per game, as well as grabbing 9 rebounds per game.  No doubt the Utes will go as far as Mr. Poeltl will take them.  Utah is averaging 77 points per game, but also give up almost 70 points per game.

Two other Utes average in double figures.  Jordan Loveridge Sr. F almost averages 12 points per game, 4 rebounds per game, and Kyle Kuzma So. F averaging almost 11 points per game, 9 rebounds.  If Utah has one weakness it's their erratic play, causing the Utes to turn the ball over at an alarming rate.  Something the Dogs' do quite well, just ask San Diego State.

As was mentioned earlier, this is Fresno State's first time dancing since legendary and Hall of Fame Coach Jerry Tarkanian was chewing on his towel in 2001.

"This time of the year, you never take for granted being in the postseason play and with a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament," Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry said. "Like I tell my guys all the time, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and something they'll never forget.

"They just need to be excited in the moment and we will be.  We have a great opponent that we're playing, No. 2 seed in the Pac-12, which was a really good conference this year. Larry has done a great job with the program there at Utah and we're excited about the challenge."

The Dogs' have a player of the year of their own in Marvelle Harris. Harris comes in averaging 21 points per game, rebound, over two steals and over four assist per game.  Karachi Edo, who is playing some of his best ball as of late, is really becoming a low post presence.

Edo is averaging 10 points per game, eight rebounds, almost two blocks per game.  Julien Lewis, has also been playing great down the stretch as well.  Lewis has turned into a shooting treat, that Fresno had hoped would be the case when he transferred from Texas.  Lewis is averaging over 18 points the last six games.  He's also shooting over 43 percent from beyond the arc.  Fresno State comes in on fire, winning nine straight, and 10 out of their last 11.  If the Dogs' have a shot to win the game, they'll do it with the defense they pride themselves on.  he Bulldogs are No. 16 nationally in steals per game (8.2) and No. 5 in turnover margin (plus-4.3).  Fresno State is also good in transition on both ends of the court.

This isn't your typical 14 seed vs 3 seed.  Keep in mind, last year two 14 seeds won, a third went to overtime, and the other 14 seed lost by nine points.  Also, a 14 seed has won in the tournament in three consecutive years.


Utah: Brandon Taylor, he'll most likely guard Marvelle Harris.  He's also played the most minutes this past season, the senior guard is averaging 33 minutes per game.

Fresno State: Cullen Russo is a turning into a great defensive player, averaging nearly two steals a game, and one block a game.


Fresno State 74 Utah 72