Observations: Utah 7-footer Jakob Poeltl has led Utes to 5 straight wins

Jakob Poeltl is beginning to hit his stride for Utah.

The Austria native has lived up to the billing that preceded his arrival in Salt Lake City and is now emulating a player that could carry the Utes deep into the NCAA Tournament.

The 7-footer is averaging 24.3 points and 8.7 rebounds over his last three games while shooting 64.7 percent during that span. Those are the numbers of a player that would give opposing coaches nightmares during the month of March.

Utah’s progression through the rest of the season will depend on whether or not guys like Jordan Loveridge, Dakarai Tucker and Brandon Taylor can make enough outside shots the keep the opposing defense honest. When they do it forces the other team to single cover Poeltl all while opening up driving lanes for Lorenzo Bonam, who has reached double-figures in three of his last four games.

Larry Krystkowiak’s team has quietly won five straight games and six of its last seven, but will face Oregon State on Thursday in Corvallis followed up by a trip to Eugene on Sunday against Oregon.

Jalen Brunson is back on track for Villanova

The Wildcats’ freshman point guard entered Wednesday’s game against Creighton a combined 7-for-27 in his past four games, but he clearly turned a corner against the Bluejays.

Operating with poise, focus, and efficiency, Brunson broke out for 16 points on eight shots including six makes from long distance.

If Villanova wants to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament it needs Brunson to be a major threat offensively.

He took a major step in that direction against Creighton.

USC can make a statement Thursday against UCLA

The Trojans got the attention of every basketball junkie in Southern California when they beat the Bruins by 14 at Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 13, but completing a regular season sweep of their cross town rivals would truly be drawing a line in the sand.

Prior to this season USC (17-5) had never beaten UCLA (13-9) since Andy Enfield and Steve Alford took over their respective posts in 2013 and now the Trojans are starting to emerge as more of a national force.

It’s taken Enfield some time, but he’s built a program with depth, athleticism, and two of the best first-year players nobody talks about in freshmen Bennie Boatright and Chimezie Metu.

USC isn’t a team that’s just built to make the NCAA Tournament: it’s a team that has the personnel to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

But what about UCLA?

Alford has led the Bruins to back-to-back Sweet 16s and has earned several key victories this season highlighted by home wins over both Arizona and Kentucky in addition to a road triumph over Gonzaga.

Beating the Trojans Thursday at the Galen Center would even out UCLA’s Pac-12 record at 5-5 and give this program another quality road victory on its NCAA resume.

This Just In

  • Cincinnati’s Shaquille Thomas (foot) is a game-time decision for Thursday’s game against South Florida, Bearcats coach Mick Cronin told CBS Sports. Tipoff is 8 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.
  • NC State’s Terry Henderson (ankle) still has no timetable for a return, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said.

Utah's Jakob Poeltl leads the Utes with 17.3 points per game. (USATSI)
Utah’s Jakob Poeltl leads the Utes with 17.3 points per game. (USATSI)

This and That

  • Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins is playing like a first-team All-Big 12 player. The 6-4 senior is averaging 17.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 6.0 assists over his last five games while shooting 61.4 percent and 72.2 percent from 3-point range. The Sooners’ back court is about more than just Jordan Woodard and Buddy Hield.
  • Iowa State’s loss on Tuesday night to West Virginia makes you wonder if the Cyclones are going to wear down during the last quarter of the season. Steve Prohm only plays seven or eight guys and all five of his starters are playing 31.7 minutes or more. Iowa State is 16-6 overall and 5-4 in Big Ten play.
  • It’s early February and 10 teams in the ACC still have a realistic shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. That’s bad news for the five teams — Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech NC State, Wake Forest, and Boston College — at the bottom of the league who have a combined 9-38 in conference play.
  • Indiana freshman Thomas Bryant has shot under 50.0 percent in just two of the Hoosiers’ 23 games this season — that’s amazing. The 6-10 big man is averaging 12.2 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 72.4 percent from the floor.
  • LSU’s Ben Simmons took eight more shots (15) in Tuesday’s win at Auburn than he did in Saturday’s loss against Oklahoma (seven). This is what needs to happen every game moving forward if the Tigers are going to be a team to fear at the beginning of March.
  • Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame is an All-ACC player. The versatile forward is averaging 22.4 points and 7.8 rebounds over his last five games while shooting 54.4 percent during that span. This guy has got the goods and may be the best player in this league that nobody really knows about nationally.
  • San Diego State is 10-0 in Mountain West Conference play, but you know what: this league is going to be treated this season like it’s the WAC, MAC, and Big Sky. Why? Because none of the other teams that the Aztecs are beating in conference play are truly moving the needle and helping them bolster their at-large resume for the NCAA Tournament. You always want to win every game you play, but it realistically looks like San Diego State will have to win its league tournament to earn a bid to the field of 68.
  • Oregon’s Casey Benson is averaging one turnover every 47.3 minutes. You think most coaches would take that ratio for their starting point guard? There’s several reasons why the Ducks are the team to beat in the Pac-12 and Benson is one of them.
  • Wyoming (11-13) may be going through a rebuilding season, but Josh Adams is playing like the best all-around player in the Mountain West. The 6-2 guard is leading the Cowboys in points (24.2), rebounds (5.7), assists (3.9), and steals (1.1).
  • Will picking this year’s NCAA Tournament be harder than any year we’ve seen in recent memory? It certainly feels that way. In 2011 the Final Four featured a No. 4 seed (Kentucky), a No. 3 seed (UConn), a No. 11 seed (VCU), and a No. 8 seed (Butler). This season even feels more wide open than that one did — scary!

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