Cal Men’s Basketball through November: Six Wins, One Loss
It is generally true that, when all (however defined) is going well, things are not as good as they seem, and when the bad predominates, things are not really as bad as they seem.
Bear fans should keep this in mind.
In the six victories to date, Cal has averaged a differential of 21 points over their opponents. The closest score was in the last game against McNeese State, where the margin was 16.
The loss to Missouri, 92-53, only 8 days ago, was sobering, in the way that it exposed the team that otherwise had looked to be pretty good.
If the score is not enough of a contrast with the other games, consider some of the statistics, showing first statistics without including the Missouri game and then in the Missouri game alone:
Team field goal percentage, 50.9%. Against Missouri, 29.8%.
Three point field goal percentage, 47.5%. Against Missouri, 22.2%.
Assists per game, 16.8. Against Missouri, 6.
Turnovers, 13.3. Against Missouri, 21.
Average points scored, 75.5. Against Missouri, 53.
Average points allowed, 54.5. Against Missouri, 92.
We can conclude from November’s games, that Cal is not as good as it has appeared, in its victories. Not that all the teams that it dominated are terrible, but they certainly are not typical of the caliber that Cal will see in the Pac-12. Cal will need to keep improving, if it is to compete for the conference championship. And it will not be winning by November’s average margin in its victories.
On the other hand, what about its loss to Missouri? What can we conclude from that? Obviously, Missouri is far and away the best team the Bears have faced and the team’s weaknesses were on glaring display:
First, Cal’s defense: Monty had said quite early that he was not pleased with the defensive play of his team, that a great deal of improvement was essential before this would be a good defensive team. Missouri proved him correct. Protecting inside with help defense was particularly poor in this game, where many on Missouri had the speed to get by the primary defender. While the Cal team has shown its commitment to defense in its other 6 games, against Missouri, a really fast team, it was evident that overall defensive speed is not a Cal strength. There will be players on the better teams in the games coming up that at times will get by the primary Cal defender. Hence, improvement of the help defense will be vital to Cal’s success, as it moves through a more challenging portion of the OOC schedule and then into conference games.
Second, Cal’s offense: Missouri’s speed, as well as its pesky, grabbing, overplaying defense really forced the team out of its usually more composed approach. Missouri dominated the tempo and complexion of the game, resulting in Cal’s having few assists, many turnovers, and many ill-advised, forced, and hurried shots. In effect, Missouri turned Cal’s ineptitude on offense into a Missouri offensive weapon. Gutierrez said after the Missouri game, that the team had not seen Mizzou’s kind of speed either in practice or in the earlier 4 games. How often the team will see it again is not clear, but certainly it will be up against many better defenses in the games ahead. Cal will have to maintain composure and focus in a way that it did not against Missouri.
Where the Bears go from here is hard to say.
It is likely that they will not be defeated often or at all by inferior opponents. Both offensively and defensively Monty’s teams generally improve markedly over the course of a season, and it is already clear that the Bears will be a formidable opponent to lesser teams.
The season will turn, however, on how Cal copes with the most talented opponents. We will get an early look at a couple of them, in San Diego State at their home court on next Sunday afternoon and in the final OOC game at UNLV, on 23 December. Also, on 19 December, Cal will host UCSanta Barbara, which in the last week took both SDSU and UNLV to overtime before losing to both.
Though without several really key players from last year’s team, this is a good San Diego State team. It is currently 7 and 1, and has beaten Arizona at Arizona and also has beaten USC. Its only loss was on the road at #12 Baylor. Coach Steve Fisher (coach at Michigan with the Fabulous Five freshmen), a proven recruiter, apparently has restocked this team. It will be a great test for the Bears to play on the road against a talented opponent. Likewise the game against UNLV, which has beaten North Carolina, when it was ranked #1 in the nation. UNLV presently is ranked slightly higher nationally than are the Bears and by all accounts is a fast and athletic team.
Observations about individual Cal players:
Jorge Gutierrez appears ready for a great 4th year. The team’s most indispensable and valuable player, Jorge has begun the season, compared even to his breakout junior year, with substantial increases in his field goal percentage (54.4%, last year, 41.1%), 3-point field goal percentage (62.5%, last year, 33.0%), free throw percentage (92.0%, last year 80.1%), and rebounds per game (5.3, last year, 3.8). And as usual, the statistics do not really do justice to what Jorge brings to the team.
