The first year I truly started following Cal basketball closely was the 2008-09 sweet 16 team, which also happened to be the first year after Lindsay Gottlieb left to coach at UC Santa Barbara. I knew she had left, and that she was popular amongst the team and its fans, but I didn’t realize the exactly how big of an impression she had made in her brief time in Berkeley. She charmed journalists, Cal fans and the athletic department with an infectious work ethic and friendly smile. Everybody was sad to see her go but happy that she got such a wonderful opportunity so quickly.
Not knowing about all of this as a new fan of the sport, I was rather taken aback at the following an assistant coach of a non-revenue program had developed. After watching Coach Gottlieb’s opening statement at her introductory press conference, I began to comprehend how that might happen. She was friendly and warm, and said all of the right things. How her job is about the players and their talent and development. How special Berkeley is as an athletic and academic institution. And she said it in a way that made you believe she’s 100% genuine.
So, from an intangible perspective, Gottlieb appears to have everything we could want in a head coach and face of the program. But I want to go a little bit deeper than that. Gottlieb announced her vision for Cal basketball, and it sounds appropriately wonderful:
But what about the actual product on the court? What kind of offense are we going to run? What will the defensive identity be? How will Gottlieb handle player rotations? Those questions are a little harder to answer. Using her press conference quotes as a guide, I tried my best to get an idea of what to expect next November by crunching the numbers and looking at what little highlights are out there from Gottlieb’s time at UCSB.
We want to play a brand of basketball that is fun for fans to watch and fun for them to play and that other teams have to prepare for. We will push the ball, we will play fast but we will also play with technique. We want to gain advantages in transition but then having scoring actions that play into the strengths of our talented players.
If I was forced to describe Cal’s offense over the last two years, I would say ‘flexible,’ or perhaps ‘adaptable.’ The Bears have been just as willing to run up and down the court and score 80+ points vs. Arizona and Oregon as they were willing to slow down and play in the 40s and 50s against Arizona St. But Cal has had trouble scoring from the half court set, particularly once Alexis Gray-Lawson graduated.
So I’m happy to hear that Coach Gottlieb is ready and willing to run, because I think we have the players to do that (especially if she can somehow convince DeNesha Stallworth to stay in Berkeley). But I'm skeptical that Cal will really play anything like the Oregons and Arizonas of the world. And if they don't, then the comment about ‘scoring actions’ is more important. Her ability to find ways to score out of set offensive plays will be critical next year.
What do we know about the offense that Coach Gottlieb might run at Cal? Well, the stats from her three years at UCSB say the following: (Note: I spent some time calculating tempo free stats, enough to get a sense of UCSB's rate stats even though I'll be quoting mostly rate stats. You'll just have to trust me!)
1) Her teams play at a medium tempo, tending perhaps just slightly towards slowing the game down.
2) Her teams do very well on the offensive glass
3) Her teams shoot well, if not spectacularly
4) Her teams can be turnover prone.
Does that sound familiar? It should - it sounds like pretty good description of Cal's offenses. Flexible pace, great rebounding, solid shooting, problems with turnovers. Truly a Boyle disciple!
Using 2011 UCSB stats (because that's the only stats I can find on the Big West website, and because last year's team would presumably be the team most fairly representative of Gottlieb's coaching) we see a team that dominated on the offensive glass with a 40.3% rebounding rate. That's miles ahead of everybody else in the Big West and shockingly similar to Cal's impressive 40.5 rate last year.
Turnovers appear to be the factor that separates a solid UCSB team (2010) from a conference contending one (2009 and 2011). And that's largely been the case for Cal. The 2009 sweet 16 team only averaged 13 turnovers a game. The 2010 NIT team averaged about 15. Last year's squad went for 17 a game. It's not a direct 1:1 correlation, but the growth in turnovers is certainly tied to Cal's diminishing returns in the win/loss column. Similarly, UCSB's turnovers we at managable levels when UCSB won Big West titles in 2009 and 2011, but ballooned to nearly 20 a game when the Gauchos struggled in 2010.
For all the talk about Gottlieb's success coaching post players, it's been guards that have led the team in scoring and shots attempted each of the last three years. Still, she has produced a player that averages a double double a game in Mekia Valentine, and any team that rebounds as successfully as UCSB does is getting good play inside.
We want to dominate the boards and be disruptive on the defensive end.
Well, I have no doubt about that first part. Cal has great rebounders and Gottlieb has an impeccable resume of producing great rebounding teams. I fully expect the status quo to continue next year. In all honesty, Cal might be even more dominant. DeNesha Stallworth wasn't the greatest rebounder for her size. If Gennifer Brandon gets healthy takes most of her playing time, Cal just might have the two best rebounders in the conference.
