There are four lights. At least, that's what I really, really hope Allen Crabbe is seeing this week. Unfortunately, there are recent reports that he was unable to practice as of Tuesday afternoon and is considered doubtful for Thursday's game. As worrisome as that might be, I applaud Monty and the coaching staff for clearly placing Crabbe's long-term health above any other considerations. Soooo, does Jeff Powers have a theme song or a catch-phrase yet?
When last we saw the merry men of Troy, we escaped the Galen Center with a win after doing our best to inflict carpal tunnel on Donte Smith by continually leaving him open from deep. Although a series of missed free throws raised Golden Bear blood pressure everywhere, our guys eventually prevailed behind a determined game from Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison.
Previous Q/A, preview, and recaps here and here.
Since then, both the Bears and Trojans have stumbled upon hard times, each dropping 3 of their last four. After getting thumped on the road by 'Zona and UCLA, 'SC returned home and took care of OSU. And then the shocker - they got run out of their own gym by...Oregon?
Nikola Vucevic has been their rock. The last time he didn't get a double-double? It was against Cal on 1/22/11 when foul trouble kept him rooted to the bench. Since then, he's been on a rampage despite facing a steady diet of double and even triple teams. However, the rest of the team has struggled with consistency. For example, while Vucevic got 22 points and 16 boards in their loss to Oregon, no other Trojan scored in double digits or shot better than 30%.
The ball don't lie, and in this case, I hope the math doesn't either. Kenpom thinks we pull out a squeaker.
Because of inconsistent point play, ball movement, and outside shooting, 'SC has continued to struggle against zone defenses. They've also shown some tired legs to the point where fans are grumbling about O'Neil's 7-man rotation. So naturally as good Cal fans, we're all expecting a bounce-back game from Fontan and either Smith or Jones will go nuts on us. As well as he's played, it's probably too much to expect Vucevic to have another poor outing against us.
Keys to the Game:
1) Foul Trouble: Both teams favor tight rotations with noticeable drop-offs from starters to reserves. Whoever earns the ire of the refs first will go a long ways towards setting the tone for this one. Let's hope MSF can overcome his body bias with a little home cooking.
2) Defensive Rotations: At this point, we're pretty sure we're going to dance with the girl that brung us and play zone almost exclusively. Monty used the wrinkle of a 3rd big in the lineup last time very successfully to deny Vucevic the ball. I'd expect to see that from time to time. He's good enough that he'll probably still get his. The question is whether we can stop the rest of the team from getting easy shots, offensive boards, and forcing us to extend and to leave the middle less clogged. Our offense has been surprisingly competent that last several games. But it's the defense, especially when the reserves come in, which has been our downfall.
3) Artificial Crab: Let's just mentally prepare ourselves for Allen Crabbe being held out. That leaves Jeff Powers and Emerson Murray to produce from the wing. Unfortunately, you can tell that Jorge also feels that he has to pick up the slack and has been forcing the action. It's to his credit that he's worked hard to become a capable offensive threat in addition to defensive pest. But, he's still more of an opportunistic scorer than pure shooter. We're going to need some balanced scoring from the perimeter because Kamp/MSF will have their hands full inside with Vucevic and Stephenson.
4) Seize the Low Ground: Honestly, I could have just written this one. Whoever dominates the low post and paint will win.
Final Thoughts: On most teams, losing your best wing player who also leads you in minutes and is your only consistent outside threat would spell doom. For us, it just spells C-A-L. Shorthanded, overmatched, or otherwise, this team has continually earned our respect this year with their determination. Let's rock the Haas. Go Bears!