Oh, the DirecTV Classic. I have long cherished the memories of those halcyon Thanksgiving afternoons. I, stuffed with turkey and mashed potatoes, would beg my family for permission to tune in to ESPN2. "But Mom, the DirecTV Classic is on!" And so, begrudgingly, our family would gather in the den with a roaring fire, and watch as the runner up from the Atlantic Sun took on a last place team in the SEC. In their defense, the tournament is more well known as the Anaheim classic, and does have a little history. Even still, this year it’s a low-end preseason tournament with an even stupider name. But it has our Bears, and right now they’re looking like perhaps the favorite to win the whole thing. What are the chances that that happens? And who are our preferred opponents? Let’s take a look.
Tournament Field Preview
Cal, Drake, Georgia Tech, Rice, Drexel, St. Mary’s, Pacific, Xavier. See the bracket here.
Semis Final Champ Cal 85.4 62.0 36.7 Saint Mary's 54.5 37.2 20.9 Drexel 45.5 29.2 15.1 Xavier 74.6 29.0 12.6 Georgia Tech 77.6 29.4 12.0 Drake 14.6 4.9 1.0 Pacific 25.4 4.5 1.0 Rice 22.4 3.7 0.6
I think the preferable outcomes in this tournament are pretty clear. We want Cal to beat Drake in the first round, Georgia Tech in the 2nd round, and . . . well, anybody in the championship game. And as extra motivation, winning means Cal stays on ESPN2, while losing relegates them to ESPNU.
But in terms of the most valuable win Cal could pick up on Sunday, it would probably be St. Mary’s. Xavier has looked good early in the season but isn’t expected to be up to their typically high standards. Drexel is a solid team but still somewhat unproven. But St. Mary’s has established itself as a consistent NCAA tournament contender and top 50 squad. They are virtually guaranteed to be a good win or a forgivable loss either way.
And as a bonus, how sweet would it be if Cal could shut up all of those annoying Moragans who claim that Monty and Cal have been ducking their hypothetical local rivals over the last few years? God I hate people from Moraga.
The Bears open with the Drake Bulldogs, which may or may not end up being a decent mid-major match up. The good news is that Drake is out of the Missouri Valley, a consistently top tier small conference. The bad news is that Drake isn’t expected to be an especially good MVC squad this year, and they haven’t been since coach Keno Davis left for Providence after the 2007-08 season. They might have been a solid choice to finish atop the conference, but then their leading scorer, Rayvonte Rice, decided to transfer to Illinois. The Bulldogs were picked to finish 6th in the preseason poll and Kenpom has them pegged at 8th, the 201st best team in the country. The system also has Cal as the predicted victor with 85% confidence, so we’ve got that going for us.
Players to Watch
Richard Carter: The biggest hope for a Drake revival this year is their point guard, a 5’11’’ JC transfer who was likely passed over as a recruit due to his size. That size didn’t stop him from averaging 18/9 points and 5.3 assists in community college. Will that production translate to D1 basketball? We’ll get a sense today. Why am I suddenly terrified about an overlooked, undersized, shoot first point guard that can nail a 3?
Ben Simons: The 6’8’’ senior wing is an efficient scorer mostly because he’s a dead eye shooter – 52% from two, 43% from three, 85% from the line. He’s not a volume shooter who will force shots. So don’t leave him open, don’t foul him. Simple, right?
Jordan Clarke: Like Simons, he’s 6’8’’. But Clarke has an additional 50 pounds on the wiry Simons and as a result is a gifted rebounder on both ends. Averaged 7 boards a game . . . in only 23 minutes. Keep him healthy and give him more floor time and he could average near a double double. Unfortunately, his propensity for fouling limits his minutes. Would love to see Cal’s posts attack him aggressively
Seth VanDeest: A 6’11’’ mountain of a defensive rebounding machine recovering from a long injury rehab. Drake isn’t entirely sure what they’ll get from the junior, but he’s expected to play a major role. Like Clarke, very prone to foul trouble. I'd love to see Solomon and Kravish out athlete him, but his pure size scares me.
Keys to the game
Get good first shots: The Bulldogs locked down the defensive glass last year, and that was without their 6’11’’ monster. With VanDeest back, don’t expect Cal to get 2nd looks often. That means that the first shot needs to be a good one.
Attack Clarke and VanDeest: Cobbs and Crabbe should be plenty quick enough to get around Drake’s perimeter defenders and attack the lane. Drake doesn't have much in terms of interior depth, and getting either of their post starters (or both!) into foul trouble would open up all kinds of opportunities for Cal. Last year, the Bulldogs also had excellent 3 point defense, which only increases the benefit of driving the ball initially rather than working for 3 point looks that aren't likely to materialize.
Perimeter defense: Drake doesn’t shoot a ton of 3s, but they have a couple guys that could really make Cal pay. Staying close with Carter and Simons (amongst others) is absolutely necessary. Particularly Simons, since he’s unlikely to hurt Cal if he isn’t nailing 3s.