Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, March 1, 2013

2013 Cal Basketball Preview #2

Confidence.  Both the Bears and Buffs are brimming with it headed into tonight's game.

For CU it's a matter of finally feeling comfortable on the road.  Winning three straight away from Boulder is almost unheard of for the program, but Tad Boyle's crew of road warriors have done just that.

With Cal, it's a matter of simply being the hottest team in the West.  Since losing at the CEC in late January, the Bears have gone on a 8-1 run, which has catapulted them in Tournament and Pac-12 title contention.

Yet, someone is going to have that confidence busted tomorrow night.  The winner will have the inside track for a top-4 seed in Las Vegas, along with an outside shot at stealing the regular season title.  The loser will have to look forward to playing on March 13th, while still fretting over bracketology for another week.

There's plenty on the line in Berkeley - you may not have noticed, but the calendar now reads March. Things are getting serious...

Tip-off from Haas Pavillion is set for 3pm MT tomorrow.  Coverage can be found on ESPNU.  Mark Johnson and the radio call have been bumped from 850 to AM760 as a result of Rockies spring training.

For reference, my preview from the first game can be found here.

Click below for my preview of the rematch...

When last we met - 

I didn't think much of it at the time, but CU's 81-71 win over the Golden Bears back in January has turned out to be huge.  I had assumed that the earlier win over Stanford would be the real prize, and essentially dismissed the Bears before the game even started.  Now, with Cal surging down the stretch, that 10-point victory looks gilded when slotted into the resume.

Of course, it wasn't an easy win to secure.  Barely two minutes into the game, Andre Roberson was called for his second foul and had to retire to the bench.  Any worries that CU would struggle with the loss of their junior leader, however, were laid to rest when Xavier Johnson decided to step up.  In the first half alone he would drop 10/8 on his way to a brilliant 18/12 line that set career highs in both categories.  Buoyed by the freshman's monster performance, the Buffs cruised to a 16-point halftime lead.
Coach Boyle had to turn to 'Big X' to keep the Buffs rolling.  From: the BDC
Cal, however, wasn't ready to throw in the towel.  The dynamic guard duo of Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe began to get white-heat hot, hitting nearly everything they attempted.  Over the game's final 20 minutes, they would combine for 33 points after only scoring a combined 10 in the opening frame.  Unfortunately for them and the Bears, CU was just too far ahead, and Cal was never allowed to get within nine.

The key for the Buffs was a balanced, efficient attack.  While Cal only really had two scoring threats, the Buffs brought four to the table.  Askia Booker (20 points), Johnson (18), Spencer Dinwiddie (16), and Roberson (15) each cracked double-figures, leaving Cal with a devil's bargain on defense.  Even coughing up 20 turnovers, CU never really looked pressed to keep the Bears at bay.

Even Ski got hot.  From: the BDC
As a bonus, the win got the Buffs back to .500 after their sluggish 1-4 start to conference play.  Since then, the Buffs have won five of seven.  In retrospect, that home-stand sweep over the NorCal schools may have been the catalyst towards something special.

Since then... - 

Famously, Cal has been playing the best basketball in the region since the teams first met in late January.  Their lone loss over the last month came @ASU, and was quickly erased by a major upset @Arizona.  Excusing the minor stumble in Tempe, they were essentially flawless in February. 
Crabbe and the Bears stunned Cal in Tucson.
Winning eight of nine is no easy task, but the reason is slightly different than what you would think.  Super guards Crabbe and Cobbs have been getting all the accolades, but it has been defense keying the Cal run.  The Bears have held their conference opponents to an eFG near 44%, and haven't allowed a team to crack 70 on them since the Buffs did it.  Further, they've kept opponents under 40% shooting in five of their last six contests, a stretch that started with their upset win in Tucson. To put that into perspective, CU shot nearly 60% from the floor last time these two played, which now looks like a complete aberration.

In fact, Cal's offense simply isn't that efficient.  In conference play they've been scoring only .987 ppp, good only for 10th in the Pac-12.  They just don't get to the line enough to really put quality points up on the board, and have to hope either Crabbe or Cobbs gets hot enough to have a major impact on the scoreboard.  If the defense falters, or the dynamic duo has a shaky game, then this group will be in trouble.
Defense, more than Crabbe and Cobbs, has been fueling the recent run.
Of course, that may not be much of a threat at home.  Since opening their conference home slate against Washington with a horrific 62-47 loss, the Golden Bears have been a perfect 6-0 in Haas.  CU will have to play well offensively to beat the Bears in Berkeley.  A key would be grabbing numerous offensive rebounds, as Cal is 10th in Pac-12 play in defensive rebounding rate.

Why things could be different - 

You have to look at this like a completely different Cal team.  The parts are all the same, but the swagger is something entirely new.  They now expect to win, especially at home, and can smell a trip to the Dance.  CU's new-found comfort away from Boulder is going to be seriously put to the test.

Of course, for the Buffs the big news is that Josh Scott is expected to return from his concussion suffered at the hands of ASU.  He didn't have a big first game against Cal, only scoring five points in 25 minutes, but his presence allows for a more comfortable front court rotation.  For example, Jeremy Adams, who has been hot in Josh's absence, will now be a bonus, rather than a necessity.
Josh's head has finally stopped spinning.
 I have to think the Buffs still matchup well as a result.  Cal doesn't have any interior presence that will push CU's front court, and the Buffs are one of the few teams who can guard Crabbe and Cobbs straight up.  The only question remaining is: can the Buffs score on the Golden Bears?  The trick will be getting to the line, and converting on second chances.

Prediction - 

Cal has been the story over the past month, but it's worth noting that both teams are 8-2 over their past 10, with CU holding a win over the Bears during that run.  Maybe it's the Buffs who should be getting all the accolades that come with surging towards the Tournament...

If there's any team that can halt Cal's run, it's Colorado.  They matchup well in key areas, and are playing in rhythm. 

If the win over Stanford was sweet, this one would ice the cake.  With Jelly back in the fold, I like the Buffs to pull off the upset, and cement their Tournament status.

CU 67 - Cal 63 


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