Cal vs. Stanford Preview: Rivals Meet In Pivotal Game

I thought my pessimism prior to the Washington St. game was a little irrational, and then all our fears came true against the Cougars. Cal is facing a team that most would presume to be tougher than Wazzu, yet I feel perhaps irrational confident about this one.

That's what a week of rest and a return to the friendly confines of Haas Pavilion will do. Cal's home slate hasn't really been especially challenging so far this year, but the Bears are still undefeated at home. And Stanford is 1-3 on the road in conference, with that one win coming in quadruple overtime. The three losses were all by double digits.

So there are reasons for confidence, but not over-confidence. Cal should be wary if only because Stanford desperately needs this win. Riding a two game losing streak, the Cardinal can't really afford to fall three games back of first place at the halfway mark. And any team with NCAA aspirations should bring their best effort against Cal because the Bears are the closest thing this conference has to a resume-building win.

Stanford also presents some potentially problematic matchups for the Bears. Cal's front line is perilously thin, and Stanford can throw out six or seven competent post players. Luckily for us Harper Kamp and David Kravish don't have to save any energy for another game in two days.

Stanford Roster

Main Rotation
Josh Owen, 6'8'' senior forward
Aaron Bright, 5'11'' sophomore guard
Chasson Randle, 6'1'' freshman point guard
Anthony Brown, 6'6'' sophomore wing
Dwight Powell, 6'9'' sophomore forward
Jarrett Mann, 6'4'' senior guard
Josh Huestis, 6'7'' sophomore forward

Role Players
Andrew Zimmerman, 6'8'' senior forward
John Gage, 6'9'' sophomore forward
Gabriel Harris, 6'2'' junior guard Out with injury
Jack Trotter, 6'9'' senior forward

Owen, Bright and Randle will all be starting, but Dawkins seems to pick randomly from a hat to decide the final two starters. Andrew Zimmerman has 15 starts despite barely averaging 10 minutes/game, and Josh Huestis has zero starts despite having the 5th most minutes of any player on the team. It's an irrelevant distinction. Bright, Brown, Mann and Randle are the key guards and Owen, Powell and Huestis are the key post players. At this point, in true Stanford tradition, Dawkins has his choice of goofy white post players to fill in any extra minutes as necessary.

Stanford's offensive attack is noteworthy for its balance. Their four leading scorers all have nearly identical usage ratings, and the top three have very similar levels of production. As a result it's really hard for me to pick one or two guys and say 'don't let him beat us.' After his 20 point performance against Cal in Palo Alto last year, I would've sworn that Dwight Powell would be that guy. But more than a year later that 20 point outburst still stands as his career high by 4 points, and he's only getting 15 minutes a game. Weird.

Instead I'll go with Josh Owens, who leads the team in scoring, rebounding and offensive efficiency. Owens hasn't had much success against Cal in his career, but other than Harper Kamp he'll be going against a very different group of bigs than in the past.

Tempo Free Chart

Kenpom sez: Cal 69, Stanford 60, 81% confidence

Chart concept 'borrowed' from Mgoblog.com. One letter equals 10 spot ranking advantage, two letters equals 100 spot ranking advantage, etc. All stats courtesy of kenpom.com.

Category

Cal Rank

Stan Rank

Advantage

Cal eFG% vs. Stan Def eFG%

37

113

C

Cal Def eFG% vs. Stan eFG%

59

89

C

Cal TO% vs. Stan Def TO%

44

68

C

Cal Def TO% vs. Stan TO%

164

179

C

Cal OReb% vs. Stan DReb%

130

53

S

Cal DReb% vs. Stan OReb%

22

32

C

Cal FTR vs. Stan Opp FTR

256

116

SS

Cal Opp FTR vs. Stan FTR

11

106

CC

Cal AdjO vs. Stan AdjD

45

43

-

Cal AdjD vs. Stan AdjO

18

92

C


The matchup between Cal’s offense and Stanford’s defense is both even and intriguing. Stanford will almost certainly lock down the defensive glass and will try to force turnovers – it’s up to Cal to play smart and get good looks. In their last meeting, Allen Crabbe and Harper Kamp essentially got whatever they wanted, but Stanford is playing much better defense this year.

Cal’s advantage lies in Stanford’s mediocre offense. If you’re looking for a pattern in Cal’s losses, you’ll find it when the Bears are on defense. Oregon St. and Washington St. are ranked 3rd and 4th in the Pac-12 in offensive efficiency, behind Cal and UCLA. It’s probably not a coincidence that Cal’s two losses have come on the road when Cal can’t stop two good offenses from scoring.

Luckily the Bears are back at home, against an offense that is more comparable to Colorado or Oregon, two teams that struggled to score against Cal. But there is one major concern - Stanford is the 2nd best offensive rebounding team in the Pac-12. There isn't a single player that will eat Cal alive, but Stanford has a deep collection of bigs who are all solidly active on the offensive glass. Prepare to get frustrated when Stanford gets 2nd chances.

I think Cal's going to come out with lots of defensive intensity, and I'm just not convinced that Stanford has the type of offensive athleticism to break down the Bears. It's possible that Stanford's defense will keep it close, but the Bears usually find a way to score when they're at home. Stanford may need this one badly, but Cal wants this one just as much.

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