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IT’S EARLY, BUT WEST COULD SEE U. AS TOP SEED

SHARE IT’S EARLY, BUT WEST COULD SEE U. AS TOP SEED

Rick Majerus hates speculating about anything beyond tomorrow's practice, so he's not going to like anyone speculating about his team's chances for a high NCAA seed a month before Selection Sunday.

Sorry, coach, but the fans as well as the media enjoy that sort of speculation. So here goes.How about the Utes as a No. 1 seed in the West? OK, OK it may seem preposterous, especially to Majerus. But if the Utes run out the string and win their last seven WAC games as well as the WAC tourney, they'll be in great position to claim a top seed.

Of course that's a big if, which could go poof Saturday night against a tough Colorado State team in Fort Collins.

But it's likely the Utes could get a No. 1 seed if they win their last 10 games. Because . . .

- At that point, their record would be 28-3, better than most teams in the nation.

- The NCAA likes No. 1 seeds to come from their own region when possible, and the Utes may already be the best in the West.

- The Utes would certainly be in the top five in the polls as well as in the RPI rankings, which the NCAA uses to select its teams and make its seeds.

The Utes are currently ranked seventh in both major polls, are ninth in the USA Today's computer rankings and 10th in the RPI computer rankings.

They're also ranked No. 1 in the nation in three different categories - free throw shooting, rebound margin and field-goal percentage defense and are in the top 10 in two more, scoring margin (seventh) and scoring defense (ninth).

"We're not the seventh-best team or even the 17th best," sniffs Majerus. "It means nothing. It's a great device for the fans and makes for good conversation at the water cooler. None of it matters to me."

Whether Majerus wants to admit it or not, the Utes are one of the best in the nation, and if they don't watch out they could end up with a No. 1 or 2 seed come March 10.

FREE THROWS: Utah's free throw shooting has been slipping in recent games but is still above the 80-percent mark at 80.1 percent.

The Utes are well ahead of the second-place team, which happens to be Weber State at 77.4 percent, and third-place BYU at 75.5 (it must be the water here in Utah).

Ben Caton leads the WAC in free throw shooting at 90.2 percent and is No. 6 in the nation. Michael Doleac is second in the WAC at 86.2 and No. 21 in the nation. The No. 1 free throw shooter in the country, by the way, is Mike Dillard of Sam Houston State at 100 percent with 39 of 39.

WAC'S BEST: Keith Van Horn finally earned WAC player of the week honors for last week's play even though he didn't play all that well in the win over UTEP. But Van Horn deserves some recognition from the WAC for the way he is dominating the league for the second straight year.

He ranks second in both scoring (20.8) and rebounding (8.9), he's fourth in field goal percentage (51.6), fifth in free throw percentage (82.9) and sixth in 3-point shooting (38.5).

It will be a shock if anyone besides Van Horn wins WAC player of the year honors again this year.