Cal vs. Maryland : What Went Wrong?

Well, the Cal Men's Basketball team's long-awaited return to the NCAA Tournament didn't exactly go as hoped:  the Bears struggled mightily to score, did just enough to hang around for 30 minutes, then faded down the stretch, frankly looking overmatched against a Maryland squad that, while good, was hardly a world-beater (they were flatteden by Memphis in Round 2).  What went wrong?  Was this a fluke, or a symptom of a larger problem the Bears have battled all year?  What hope do we have for improvement next year?

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I can't believe we were one and done!  -  Image via cdn0.sbnation.com

CBKWit:  Montgomery has often said that when the Bears shoot the ball, they're pretty good, and when they don't, they're pretty bad.  We can parse through any number of statistics, but I felt that the game basically boiled down to that simple premise.  It's tough enough for a balanced team to shoot 29% from behind the arc and win the game - for a team that basically relies on jump shooting without much of an inside game to counter (the Bears), it's virtually impossible.  I'll bet we've shot under 30% on threes only a handful of times this year, and I'd bet more that we didn't win any of those games.

ragnarok:  Well, not only did we shoot terribly from three, but we shot often from three.  24 attempts ties for the second-most all year, including 14 in the first half, when the game was close, so you know they weren't all desperation shots near the end of the game.  I really think that when the Bears play well, they don't settle for outside jumpers, and while some of those attempts were good, open looks, overall I felt like the Bears failed to run their offense far too often.

Of course, if the Bears make just 10 of those attempts instead of 7 (and 41.7% is still below their season average), this is a very different game.  Sometimes, it really *is* the most obvious statistic.

CBKWit:  The Maryland defense didn't so much take away shots as it disrupted the rhythm and flow of the Bear offense.  Monty said "I don't truthfully know if Maryland did anything different than other (teams) did, but they got us out of our rhythm a little bit.  Maybe that's a consequence of their press, but we never seemed to get in any sort of rhythm."  I called the Cal offense "herky-jerky" immediately following the game, although at least part of this impression was due to the choppy feed I watched online.  The Bears got plenty of open looks, especially in the first half, but the offense still felt off.  Only 12 assists on 25 field goals adds to the impression that Cal simply wasn't running an efficient offense.

Cal did wind up scoring 71 points, though, so offensive problems don't tell the whole story.  Cal also out-rebounded Maryland 33-29.  If you had told me before the game that Cal would score 71 points and out-rebound the Terps, I would have guessed we won.  Giving up 84 points, including 33 in the last 12 minutes cost the Bears the game.  Failure to get defensive stops meant that Cal couldn't get out on the break for easy buckets.  It also gave Maryland a chance to set up their press, which caused not a huge amount of turnovers (14) but certainly aided the Terrapins in disrupting Cal's offensive rhythm.  You could say, then, that Cal's defensive shortcomings to a good extent led to their offensive struggles, and that often their offensive struggles gave Maryland easy buckets on the other end.  I would guess that had Cal either shot a decent percentage or played a bit stronger defensively, they could have turned the game into a toss-up.  But each issue exacerbated the other, and the combination of poor shooting and poor defense was plenty to do them in.

ragnarok:  So, you're saying that the combination of the Bears not shooting well and their inability to defend Maryland's shooters caused them to score fewer points than the Terrapins, which in turn caused them to lose the game?  I am shocked!  Shocked!!

You're right, though, that not enough blame falls to the lack of defensive effort from the Bears.  84 points is a lot in the college game, especially for a team like the Bears that doesn't play at an especially fast pace.  For the first half, Cal was able to keep Maryland from being terribly efficient on offense either, leading to a close, if ugly, game (Vasquez picking up two relatively early fouls sure helped in this regard).

However, all it took was one relatively modest 13-2 run by the Terrapins in the second half to knock the Bears pretty much out of the game.  In between the TV timeout around 12:00 minutes and the one around 8:00, Maryland pretty much had their way with the Bears, hitting 5 of 6 shots, while Cal missed 4 shots, turned the ball over twice, and got one measly bucket when Harper Kamp laid in an offensive rebound.  The Bears seemed stunned by this sudden outburst, and were completely unable to muster the intensity necessary to respond in kind.

CBKWit:  I guess that's why Monty said two words to the team after the game, on what they should do in preparation for next season: "Get tough."  After the Maryland run, Cal cut the Terrapin lead to 7 on one of Randle's patented deep pull-up threes.  Maryland missed two free-throws but Cal was unable to secure the rebound, giving Vasquez a lay-in and a free throw for a three-point play.  It seemed like the funky bounces on rebounds and loose balls were going Maryland's way all game, with non bigger than Vasquez's rebound and put back as Cal seemed poised to make a run.  Maybe Maryland was just fortunate to be in the right spots for most of the game, or maybe this Cal team needs to get tough and create their own breaks.

Cal struggled with foul trouble for most of the second half.  I didn't have a problem with most of the fouls against Cal, but it seemed like Maryland was able to play the physical defense Cal (and especially Gutierrez) was attempting without getting called for it.  Jorge in particular was called for some pretty ticky-tack fouls on the perimeter when Maryland's trap was getting away with much of the same.  Perhaps this influenced how "tough" Cal was playing in the second half.  If you can't play the type of defense that you want and, perhaps more importantly, that your opponent is playing, it probably would make you a bit hesitant.

Avinash:  You have talked about this team needing to be tough, so do you guys believe that Cal basketball was too soft this season?

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Who are you calling soft?!?  -  Image via grfx.cstv.com

HydroTech:  What is "tough"?

Avinash:  The perception that a team doesn't play good team defense, doesn't like to take or absorb contact when they play, doesn't try to take it to the rack and get to the foul line, settles for trying to win the game from the outside rather than going inside.

Any team can shoot it up, but can they get to the basket when they need to at crucial times?  (I.e. the Lakers in the Finals last year versus the Celtics.)

ragnarok:  I think Cal Basketball was tough for some stretches of time, and then surprisingly soft during others.  We obviously don't win that 3OT game in Washington without being tough, but at other times (@Missouri, @UCLA), the team would seem to wilt under pressure.  I think the home game vs. Stanford was a perfect example:

First Half - Not Tough (Big Deficit)
Second Half - Tough (Big Comeback)

The next step, of course, is to not go into those 'not tough' lulls in the first place.

CBKWit:  Changing personnel should help to a certain extent.  Jordan Wilkes is a good passer and shooter, but he is not a physical player (I won't say he's not tough - I think playing with a broken nose qualifies him as tough).  It's nice to have a seven footer who can knock down a 15 footer, but Harper Kamp is also a good shooter and (especially) a good passer.  Boykin too is a decent offensive player (the bricks against Maryland notwithstanding) but isn't much of an athletic or physical specimen.  Having another big body in Markhuri Sanders-Frison (270 pounds) should help Cal on the interior, along with a healthier Harper Kamp and a fiesty Taylor Harrison (we can hope!).

Jorge is probably already Cal's toughest player, but he can't defend the entire perimeter himself.  Randle is Cal's "biggest" offensive threat, and as such he needs to be on the floor.  In order for Cal to significantly improve their defense, Randle will have to become a better defender, especially against dribble penetration.  On offense, Randle is bothered by athletic, longer defenders due to his size; he's not going to get any bigger, so having another ball handler (like Jorge) will give Cal some flexibility and allow Randle to play off the ball on some possessions.

Lots of issues, lot of room for improvement, but a very successful and entertaining season.  Go Bears!

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