Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cal Basketball Preview #1

Turnabout is fair play.

Last night was an eerily similar reprise of the CU/Stanford series from last season.  The game ended in a 21-point blowout, there was a massive rebounding disparity (18), and one of the teams comfortably shot over 50%.  Of course, the big difference was that it was the Buffaloes doing it to the Cardinal, rather than the other way around.
It was good to get back into the CEC.  From: the BDC
Questions about toughness and competitiveness melted away over 40 minutes of pure domination.  There was no "home whistle" pushing the Buffs to victory (quite the opposite, in fact), no streaky shooting fluking the scoreboard.  CU simply out-manned the Cardinal.  The resulting 75-54 win not only excised some of the Stanford pall still draped over memories from last season, but it also hints that the team has recaptured it's lost swagger.

It was the best start to finish game I've seen the team play since Charleston, and it marked the first time in weeks that I thought the team was really having fun out on the court.  All five starters notched double digits, and even Ben Mills found a way to chip in four points as the clock ticked towards zero. They shared the ball well (12 assists), and spread the scoring around.

While every player in home white played a fantastic game, it was Andre Roberson who stole the show.  12 points, 20 rebounds, three blocks, three steals, and two assists - it was the best individual performance by any one CU player this season.  He was flying everywhere after the ball, and nobody - Cardinal or Buff - was going to stand in his way.  Hopefully, when it comes time to vote on Pac-12 defensive player of the year someone slips this game film in front of the voters, because further discussion will become mute.
Whose ball?  'Dre's Ball!  From: the BDC
The only question remaining after last night: can they carry the momentum forward?  We'll find out SaturdaySunday against Cal.


Tipoff from the CEC is set for 1:30pm MT tomorrowSunday.  Those of you with DirecTV are in luck, because the game can be seen on ROOT Sports/FSN.  If you can't even find that, Mark Johnson will have his radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

You had to know it was coming.  After clawing past the Oregon Ducks the previous evening, there was no doubt in my mind that CU would push past Cal in the Pac-12 semi-finals for their first-ever title game appearance.  The team didn't disappoint, riding a +10-point advantage in the second half to a 70-59 win.

As was often the case in Los Angeles, senior Carlon Brown lead the way, scoring 17/5 to pad his tournament MVP credentials.  With me roaring in the "student section" at Staples, Carlon capped the win with this awe-inspiring windmill dunk:
(Achievement unlocked: EXCLAMATION POINT)

Not to be outdone, 'Dre had a nearly perfect night himself, posting 17/9 via 6-6 shooting from the floor.

Of all the four games in LA, this one felt the "easiest" to me.  Some might want to bring up CU's opening round win over Utah, but if you watched that game you'd know it was a struggle.  Against Cal, CU was playing some of it's best basketball, which they needed to best the conference's #2-seed.

Opponent's season so far - 

Much like their Bay Area brothers at Stanford, the Cal Golden Bears have struggled to live up to pre-season expectations.  Unlike with Stanford, however, I didn't share in that lofty outlook.  The departure of heavily relied upon seniors Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp was always going to hurt Cal, and the idea of the Bears receiving two first place votes in the pre-season poll was shocking to me.  Not that they're devoid of talent or anything, it's just that a third-place finish and regular season title contention seemed wayyyyyy out of reach for them.
With Kamp and Gutierrez gone, the Cal roster just doesn't seem as imposing.
In fact, Cal has played about how I expected.  Scoring decent, but not great, wins over Denver, Georgia Tech, and USC to go along with a pre-conference tournament title makes for a solid transitional season. So you didn't beat Wisconsin, UNLV, or UCLA.  Few teams have. Their 11-7 (3-3) record isn't anything to be ashamed of.

Offensively, this team is all about inside the arc.  Not only do they take an extremely low amount of threes (only about one-in-five shot attempts is a three, that's lowest in the nation), but they hit a paltry 31% when they do try to stretch the defense.  As a result, advanced shooting stats, like eFG, which weight three-point makes, are unkind to the Golden Bears (eFG of 47.5%, 200th nationally).  They're still scoring 1.05 ppp, however, so it's not as if this team is completely impotent.

On defense, they've been doing a great job forcing bad shots, but have been getting lit up on the offensive boards.  Specifically in conference play, while they've been limiting opponents to a league best 42.2% eFG, they're still giving up over one point per possession.  Why?  They're dead last in offensive rebounding percentage, allowing 37.3%.  They just don't have enough quality rebounders to limit second chances.  'Dre and Josh Scott should have a field day.

Coaching - 

A year after recovering from a successful surgery to remove bladder cancer, Cal Coach Mike Montgomery is still a fixture on the Berkeley sidelines.  But, for how long?  In light of both that health scare and his advancing age, many Cal fans and followers have been openly questioning how long the West Coast legend will continue to coach.
"I didn't hear any fat lady."
My guess is at least one more season.  He recently received a two-year extension on his contract, and is about to sign a strong recruiting class highlighted by top-10 talent Jabari Bird. If you secure the extension and work hard to sign the players, you might as well see the thing to it's logical conclusion.

Star Players - 

It's the Allen Crabbe show in Berkeley.  The 6-6 junior is the Pac-12 leader in scoring, dropping nearly 20 points per game. He's been their main scoring threat since showing up on campus in 2010, and earned well-deserved All-Pac-12 honors last season.  Crabbe is a bucket-getter, plain and simple.  Case in point, yesterday against Utah, with his team struggling with turnover issues, Allen took over at two key stretches to keep the Utes at bay.  His 23 point performance in Cal's 62-57 win was the difference between winning and losing.
"Chill guys, I got this." From: the SF Examiner.
Other than Crabbe, the only Bear you have to worry about putting up big numbers is 6-3  shooting guard Justin Cobbs.  The two pair nicely together, and form one of the best back-court tandems in the conference.  Unsurprisingly, they both see the court for about 88% of available minutes.  One thing that Cobbs could be doing a lot better with this year is his outside shot.  After hitting on 41% of his three-point attempts last season, he's well under 30% this year.
If Crabbe is Batman, then Cobbs is Robin.
Unfortunately for Cal, outside of Crabbe and Cobbs, there just hasn't been much dependable production. If you can contain the pair, you've got the Bears in the bag.

Cal's starting point guard should be a familiar name to BasketBuffs.  It's Tyrone Wallace, he of the lost recruiting battle of 2011. The recruiting miss is especially frustrating in light of his strong start.  The 6-4 freshman has been posting 7/5/3 each night, and looks like a future All-Pac-12-type player.
Jealousy is a stinky cologne.
David Kravish (a one-time CU target) and Richard Solomon patrol the paint.  The pair combines for 15/14, but their rebounding rates just aren't high enough to worry a team like CU.  Compared to some of the front-courts CU has seen in recent weeks, this is a bunch that, both statistically and physically, just isn't all that imposing.

Yes, they still have Bak Bak.
I swear I had something for this.

Prediction -  

Well, if CU comes out like they did last night, few teams have any hope of beating the Buffs at home. Cal is no exception. Their strengths (guard play) and weaknesses (interior, outside shooting) play right into the Buffs' hands.

After last night, I'd be a damned fool to predict anything other than a CU victory.  As long as the Buffs don't let the breezy win over Stanford to get into their heads, this looks like a great match-up.  At home, with a full C-Unit behind them, I expect no surprises, and a solid Buffalo victory.

CU 73 - Cal 62


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