Pac-12 Report Card, Volume V: The Honor RollPosted by AMurawa on February 5th, 2013
Professor Pac is back again this week with a progress report, but this time we’re going to try something new. Rather than go through all of the teams in one big ol’ honking post, we’re going to split these up into smaller bites: the honor roll (featuring the week’s best students), the solid students (the middle of the Pac), and the delinquents (those pupils that need to put in some extra work). Without further ado, let’s get things started with by checking in with the teacher’s pets.
Arizona – A
The Wildcats earned our team of the week honor by going on the road to Washington and coming away with the rare road sweep. While nothing the ‘Cats did as a team was insanely impressive, coupled with Oregon’s slip-ups in the Bay Area, Sean Miller and company are back into a tie for the conference lead and look like a team that could be about to turn it on.
Focus on: Kaleb Tarczewski. There has been talk about the need for the Arizona big guys to step up and take on a bigger role, especially offensively. This week Tarczewski was arguably the most effective offensive player for the ‘Cats. On Thursday in a game in which most everybody struggled offensively, “Zeus” had the highest offensive rating (111.0) on his team as he scored 10 points and pulled down eight boards. Against Washington State, he bettered that, posting an ORtg of 131.0 while again scoring 10 points and grabbing four boards. While he’s not exactly polished yet, and he still finds his way into foul trouble more often than not, the big fella is beginning to help take some of the pressure of Arizona’s perimeter players.
Looking ahead: The immediate future could be perilous for the Wildcats, despite a return to the McKale Center. The Bay Area schools come to Tucson and each is capable of causing trouble. Then following that, on Valentine’s Day, they’ll have to visit Boulder and a Colorado team ready to enact revenge for the Debacle in the Desert.
Utah – A
Last we saw the Utes, they were laying an absolute egg in possibly the worst in-conference performance by any team this seasaon in a 31-point loss at Stanford. With a Colorado team coming into the Huntsman Center on something of a roll, expecting the Utes to come away with a win looked to be fantasy territory. But, there they were, three-quarters of the way through their match-up with the Buffs and they held a 22-point lead. Disregard for a second the fact that they seemingly went out of their way to give it all back (they did, after all, hold on for a three-point win) and give credit to a team with any postseason likelihoods long since passed, with their best player watching from the bench with a knee injury and with a locker room experiencing some dissension, for bringing this type of effort.
Focus on: Jeremy Olsen. In the freshman’s first 19 games in a Ute uniform, Olsen never took off his warm-ups in 10 of those. When he did get some run, it was for brief stretches (he played 44 minutes in those nine games) and to little effect (18 points in 44 minutes). But he has played hard and stayed focused and in the midst of the Stanford embarrassment, he kept plugging away even with the game out of reach. Such effort earned him 14 minutes of action against Colorado and he made the most of that time, scoring 12 points on eight field goal attempts and hauling in three boards. That type of performance is likely to earn Olsen a spot in the rotation even with Jordan Loveridge expected back soon.
Looking ahead: With a road stretch ahead, the Utes have a chance to actually turn this one win into a streak, as last place Oregon State is the first stop. And hey, if they get through that, who’s to say that a team that has played a lot of tight games this year couldn’t sneak up and surprise an Oregon team that may still be without freshman point guard Dominic Artis?
USC – A
To apply an old line about rivalries like USC/UCLA: “If you only win one game all year, make sure it is against UCLA.” For USC, they’ll always be the little brother in the basketball edition of this rivalry, regardless of the relative strengths of the two teams in a given year, much like UCLA will always be the little bother in the football edition. There is too much tradition and success surrounding the Bruin basketball and Trojan football programs for it to be otherwise. So while UCLA players may not always place the highest emphasis on scoring a win over USC on the hardwood, you can bet USC does. And it showed last Wednesday night when the Trojans played with passion and aggression while the Bruins were passive and disinterested. The fact that the Trojans’ overtime win came inside Pauley Pavilion? That’s not just icing on the cake, that’s a whole heaping bowlful of ice cream as accompaniment for the cake.
Focus on: Eric Wise. In terms of emotional maturity, Wise may be a walk-on level guy (he’s picked up awful technicals on more than one occasion this season, twice coming close to costing USC wins as a result); but in terms of his physical skills and basketball IQ, he’s probably the Trojans’ best player. Wise does a little bit of everything well: he’s the team’s best three-point shooter (46.3%), he’s one of its best rebounders (13.8 DR%, 7.8 OR%), and he may be the team’s best passer. Against UCLA, just about all of that was on display, as he scored 12 points, grabbed 11 boards and handed out five assists all while spending just four of the game’s 45 minutes on the sidelines.
Looking ahead: Let’s see if the Trojans can use the UCLA game as a springboard, as they host Washington State and Washington this week – two very winnable games.
Stanford – A
The Cardinal have now won three games in a row and look very much like that team that used some sparkling offensive play to run to an NIT title last season. Over the course of their winning streak, they’ve averaged 1.18 points per possession, including better than one point per possession against Oregon, a national top 20 defensive team.
Focus on: Josh Huestis. More often than not, Huestis is about the fourth offensive option for the Cardinal. So, rather than wait around for people to create for him, he does his own work, hitting the offensive glass, getting aggressive going to the hoop, and even occasionally stepping outside and knocking down a jumper from deep. Over the course of the three-game winning streak, Huestis has grabbed 11 offensive boards (to go with 22 on the defensive end), scored 43 points (on just 24 field attempts!) and regularly been a disruptive force on the defensive end. Guys like Chasson Randle, Dwight Powell and even Aaron Bright may be larger parts of the offensive game plan, but Huestis certainly makes the most of his opportunities.
Looking ahead: The Cardinal are playing their best basketball of the season at the exact right time. With a win over #10 Oregon in the bag, they’ve got a chance to take on the toughest road trip in the Pac-12 this year – the Arizona swing – and come away with a couple of mighty impressive wins. Yep, the Cardinal are the team to watch this weekend.
Cal – A-
At this point, the Golden Bears will take whatever they can get and be happy with it. A couple of home wins by an average of three-and-a-half points over a depleted Oregon team and an Oregon State team that shoots itself in the foot on a regular basis? Yes, those count as very good wins, especially when a team has gone 5-8 in their previous 13 games.
Focus on: Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe. Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but Mike Montgomery really needs more out of these two. They are the only proven offensive threats on the team, and yet more often than not recently, you notice early in the second half that one or both of these guys is scoring their first field goal. Against Oregon on Saturday, for instance, Crabbe didn’t make his first jumper until the 17:39 mark in the second half (although, to be fair, he did have a couple dunks and a layup), while Cobbs’ first points came at the 14:21 mark. Against Oregon State, Cobbs’ first points came at the 5:52 mark in the first half. Against Colorado they combined for 10 first-half points; against Utah it was Cobbs scoring his fourth point with 10 minutes left in the game. I could go back further, but the point is, these two are the team’s catalysts and they haven’t been getting out of the gate quickly in recent games. And not surprisingly, the Bears have been trailing by an average of nine points at the half of their three most recent games.
Looking ahead: As we discussed above with Stanford, a trip to the Arizona schools this year is no picnic, quite a tough time for the Bears to try to get well.