Afure Jemerigbe's improved play is just one of many developments helping Cal to a fast start. - Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
Five games, five wins with an average margin of victory of 34 points. They haven't trailed in a game past the 10:00 minute mark of the first half. Six players are averaging 10 points a game or more. Opponents average more than 20 turnovers a game. Cal has a +16 rebounding margin per game.
So exactly how good are these Bears?
The answer likely depends on how much stock you put on impressive wins over questionable competition. Four of Cal's games have come against teams unlikely to finish the season in the NCAA tournament. And although Georgetown is a solid team that could well be dancing in March, nobody would mistake them for Stanford or Notre Dame.
On the other hand, Cal has played a number of decent mid-major teams expected to compete towards the top of their conferences . . . and ran them out of the gym. While it's true that Cal hasn't had multiple opportunities to measure themselves against stronger competition, that doesn't mean that what we've seen is meaningless. Great teams don't mess around against lesser competition. Heck, the 2008-09 Sweet 16 squad didn't blow out teams quite like this. And maybe Cal's schedule hasn't been so weak. After all, Cal's opponents are a combined 15-7 when they're not playing the Bears, and the RPI places Cal 4th.
With the team seemingly firing on all cylinders, it's easy to look at the schedule and imagine that the games that Cal might actually lose can be counted on one hand. Duke, Stanford, UCLA . . . who else might actually beat this team the way they're playing? Maybe undefeated Kansas? Perhaps USC if they get their act together?
That's a dangerous way of looking at things, especially with a challenging road trip looming. Four of Cal's final six non-conference opponents sit undefeated, and if Cal makes it through this gauntlet undefeated it would cause an upwards reevaluation of already optimistic pre-season hopes and dreams. Luckily, Cal's 2nd toughest opponent, Kansas, will be visiting Berkeley just prior to Christmas. And while Old Dominion and Northwestern are undefeated home teams, they just haven't faced a team at Cal's talent level yet.
Hovering over everything is Cal's huge visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face #4 Duke. The Blue Devils have been busy blowing out teams even more badly than the Bears. CGB will have a closer look at Duke later this week. For now, what you need to know is that there will not be a way for you to watch or listen to this game for free. If you have already purchased Cal All-Access you'll have the radio broadcast to enjoy. But if you want to actually see the game you'll have to pay Duke for the privilege. It's pretty frustrating (and, considering the expansion in TV coverage for WBB, shocking) that a matchup of top 10 teams isn't viewable for free, but those are the breaks. I'll probably break down and pay Duke 10 bucks to watch it, but I won't be happy about it!
Before we get into some scattered thoughts, here are two must-read links:
- Nate at Swish Appeal has a typically excellent look at the Cal-Georgetown game:
The fact is that there are few point guards in the nation – let alone sophomores – who are capable of navigating full court pressure in quite the way that Boyd did against the Hoyas.
Go read it!
- Viet Nguyen has a typically excellent (and impressively honest) interview with Tierra Rogers:
In the heat of the moment, feeling lonely, really really depressed, in my room by myself… And it wasn’t that I couldn’t play any more. It was just that so much had happened in those past two years… I wasn’t able to grieve for my father that first year because I had basketball to balance everything out and to help me cope. And then, a year after that, I had to deal with not playing anymore, not having something to cope with and use as a way for me to get by. So, I mean, it was just a lot of things built up, and it was a lot of lonely nights and a lot of lonely days. And behind the scenes, you feel out of it. You don’t feel like you belong. You don’t feel worthy. You’ve lost your identity, and it was just the worst feeling to have, when you don’t feel that you have control over your life, where everything has been taken away from you.
Go read it!
Other thoughts on Cal's early season romp:
- The easiest way for this team to improve was defensively, and so far it's been mission accomplished. Cal is 31st in the country in points allowed per possession. The difference? Cal went from a team that rarely forced turnovers to a team that has, at least so far, forced a ton of them. We'll see if the press is as effective against tougher opposition, but so far it's been a key addition to Cal's arsenal.
- An interesting statistical quirk that I hope continues: Last year Cal finished 3rd in the nation in rebounds per game and 2nd in rebounding percentage. This year Cal is 3rd in rebounding percentage, but a ‘lowly' 60th in rebounds per game. Why? Because on offense they are missing fewer shots (less opportunities for offensive rebounds) and on defense they are forcing more turnovers (less opportunities for defensive rebounds). Just another example of why tempo free is the way to be.
- Perhaps the biggest leap in production so far has come from Afure Jemerigbe. That's not a huge surprise, if only because we knew Jemerigbe would be getting more playing time after Lindsay Sherbert transferred to Gonzaga. But Jemerigbe has been getting her points in part because, so far, she's been great from behind the arc (10-22). If there's a dimension that Cal needed, it would be long range shooting. If Jemerigbe's improvement is more than just a 5 game hot streak, that means that Cal has three solid threats to nail long jumpers. And that's what they need. This team doesn't need a Jerome Randle, they just need opponents to know that they can't double team inside with impunity. You can't leave Clarendon, Jemerigbe or Lyles open because they'll hit shots, and you can't leave Boyd open because she'll slice and dice you. You just need to keep the defense honest.
- Seriously though, 6 players averaging double figures, and I'm talking about how to keep the defense honest? This team is absurd.
- Layshia averages a hair over 10 points per game, then drops 20 on Georgetown. You get the sense that she can get her points against everybody, but defers until Cal needs her to score. And she's been deferring to the tune of a 2.5 assist/turnover ratio, which is actually better than Cal's pretty darn great point guard.
We'll have plenty more on Duke (and Old Dominion too) later this week. Go Bears!