Hype Music for the Evening: "Poker Face" by
Did I sing this last night during the annual New Year's Eve Rock Band-a-thon? You betcha!
Tip-off from Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, CA is set for 9pm this evening. If you're not still too hung over from your New Year's revelry, or swamped with bowl action, why not click over to Pac-12 Networks, where you'll find the broadcast (how novel). More of a radio call person, now with the experience of the classically presented Penn State game in your back pocket? Well, Mark Johnson's got you on... well, I'm not sure since none of the stations have it listed. Uhhhhh... 850? Yeah, I'll say 850.
Click below for the preview...
When last we met -
The Buffs seemed to have a lot going for them in last season's lone tilt with Cal. For the first time in the calendar year 2015, every eligible scholarship athlete was available, they were playing a 'beatable' team on friendly hardwood, and even 'The Mayor' Spencer Dinwiddie was in attendance. Yet still, Colorado struggled on both ends of the court, playing a tentative brand of offense and leaking like a sieve defensively. They manged to spin up a faint chance to steal the win late, but striking distance was as close as they would get, with CU slumping to a 68-61 final.
|Rare photo: Tad trying to take a time out. From: the BDC|
Beyond just the defensive issues, however, the loss was particularly painful because the Buffs were still playing tentative and inefficient basketball on offense. Looking back on the flow and rhythm with the basketball last season, it's startling how stilted and awkward everything was. Against Cal, CU was held under 37% from the field, to only 3-of-10 from beyond the arc, and continued to pass up open looks to hit a cutter or shoot. The result: another slow, drawn out affair with Colorado scoring under one point per possession -- somewhat of a common occurrence in '14-'15. For the record, the Buffs were 13-4 last season when they scored over that Mendoza line, 3-14 when they didn't. This season: 11-0 over, 0-2 under. The proof is in the pudding; sometimes, you just need to score some fucking points.
|Josh fought through lingering back pain for a nice night, but he was mostly alone. From: the BDC|
Star Players -
The big news in Berkeley this season was the arrival of two bona fide blue-chip recruits in the forms of swingman Jaylen Brown and power forward Ivan Rabb. The pair, along with fellow freshman Roman Davis (taking a redshirt), formed a shocking top-10 recruiting class for the bayside Bears, one that raised eyebrows across the country, and made them a national player overnight. Breaking down the particulars of how the duo ended up at Cal is best left up to others, but it should be noted that Brown paid his way on lone visit to the school, something that ain't exactly normal. These kids wanted to be Golden Bears bad, and it helped reinvent the narrative of Bay Area basketball in the post-Mike Montgomery era in an instant.
|The arrival of Brown has everyone in Bekeley excited. From: CalBears.com|
Not to be outdone, Rabb, a 6-11 power forward from Oakland, has been making the more impressive statistical impact this season. A massive upgrade over what the Bears have featured in the post in recent years, Ivan is a rim protector defensively and a reliable offensive option in the paint. He's not going to cause too much damage away from the rim, but, when he's got the ball and is in close, he is a terror. Overall, the young Rabb is averaging 12 and 9 while posting a 125 ORtg and nice rebounding rates (top-25 nationally on the offensive glass). He knows his role, and uses his weapons strategically. I would imagine Josh Scott pulls the assignment here, which may prove vital if he can pick up a quick foul or two on your youngster.
|Ivan Rabb is also making an immediate impact as a freshman on the Bay. From: SFGate.com|
Most importantly, though, is that he has a nose for the moment, and is the guy the Gold Bears really rely on in crunch time. While Brown and Rabb grabbed the offseason headlines and add the scoring flair Cal has often been missing, it's Wallace who will be in charge of getting the team to where they want to be this winter. It's easier now, with Colorado's point guard situation seemingly settling down, but, for a while, the recruiting miss on Wallace was a back-breaker in Boulder. Even still, he would look tantalizingly good in Black-and-Gold.
|Ty Wallace is still as dangerous as ever. From: USA Today.|
Past the starting five, Cal's quality drops off a bit. This is probably a seven man rotation, at best, in league play, with Sam Singer and Kameron Rooks getting the first calls off the bench. Singer, the backup point and a spot starter last season, is in the Dwight Tarwater mold (does a lot of different things, not all of them well), while the 7-0 Rooks adds size in the paint when Rabb or Brown come off. Junior forward Stephen Domingo can also feature, but, like Singer and Rooks, won't be winning any sixth man awards anytime soon.
