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Oregon (26-6) vs. Arizona (25-7)
This is a microcosm of the battle between Oregon’s speed and Arizona’s size that could define this game. Boucher is the rare big man who can protect the paint on defense and stretch the floor on offense. His rail-thin 6-foot-10, 200-pound frame hasn’t stopped him from blocking a Pac-12-best 3.2 shots per game, and his sweet shooting stroke and smooth athleticism allow him to pop for threes or roll to the rim for dunks.
Tarczewski is Boucher’s polar opposite: huge, lumbering, ground-bound and incapable of scoring outside of the low block. At seven feet tall and 235 pounds, his size alone is an effective deterrent at the rim — just look at all the layups Colorado missed against the Wildcats on Thursday.
But Tarczewski won’t be able to protect the rim if he’s chasing Boucher all over the court. The Ducks should use Boucher as a screener often when Tarczewski is guarding him, as that would open up the paint for their guards to penetrate. Conversely, Boucher may struggle with Tarczewski’s size inside when they’re battling for rebounding position.
The last time these teams played, Oregon ended Arizona’s 54-game home winning streak, and it’s hard to imagine a different outcome this time. The Wildcats have owned the Pac-12 over the past few years, mostly because the talent gap between them and the rest of the conference has been gaping. That’s not the case this season, and they match up poorly with the Ducks in particular.
Oregon often plays capable three-point shooters at all five positions; Arizona’s shooting has been inconsistent outside of guard Gabe York. The Wildcats are bigger across the board, but the Ducks are more athletic. Both teams push the pace offensively, and they love to run off of turnovers, but Oregon turns the ball over so rarely that Arizona’s transition opportunities will be limited. Unless the Ducks get into foul trouble — they play only a seven-man rotation — they should be able to handle the Wildcats again.
Prediction: Oregon 87, Arizona 82
Utah (25-7) vs. Cal (23-9)
Watch this matchup: Utah center Jakob Poeltl vs. Cal forward Ivan Rabb
These guys almost single-handedly got their teams to this game. Poeltl cut USC apart on Thursday with his scintillating passing and overwhelmed them with his size and skill. Rabb abused Oregon State’s overmatched bigs from buzzer to buzzer, and sealed Cal’s win with a clutch and-one and a block.
On paper, Poeltl has every advantage. He’s not only the Pac-12 Player of the Year, but the best center in the country. He’s bigger and longer than Rabb, and has uncommon skill for a college sophomore. Poeltl is deadly efficient on offense and smothering on defense.
Rabb has been inconsistent throughout his freshman year, but his 21-point, 15-rebound, four-block performance against Oregon State showed what he’s capable of. Replicating that against Poeltl will — literally — be a tall task. Few who enter the torture chamber of being guarded by Poeltl on the block emerge with their stat lines intact. But Rabb has his own array of low-post moves, including a fadeaway jumper and a nice face-up game that he broke out against Oregon State. He’ll have to bring both of those, because he can’t overpower Poeltl in the post. No one in college basketball can.
Poeltl will eat offensively, too, because he’s simply too good not to. There aren’t many holes in his post-up game, and if Cal is smart it’ll guard Poeltl one-on-one for most of the game and let him get his, because Utah is most dangerous when opponents double-team Poeltl. If the double comes from inside, he’ll make a pocket pass to find the open big. If it comes from the perimeter, he’ll kick it out and start a ball-movement sequence that’ll invariably end in a good shot. Cal doesn’t have anyone — even Rabb — who can check Poeltl one-on-one. But its best chance to win will come from letting him get his and denying everyone else. That’s easier said than done, though, and it sill might not be enough.
Prediction: Utah 81, Cal 69