Barring an Oregon State-like run to the Pac-12 conference tournament title next week, the University of Utah’s men’s basketball team won’t be playing in the NCAA Tournament this year. 

That fact became evident months ago.

Utah State transfer Marco Anthony, who has emerged as the Runnin’ Utes’ most consistent and best all-around player, says he will miss playing in the Big Dance after getting there with Virginia in 2017-18 and 2018-19 as a freshman and sophomore, and with the Aggies last year.

But that doesn’t mean the versatile 6-foot-5 senior from San Antonio, Texas, is having second thoughts about playing out his college eligibility at rebuilding Utah.

“I don’t regret it at all. I really value the decision I made and I really felt like it was best for me at the time. The group of guys I am with now are great and I really love being here.” — Senior guard Marco Anthony, on transferring from Utah State to Utah

“I don’t regret it at all,” Anthony said last week. “I really value the decision I made and I really felt like it was best for me at the time. The group of guys I am with now are great and I really love being here.”

Having scored a team-high 19 points in Utah’s heartbreaking 63-61 loss to Arizona State on Saturday night, a loss that will doom the Utes (11-18, 4-15) to 10th or 11th place in the final Pac-12 standings, Anthony has another decision to make soon.

Will the graduate transfer take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted to all student-athletes by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21 and come back next year? 

“I have no idea right now,” Anthony told the Deseret News. “I am just locked into the (rest of the season).”

Swept by the Arizona schools last week after having swept the Bay Area schools the week prior, the Utes have one regular-season game remaining — against Colorado (19-10, 11-8) on Saturday at the Huntsman Center. The Buffaloes upset No. 2 Arizona 79-63 and will also have a full week to prepare for the regular-season finale.

David Jenkins Jr., Both Gach and Riley Battin are also listed as seniors on Utah’s roster, and in roughly the same boat as Anthony. All four “seniors” have decisions to make as “Senior Night” approaches.

So does coach Craig Smith in regards to which players he wants to return, although Smith hasn’t shared his thoughts publicly on that matter.

He’d be crazy to not want Anthony back, however.

Anthony has scored in double figures in five of the Utes’ last eight games, and leads the team in rebounds (7.4 per game). He is averaging 9.1 points a game, third-most on the team.

“We are just a selfless team,” he said. “Our main goal is to win games, and nobody is looking at their own individual statistics or things like that. We are all just trying to impact winning.”

Deja vu: How the Runnin’ Utes lost another heartbreaker to Arizona State
Some positives emerged for Runnin’ Utes in blowout loss to No. 2 Arizona

The impact Anthony has had on the Utes was especially noticeable, in hindsight, by considering how they played when he missed the BYU, USC and Cal games in late November and early December. The Utes went 1-2 in that stretch, losing 75-64 to BYU, 93-73 to USC and beating Cal 66-58, the first of two wins over Cal that could get them the higher seed if they tie with the Bears in the final Pac-12 standings.

Utes, Buffs on the air

Utah (11-18, 4-15) vs. Colorado (19-10, 11-8)

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. MST

At Jon M. Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City


Radio: ESPN AM 700

“He has had a really great season,” Smith said. “He is a supreme athlete. I told him a few weeks ago, ‘I don’t know if I have ever seen you this athletic.’ The way he is moving, the way he is exploding off of two feet … obviously he is very gifted that way.”

Anthony also draws the defensive assignment of guarding the best player on opposing teams. Sun Devils star Jalen Graham struggled to score against Anthony, but generally had his way with Utah’s other defenders when Anthony was out of the game. Graham finished with 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting and made two free throws with 48 seconds left to give ASU a 61-59 lead.

“We subbed Marco out, and that is when (Graham) really got going in the first half,” Smith said.

Guard Marreon Jackson scored the game-winner with six seconds left, after Graham hit the game-winner with four seconds left on Jan. 17 in Tempe.

“It was just blown coverage on our end. But at the end of the day it doesn’t come down to that,” Anthony said. “You can talk about that middle 20, you can talk about just our first half, getting down. And you can talk about my missed free throws (he was 4 of 6). There is just a lot of stuff that goes into that loss.”

What’s next?

Smith attributed the losses to the Arizona schools to the Utes being “on our heels the whole game” against Arizona and backpedaling too much for the middle 20 minutes against the Sun Devils (12-16, 8-10).

“We gotta roll our sleeves up and get back to work,” he said. “That is not us (not attacking). We have a full week here, and we are going to use it to practice, and get better. We gotta finish this thing out right against a Colorado team that has been playing very well.”