That's the question I keep coming back to. This isn't an unfamiliar feeling. Notre Dame. Missouri. UNLV. South Florida. For two years the Bears have been searching for that one win that would elevate them above the mediocrity of the rest of the conference. Everybody wants this team to be more than a group that can challenge in a down Pac-12, scrape into the postseason, then fall in one game.
There isn't really a common thread in these out of conference, blowout losses. Different opponents, different styles, different problems. It makes me scrape for some kind of nebulous mental explanation, that these big and/or fast and/or athletic teams get in their head, and the game is out of hand before everybody has had a chance to settle in.
Fans are focusing on how much Wisconsin dominated Cal's posts, but this performance goes way beyond that. Yeah, the Bears were dominated inside. But they were dominated outside too. Justin Cobbs unquestionably had his worst game in a Cal uniform with 7 turnovers, 2 higher than his previous career high. Tyrone Wallace was 0-6 from the field. Brandon Smith played 30 minutes but had a nearly negligible impact on the game. Allen Crabbe was the only player in a blue uniform who had a net positive impact.
Has the Pac-12 been so down the last two years that the Bears (and everybody else) are perpetually unprepared for games like this? Is there something about this Cal team that allows them to look great against every team with less talent than them and awful against every team with more talent? Despite the evidence staring me in the face, I have a hard time believing that the Bears are that much worse than these types of teams.
The good news is that Cal has two chances to prove that this game was somehow a fluke. Maybe Ricky Kreklow's return adds something. Maybe today was an epic confluence of bad games. Maybe Bo Ryan had the perfect game plan. Maybe Cal, back in the friendly confines of Haas Pavilion, pulls off two straight upsets.
But how many games like these need to pile up before we can fully acknowledge that there is a ceiling on what this team can accomplish? A 3rd place conference finish, an early loss in the Pac-12 tournament, and a middling NCAA tournament seed. Maybe if we get a good match-up Cal will advance to the round of 32. There are plenty of basketball fans that have it worse.
Because as of right now, this team seems not very dissimilar from last year. That team almost won a Pac-12 title, and I very much look forward to watching this group try to do the same - if Kreklow gets healthy, it wouldn't shock me. It feels weird 'complaining' about that, but I think we all want to see a Cal team that can really make some noise nationally. Unless this team really wakes up against Creighton and UNLV, that doesn't look especially likely.
CHART OF MISERY