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.
With The ‘Cats In Need Of An Interior Offensive Presence, “Zeus” Has Stepped Up Of Late (Dean Hare, AP Photo)
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?
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