As for that disruptive part? Turnovers have never been a huge part of UCSB's game - as a rate stat they were last in the Big West, though I suspect they aren't rock bottom as a percentage of their possessions. Now, she might have the type of players to disrupt next year. Eliza Pierre is already an elite defender, and incoming recruit Brittany Boyd supposedly is a plus, plus defender. Cal should have the speed to play some pressure defense, though it remains to be seen if we have the depth to do it.
Cal under Joanne Boyle has been less about relentless pressure like a UCLA or a Rutgers and more about fundamentally sound half court defense that never gives second chances, and I don't think Gottlieb will stray too far from that mold. UCSB's defensive numbers have actually been better than Cal's over the entirety of the Boyle era, but I think quite a bit of that is due to lower talent levels in the Big West that mean lower field goal percentages as a whole compared to the Pac-10. If Cal could somehow limit their opponents to an eFG percentage of 38.7% I'd be thrilled, but that's probably not a realistic goal.
No one will care more deeply for the young women that they coach than I will. We will continue to recruit the highest caliber athletes and people. We will make them better players while they're here - I'm huge on skill development - and we will also mentor them off the court. I want to graduate players who are ready to go out and do amazing things in this world in whatever field they choose.
Player retention has become a huge topic across most NCAA sports, and women’s basketball has been no exception. One of the few criticisms anybody had about the Joanne Boyle era was her player retention record. Interestingly, the decisions of Angela Aguirre and Kelsey Adrian to transfer from Cal to UCSB was almost certainly influenced Gottlieb’s move down the coast.
It’s unfair to judge Gottlieb from just three years at UCSB. It’s very common for players to leave a program when the coach that recruited them left, and Gottlieb had to deal with that problem. It’s a bit more concerning that a few players she recruited have decided to transfer away from UCSB. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gottlieb inherited Joanne Boyle’s high levels of expectations for her players. And while UCSB isn’t quite on Berkeley’s level academically, it’s not a walk in the park. Still, you want to see a coach hold on to most of the players she brings in.
So player retention will be something to watch. Gottlieb has already gone out of her way to praise the talents of the current players on the roster:
. . . there is a group of student-athletes sitting right here that is dynamic and talented and fun and hungry. As I told them in the locker room a little bit earlier, I believe in this group.
Exactly. This isn’t a situation when a new coach has to clean house to run their own program. Gottlieb is lucky enough to be inheriting all kinds of talent, recruited by a coach who presumably shares many of her basketball philosophies. And she has the time to teach and mold that talent. Keeping her current players eligible, motivated, and committed to Cal will be a key part of her job.
You'll undoubtedly notice that I keep saying that (based on the numbers, since gamefilm is a bit limited) Gottlieb's UCSB stats remind me of Cal. Since Coach Gottlieb spent so much time as a part of Joanne Boyle's staff, it's not surprising or hard to draw parallels and similarities. It's also probably unfair to Gottlieb, who has undoubtedly carved a style that is her own. It's just hard to pick up on those types of details through a box score. And it's also worth pointing out that Gottlieb has only had three years, hardly enough time to really put her mark on the UCSB program. She deserves credit for inheriting a clearly talented team and not derailing them on their way to a conference title.
I’m really not sure what to expect next year, and it will be fascinating to see how things develop. I don’t think it’s an exaggerating to say that Cal has the second most talented roster in the conference going in to 2011-12. But it’s also a team that had obvious and exploitable flaws and evidently some serious issues with team chemistry
I can envision a scenario in which a hungry and refocused group of players rally around a fresh, energetic new coach and really surprise with a strong season as Cal resumes the mantle as the biggest threat to Stanford in the Pac-12. I can imagine a group of players demoralized after experiencing losing records for the first time in their lives, then hit with a transfer and a new coaching staff, then failing to solve the issues that plagued them last year. Coach Gottlieb’s job is to get as close to the first scenario as possible. So far she’s saying all the right things.
The players (Layshia Clarendon, in this case) appear to be taking the right attitude:
I think this team has risen to the challenge more than any other Cal team has. We haven't had a coach and we haven't had any clue, but our workouts have been out of this world. If you talk to our strength and conditioning coach, he will tell you that we have been hungry. We really feel like we have been underachieving, so we are just going to work . Coach Boyle is gone and all we have is what is in this room, so we are just going to work. We have been really driven.
Sounds good to me. Regardless of the exact results, it's going to be fun to see what does and doesn't change, and how Coach Gottlieb changes things up. Go Bears!