Utah vs. Arizona Betting Preview for Thursday: Space and Length to Help Utes

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Branden Carlson #35 of the Utah Utes reacts as he gathers with teammates against the Arizona Wildcats. Chris Gardner/ Getty Images/AFP.

NCAAB Pick: Utah +10.5 (-115) at BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review)

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Utah +10.5 (-115)
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Top sportsbooks have released their NCAAB odds for tonight’s game between Utah and Arizona.

The Utes will look to continue the momentum from the pair of victories that they achieved by double digits in their last two games. Meanwhile, Arizona will try to bounce back from its most recent loss to Stanford.

For reasons that I will explain, you should play both the spread and the total for tonight’s game at Utah and Arizona betting sites.

Utah Utes vs. Arizona Wildcats

Thursday, February 16, 2023 – 10:00 PM EST at McKale Memorial Center

Arizona's Rim Protection

Arizona's endeavor to protect the rim is spearheaded by seven-foot center Oumar Ballo. Ballo is not particularly athletic, as evident in his struggles guarding UCLA center Adem Bona and Washington State's likewise athletic center Mouhamed Gueye. Nevertheless, Ballo characteristically uses his length and timing to achieve a high block rate by remaining close to the basket.

While Utah center Branden Carlson is not amazingly athletic himself, he can do something crucial that Gueye did. Against Ballo, Gueye drew Ballo away from the basket by posing a shooting threat from the mid-range, so that he could use his athleticism to drive past him.

Carlson will draw Ballo away from the basket by flexing his range. He is an excellent three-point shooter considering that he's a seven-foot center; his three-point conversion rate is 36.4 percent. By forcing Ballo to try to contest his three-point shots, Carlsen will open up spaces near the basket for his teammates to exploit.

One Utes player with good driving ability is Rollie Worster, an efficient scorer at the basket who relies on a low rate of assists. Among other Utes players, Worster with his handles and ability to beat his man off the dribble will punish Ballo for vacating the space in front of the basket to account for Carlson behind the arc.


Carlson's three-point shooting ability as a center is fundamental to Utah's intent to space out its opponents. Carlson is also by no means his team's only efficient three-point shooter. Power forward Ben Carlson achieves the same effect with his three-point shooting efficiency of over 40 percent in conference play.

While Utes' skeptics will point to the absence of Gabe Madsen, guard/forward Lazar Stefanovic can more than replace his production. When Utah beat Arizona 81-66, Stefanovic failed to make a three-pointer, although he is more efficient on the season than Madsen from deep.

Teams succeed against the Wildcats' defense by spacing it out. Washington State, for example, only lost by five to Arizona in the latter's revenge bid because the Cougars often failed to take advantage of the favorable three-point shot attempts that video footage shows them to generate often via good spacing.

Against the Wildcats' defense, opponents can penetrate inside or use the roller in the pick-and-roll. The Wildcats' defense is also known for favoring drop coverage, which encourages opponents to run pick-and-pop actions, as Carlson did in the first game, and otherwise to attempt jump shots.

By overhelping inside, Arizona's perimeter defense renders itself all the more vulnerable, and Utah has the personnel to take advantage.

Utah's Length

As evident in its games against Washington State plus its dependence on shooting threes against Stanford, Arizona often struggles to deal with length. This is relevant to note because Utah ranks eighth in height.

On ball screens (the ideally free-flowing Wildcats' offense employs a lot of ball screens) Carlson will execute drop coverage. Carlson's drop coverage and the Arizona frontcourt's lack of comfort with three-point shooting will ensure that Carlson remains near the basket.

At the basket, the lengthy Carlson is a solid rim protector who boasts the nation's 48th-highest block rate. He'll help prevent Arizona from getting easy looks at the basket.


Much of bettors' support for Arizona tonight appears simplistic. Supposedly, the Wildcats will get revenge, as if Utah in its goal to qualify for the NCAA Tournament was not strongly motivated.

Anyhow, the sample size for a Wildcats' revenge angle is meager because the Wildcats don't often lose. In their revenge bids, besides failing to cover the spread against Washington State, they did blow out Oregon. Against the Ducks, they were able to rely on a three-point shooting barrage.

But they won't be able to rely on this against a Utes' defense that ranks sixth nationally at limiting the opponent's three-point percentage. Utah's lineup is filled with lengthy players who gladly remain glued to spaced-out potential shooters while being aided by Carlson's rim-protecting presence behind them.

The Verdict

Utah has the tools (length, floor-spacing, rim protection, and perimeter defense) to challenge Arizona. The Wildcats' offense will be uncomfortable while Utah scorers' versatility will further help ensure that the Utes remain within cover range.

As for the total, while Utah's defense continues to thrive, Arizona's defense will display a stronger effort after its most recent debacle.

For your NCAAB picks, invest in the "Under" in addition to Utah ATS.

NCAAB Pick: Under 146.5 (-110) at BetOnline

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Under 146.5 (-110)
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*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.