Harper Kamp, first and foremost, looks healthy and secondly looks even smoother than last year. Monty is determined to play him somewhat more sparingly, so as to maintain his health (primarily his problematic knees) over the entire season, to have him fresh at the end of the year. His team first attitude and general basketball intelligence will be critical once again to the success of the team.
Allen Crabbe has been a bit of a puzzle. In his best 4 games, he has averaged 20 points. In the other 3, including the two best teams we have so far played (Missouri and Georgia) he has averaged 1/3 of 20 points, that is, 6.7. Allen is trying to add fakes off his would-be 3-pointer, using the dribble then to get to intermediate jump shots or drives to the basket, so far without great success. Also, he has attempted only 7 free throws in the 7 games played (contrast Jorge, 25 attempts and Cobbs, 29). It appears that mastering these new offensive elements will take him some time. Hopefully Allen will make steady progress this year. Particularly in the last game against McNeese State, Allen played exceptional man defense, matched up against their best player. This was a substantial step up for Allen and a good sign for things to come. His rebounding remains a strength and a real value for this team.
Brandon Smith has been his usual steady self. He has slightly increased his assist to turnover ratio (this year, 1.8, last year, 1.7) and leads the team in steals (9, ahead of Gutierrez and Cobbs, both with 8). His field goal and free throw percentages are both higher. He has looked improved on defense in general. His minutes have been somewhat curtailed (this year just over 26, last year [post-Franklin], 36), largely through the emergence of Justin Cobbs.
Richard Solomon is the new starter, replacing Sanders-Frison. He is almost the opposite of a clone of Sanders-Frison in what he brings to the court. Where MSF was rather short, earthbound, wide and slow, but an almost unstoppable post scorer when he got the ball down low, Richard has the most rudimentary of post games, but is much taller, quicker, and slender (though substantially heavier than last year). Where MSF was sure not to win the center jump, Richard has controlled the tap in all 7 games. More importantly, he has been a good and improving defender, with impressive shot blocking potential. MSF averaged 0.6 blocks per game; Richard is averaging almost three times that, with 1.6 blocks per game. Richard is averaging 7.3 rebounds per game, almost matching MSF’s average last year of 7.4. Solomon’s scoring has been at 6.0 points per game, his field goal percentage at 38.7%, both a substantial drop off from MSF last year (10.9 points per game, 58.9% field goal percentage). If Richard can continue and even improve his defending, this year’s team probably does not need him to equal the offensive game of MSF, in order for him to be an adequate replacement.
Other rotation players, at the moment are only two:
Justin Cobbs the transfer from Minnesota, has largely lived up to the superlative expectations expressed by several who were privy to his play in Cal practices last year. He has shown himself to be a really capable player, both as a scorer and distributor. Justin is averaging 11.0 points per game, as well as a team leading 4.1 assists per game. He also leads the team in assists to turnovers ratio, at 2.23, and leads the team in free throw percentage, with a remarkable 93.1%, converting a team high 27 of 29 (93.1%). His points per field goal attempt also leads the team: He is at 1.67, with Jorge second at 1.5. His emergence has eased the burden of minutes that Jorge and Brandon had to play last year. To this observer, the best is likely yet to come from Justin, who looks to be feeling his way into his role with this team. The obvious question is whether he will supplant Smith in the starting lineup, or continue to be used as a game-changing force off the bench, as is presently the case.
David Kravish, a gangly freshman, has been a pleasant surprise, in supplanting the other non-starting big men (mainly Bak and Thurman) as the first post player off the bench. Despite his obvious need for more muscle and pounds, Kravish has shown himself to be an adept rebounder and shot blocker. The fact that his minutes have gone down substantially in the last two games may indicate that Monty does not see him ready to be of much help as the competition gets stronger.
Monty has made obvious his desire to have a deeper rotation. However, Bak, Murray, Thurman, and Powers have not yet shown that they can perform at or close to the level of the 7 rotation players.
And the injured Bears, Rossi and Behrens, may not play at all this year.