Nov 18, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears guard Justin Cobbs (1) controls the ball against Southern Utah Thunderbirds guard Trey Kennedy (4) during the first half at Haas Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Gameday Preview: Cal vs. UC Irvine


 

Lets take a look at the upcoming game between Cal and the UC-Irvine Anteaters:

 

Location: Haas Pavilion
Conference: Big West
Record: 5-3 (NR)
Ranking: Unranked
Notable Wins: at. Washington (86-72), vs. Long Island (84-64)
SOS: 170th
Television: Pac-12 Network

Wednesday night, Cal lost out to the Dayton Flyers in the 3rd place game of the Maui Invitational tournament, their second of the year. Now they return home to take on sister school UC-Irvine, in a game which could be used a slump-buster going into the home-stretch of their non-conference schedule.

WHO ARE THE ANTEATERS

Nov 14, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies guard Nigel Williams-Goss (5) shoots the ball over UC Irvine Anteaters center Mamadou Ndiaye (34) during the 1st half at Alaska Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Anteaters are a great offensive club. Though they have already lost three games , they haven’t scored less than 68 points this season. Currently, they sit at 30th in the nation in offense (85.5 points scored/game). That said, they haven’t faced the best schedule. Other than a win against Washington and Long Island, their resume (so far) is lackluster at best.

I have to point out, this team loves to pass the ball, they play an unselfish, high-percentage style. They sit at 1st in the nation in assists (160) and 19th in field goal percentage (.512). The team does not take stupid chances on high-percentage shots that are likely to clank out. In fact, they are the 161st ranked team when it comes of three-point attempts (124).

Specifically about the assist number really gets me excited.

When looking at the starting line-up, the backcourt is really talented when it comes to passing the ball. The guard tandem of freshman Luke Nelson and senior Chris McNealy both average three assists per game (as well as 11 plus points per game). The offense runs through them.

However, the thing about tonight’s game is, Irvine has a center who could (by season’s end) be the best center in college basketball. Standing at 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye the tallest basketball player in the world. He’s also almost 300 pounds, which means his shot-blocking and rebounding abilities could really be troublesome for Cal tonight.

Ndiaye had 18 points, eight rebounds and a Big West Conference-record nine blocks in his third game at the college level against Pac-12 brethren Washington. He went on to brake his own record with 10 blocks against Eastern Washington. He will not be someone Cal will easily be able to deal with.

KEY MATCHUP

Nov 15, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears guard Jabari Bird (23) celebrates after a three point basket against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies during the second half at Haas Pavilion. The California Golden Bears defeated the Oakland Golden Grizzlies 64-60. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The match up to watch has to be the battle of the backcourts. You have Nelson and McNealy, who rarely make mistakes, taking on the Justin Cobbs and Jabari Bird. The pair of players, in a lot of ways, are mirror images of each other. Sure, Cobbs and Bird are better known and play at a program that comes more highly regarded than the Irvine program. However, what kind of game these two sets of backcourts play is similar enough.

Cobbs is a better distributer and court general than Nelson, McNealy or Bird. If he can play like he did against Dayton (31 points, 1 assist, 2 blocks, 3 turnovers), this game could be long for Irvine. Bird, on the other hand, has been fairly inconsistent. He looked great against Oakland and Syracuse, but then he was shut down by Dayton. While I have no doubt that he is going to be a force once the Pac-12 regular season starts up, he still a question mark right now. He will need a little bit of a better showing in order to win this game.

When it comes down to it, Cal cannot afford to turn the ball over or miss shots, leading to more possession time for an Irvine team that loves to take their time to get their shot. Irvine doesn’t make stupid mistakes, and if you give them too many opportunities to score, they will make you pay. The ball goes through the backcourt.

PREDICTION

Nov 15, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears guard Justin Cobbs (1) controls the ball in the final seconds against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies during the second half at Haas Pavilion. The California Golden Bears defeated the Oakland Golden Grizzlies 64-60. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, this is an easy win. Cal wins because they already have faced some really good teams while Irvine is still waiting to take on an opponent of Cal’s caliber. But when looking at what Irvine brings to the table, how smart they are, how balanced they are, it becomes tricky to just hand this game to Cal.

Cal will be in a high-scoring war with Irvine. They likely will not be able to crash the boards with Ndiaye sitting there in the middle. I’m not banking on David Kravish having a good game (to be fair, I doubt that Richard Solomon would have a good game against Ndiaye if he was out their either).

I predict a close game for 30-35 minutes of the game, but I see Cal slowly getting past Irvine, because they may not be able to get easy shots to fall in against this Cal team (easily the best team Irvine has played all season).

Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: Cal Golden Bears Cal Hoops Chris McNealy David Kravish Jabari Bird Justin Cobbs Luke Nelson Mamadou Ndiaye Richard Solomon UC-Irvine Anteaters

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