What if a team was really good, but they only played like it for one week of the year? Would that team actually be really good? Well, the answer is probably, which is why the Bears face the difficult task of completing a home sweep against the Washington Huskies. UW played three marquee out-of-conference games against Kentucky, Michigan St., and Texas A&M – and lost all three by single digit margins. Depending on what you think of Portland out of the WCC, Washington has only lived up to their lofty expectations for one week this year – an impressive road sweep in Los Angeles that immediately confirmed that the road to the Pac-10 title runs through Seattle.
But UW’s unconvincing non-conference performances and recent loss to Stanford reignite the possibility that Washington isn’t such an overwhelming favorite for the title, Kenpom statistical breakdowns notwithstanding. For one, UW really doesn’t like playing teams with actual, legitimate defenses. The Huskies haven’t failed to reach 70 points in every win so far this year, but in their losses they’ve only averaged 64 points. So far, Michigan St., Kentucky, Texas A&M, USC and Stanford all successfully slowed down UW’s crazy fast offense. Four of those five games ended in defeat, and the fifth went into overtime. Cal’s defense is in the ballpark of those teams, so I'm willing to entertain the chance of an upset tonight.
But how much of a chance to the Bears really have? Hit the jump to find out!
Washington is led by Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, one of the better inside-outside partnerships in the Pac-10. We’re all pretty familiar with Thomas, but it’s Bryan-Amining who has really stepped up to replace the production of Quincy Pondexter. Slowing him down will probably be the biggest defensive challenge for the Bears – I’m worried that Bryan-Amining is made out of the same ‘strong, athletic big man’ mold that created Derrick Williams and Dwight Powell. In three of Washington’s four losses he’s failed to reach double figures. I doubt Cal will be able to do the same, but it’s a good goal regardless.
Washington 80, Cal 71, 21% confidence
Note: The following chart concept has been blatantly stolen from mgoblog.
|Category||Cal Rank||UW Rank||Advantage|
|Cal eFG% v. UW Def eFG||173||21||WW|
|Cal Def eFG% v. UW eFG%||102||15||W|
|Cal TO% v. UW Def TO%||221||70||WW|
|Cal Def TO% v. UW TO%||272||4||WWW|
|Cal OReb% v. UW DReb%||258||171||W|
|Cal DReb% v. UW OReb%||2||11||--|
|Cal FTR v. UW Opp FTR||34||288||CCC|
|Cal Opp FTR v. UW FTR||110||323||CCC|
|Cal AdjO v. UW AdjD||100||22||W|
|Cal AdjD v. UW AdjO||46||5||W|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
Cal won't be pulling down offensive rebounds or forcing turnovers. We already knew that, as it describes essentially every Cal game. So what does this tell us? WIN THE GAME AT THE STRIPE! Cal's only clear advantage is in drawing/avoiding fouls - Washington's aggressive defense tends to lead to lots of fouls, and the Bears do a pretty good job of getting to the line already. Cal's challenge will be limiting turnovers against a defense adept at forcing them. Lots of pressure will be on Brandon Smith just a few days after a career performance against Washington St.
Perhaps the critical matchup? Cal's nearly-best-in-the-nation defensive rebounding vs. Washington's aggression on the offensive glass. If Cal can limit Washington's second chance points like they typically do they will probably have a puncher's chance. But if Washington successfully pulls down offensive boards it could be an ugly game. My hope is that these season-long stats aren't fully representative of Cal's improved play since the transfer of Gary Franklin . . . but we'll see.
Like most teams Cal will play, Washington has a significant depth advantage with a rotation that goes 10 deep. An extra day of rest may prove invaluable, because Washington is just about the worst team to play coming off an exhausting overtime game. The Huskies play some of the fastest basketball in the country and press in transition when at all possible. Last year they simply ran the Bears off the court on a Saturday in Seattle, and they will likely try to do it again. Markhuri and Harper will be challenged big time to play major minutes and stay fresh, and I think a healthy dose of a comparatively fresh Richard Solomon wouldn’t be at all surprising.