Busting Brackets

NCAA Basketball: BYU, Butler, and Ole Miss among 10 biggest surprises of 2023-24 season

Jumpman Classic: North Carolina v Oklahoma
Jumpman Classic: North Carolina v Oklahoma / Grant Halverson/GettyImages
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9. Utah Utes

It should come as no surprise that Craig Smith -- who led South Dakota to back-to-back 20+ win seasons and Utah State to three-straight 20+ win seasons -- has the Utes firmly in position to make the NCAA Tournament in this third year leading the Utes.

Yet, here I am talking about Utah as a “surprise” team. Ironic, right?

Utah, who was picked to finish 7th in the 2023-2024 PAC-12 Preseason Poll, stands at 9-2 with their only losses coming to Houston and St. John’s at the Charleston Classic.

The metrics seem to love the Utes too, where the NET has Utah ranked 25th and KenPom has Utah ranked 31st -- all strong numbers for an NCAA Tournament-hopeful/caliber team.

Led by Branden Carlson (16.8 Pts, 6.2 Reb, 1.6 Ast) alongside Gabe Madsen (14.2 Pts, 4.0 Reb, 2.1 Ast), Kebia Keita (9.2 Pts, 6.4 Reb, 0.4 Ast) and Rollie Worster (10.4 Pts, 5.3 Reb, 6.2 Ast), the experience-laden Utes have put together strong wins over Wake Forest, Saint Mary’s on the road (although Saint Mary’s has struggled, winning in Moraga is never easy) and a convincing win over BYU at home.

In addition, thanks to the two-time transfer immediate eligibility rule, Mississippi State/Georgia Tech transfer Deivon Smith recently became eligible, marking increased depth at the guard spot for Craig Smith and Co.

This Utah team continues to be fun to watch -- specifically with their efficient offense stemming from high/low action and ability to shoot the three ball.

Despite the lack of buzz surrounding the Utes in the preseason, their strong play through their first 11 games gives this team plenty of upside heading into PAC-12 play and even the NCAA Tournament.