Game Preview: Utah at Air Force

Game Preview: Utah at Air Force

This might be the biggest game of the season for the Utes as they kick off conference play. A win on the road and it helps set the tone for the conference and builds confidence. Lose against the conference bottom feeder, and the Utes may struggle to stay out of the conference cellar...

Facts and Factors: The Utah men's basketball team (7-7) begins Mountain West Conference play this week on the road at Air Force (9-4). Tip-off from Clune Arena at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., is set for 8 p.m. MT. The game will be televised live on The Mtn.

The Utes carry a four-game losing streak into conference play, but hope to snap that skid by extending their six-game winning streak against the Falcons that has spanned the last three years. Utah has not lost to Air Force since Feb. 14, 2007, in Colorado Springs.

Air Force is coming off an 81-48 victory against Florida A&M, after splitting a pair of games at the Sun Bowl Invitational in El Paso, Texas.

Junior wing Will Clyburn remains Utah's leading scorer and rebounder at 19.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, ranking No. 2 in the MWC in each category. He is coming off a 24-point, eight-rebound performance at Portland, in which he knocked down a career-high five 3-pointers. Junior guard Chris Kupets is also coming off a career-high performance at Portland that saw him set new top performances in points (20) and assists (4).

Air Force is led offensively by Michael Lyons, who averages 12.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. Two other Falcons are averaging double figures with Tom Fow pouring in 12.3 points per contest and Taylor Broekhuis contributing 11.7. Brokhuis is also Air Force's leading rebounder, tying with Derek Brooks at 5.0 boards per game.

Utah is 1-4 on the road this season, while Air Force is 7-1 at home.

Utah head coach Jim Boylen, now in his fourth year at the helm for the Utes, owns a 63-49 (.563) record. Air Force is led by Jeff Reynolds, also in his fourth season, is now 45-60 (.429) as the Falcons' head coach.

The Game:

This is about as interesting a game as Utah has had in a long time, and despite the fact that Jim Boylen will miss the game due to an illness in his family, could go a long way in determining whether or not he keeps his job after this season. It really is a no win situation for Boylen.

If the Utes lose, they did it without their head man, their motivator, and it shows that this team might need Boylen to beat even the worst of Mountain West Conference teams, but they've also lost the game.

If they win, and the players play hard, it might signal that this team is better off without Boylen on the sidelines. If they play to their full potential and run the Falcons out of the gym without Boylen there, then Chris Hill needs to recognize that this team is going to be better with their current head coach.

Air Force goes as their field goal defense goes. When they hold opponents under 40% shooting for the game, they win. When their opponents shoot over 40%. They lose. It's as simple as that.

Air Force cannot compete with the Utes athletically. It's unreasonable for them to think they can. They'll need Tom Fow knocking down threes, while controlling the tempo of the game and using as much of the shot clock as they can to get quality looks.

Utah needs Will Clyburn to take over. Clyburn hasn't been as good in the last four losses as he was to start the season as his average has dipped under 20 points per game. He's an elite talent and the kind of guy that carries a team. If the Utes are going to be successful in conference play, Clyburn has to be the guy to take them there. With Air Force's slow pace of play, he might have trouble filling up the stat sheet on the offensive end, but look for Clyburn to take advantage of the few transitions opportunities the Utes will get.

Chris Kupets had his best game as a Ute in their last contest with 20 points, and looks like he's finally found his rhythm after starting the season out slowly. If Kupets can come in and gives the Utes that consistent scoring threat off of the bench, Utah will have a much better chance of getting the road W. Air Force is small team so Jason Washburn seems primed for his breakout game. He struggled on the islands and has been largely inconsistent this season, but with his height advantage, has a great opportunity at putting up double figures in points and rebounds.

Big man Taylor Brokhuis will be matched up with Washburn in likely the game's biggest showdown. Broekhuis can fill up the stat sheet himself coming in averaging just under 12 points and 5 boards a game.

Prediction:

Utah can't lose to Air Force can they? Can they? Air Force is improved over last year, but is still the least talented team in the conference. The Utes better wrap this one up or a winless conference road season is a possibility. After a quick start to the game by the Falcons, Will Clyburn puts the team on his back and asserts his abilities and athleticism on the smaller, slower Air Force team with another 20 and 10 performance. Utah pulls it out in a game that comes down to the final minutes with the team playing harder than they've played since early December. Immediately after people start really questioning Jim Boylen and if this team would be better off without him on the sidelines permanently.

Utah 71 Air Force 65

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