The Golden Bears in '15-'16 -
Once, back at the start of all this mess, the Bears were a sexy pick to win the Pac-12 in '15-'16. With a four-year-starter at the point, that eye-opening pair of incoming freshman stars, and an all-around package built around length and athleticism, it was easy to project good things for the Berkeley Boys this winter. SBNation even tabbed them as the 'closest thing to a NBA team in college basketball.' Now, however, a lot of people (including myself) have gone back to sleeping on Cal, passing them over for brighter starlets like Arizona and Oregon. This though process was helped along by disappointing early season performances against a bad San Diego State team, an even worse Wyoming squad, and an average bunch from Richmond. With the benefit of hindsight, they're still a good team, but maybe without the ceiling once thought.
|As talented as they are, Cal has not been immune to some hiccups. From: SD Union Tribune|
What really makes them elite is their interior defense. Top-50 in FG% defense at the rim, #3 nationally in FG% on two-point jumpers (24.8%), they do not allow easy looks inside. The reason? Length and athleticism. They got size everywhere (7th nationally in average height), they can all recovery quickly, and hands seem to come out of random angles to disrupt. As a result, it can take a bit to find a quality look against these guys, evidenced by the 18.3 seconds opponents are averaging per possession this season. Colorado has leveraged their advantage inside this season, using it to open up looks on the perimeter, but that may just not be there tonight.
|The freshmen have made it tougher to score inside against the Bears. From: CSN Bay Area|
Offensively, they get a lot off of basic penetration from Wallace, Bird, and Brown, using it to open up quality inside looks for Rabb and back-breaking open outside looks from Mathews. CU has routinely proven to be susceptible to this brand of attacking guards off the wing, and that should be the weak point this evening. Helpfully, outside of Mathews, this is not a particularly strong 3-point shooting club, but the paint, and avenues into it, is really where this battle will be won and lost. If ever an opponent called for a pack-line, it's this one.
Head Coach Cuonzo Martin returns for his second season, having quickly turned the Golden Bears into a national entity. Run out of Tennessee by some real yokels, the Cal faithful have to be happy with the caliber of coach that seemingly fell into their lap. Sure, the 18-15 record in '14-'15 was nothing special, but the recruiting speaks for itself -- in this last class, Martin was the only coach in America to sign two players in the ESPN top-10, a feat usually reserved for the Calipari's of the world. Momentum moves quickly in the hoops world, and it all seems to be trending upwards in Berkeley.
|Martin has the Cal program headed in the right direction. From: Vice Sports|
My record last year: 11-9. Against the spread: 11-9. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -2.05 pt/gm)
Lines as of Thursday @ 8pm - CU +4.5, O/U 144.5
A lot of this one comes down to what happens up front. CU's post duo of Josh Scott and Wes Gordon have the experience, but Rabb and Brown are NBA stars in the making. On the opening day of Pac-12 play, that experience advantage up front is very enticing. The X-factor, however, is Ty Wallace. The kid is a unique, tenacious attacker. If he's opening things up in penetration, Colorado could get in real trouble real quick.
In the end, I really do believe this comes down to transition. Do the Buffs get the flow opened up, or are they stuck in the muck in a 67 possession game? I'll say, on the road, the pace stays where we saw it in Las Vegas, CU again struggles with offensive rhythm, and Cal gets enough off the dribble to squeak out a close win. Nothing shameful, though, should be a good game.
Cal 74 - CU 70
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE BEARS!