As this post is entitled ‘Week In Review,’ I always start the column off discussing what the Bears did last week. But for a change we’re going to start with next week. Cal plays Stanford at 6:00 Sunday night, and Cal needs you at Haas Pavilion making noise. Later today there will be a special post with information on how to get great, cheap seats. If you haven’t made plans, you need to get to Berkeley. If you’re already committed to coming, try to convince a friend.
The days when Stanford could write in a W just by showing up in Berkeley are long gone, but the Bears still need our support to give them as big a home field advantage as possible. Just like wins over Stanford in 2007 and 2009 shifted the nature of the rivalry, a win on Sunday would send another message that Cal is here to stay as a Pac-12 contender.
OK, back to your regularly schedule week in review. Another week, another two game sweep! It’s now happened six times this season, and it’s nice to get back to the (admittedly brief) days when Cal basketball fans only had Stanford, UCLA and USC to fear as potential defeats.
Typically in this space I’ll spend most of my time talking about Cal’s offense. That’s mostly because offense is significantly easier to digest and quantify. But I’ve been trying to pay more attention to defense over the last few weeks, and Cal put on a clinic on defense against Utah and Colorado.
On Thursday it was mostly about interior defense. I’ve talked in the past about how impressive Talia Caldwell is at positioning herself for rebounds, and against Utah I saw her use that same instinct and ability to play some great traditional post defense. Most of the time when I looked her way she seemed to be matched up with Michelle Plouffe, who leads Utah in scoring. Talia is so deceptively quick, and her size means that few if any players can back her down. Plouffe has so much trouble against Caldwell that Utah moved her to small forward, but things didn’t get any better for her because Afure Jemerigbe picked up where Caldwell left off.
Against Colorado the Bears won with near constant ball pressure that helped force 17 turnovers. And when Cal wasn’t attacking ball handlers and filling passing lanes they played sound defense that forced Colorado to go deep into the shot clock and forced a few near miss shot clock violations. When you can hold a team to a 35% eFG% and force a bunch of turnovers you’re going to win a ton of games.
Granted, it has to be noted that Cal played two struggling, bottom-half-of-the-conference teams at home. NCAA tournament teams (let alone Stanford) won’t be so easily flustered with a full court press after a made free throw. But Cal’s usual half-court defense was tremendous and it’s a great sign as we move into March.
Weekly Tournament Talk
Cal moved up to a seven seed in ESPN’s latest bracketology, which is a pretty solid place to be (It's not particularly relevant because the actual draw will be different, but the draw Charlie Creme gives Cal is, in my opinion, a dream draw). Beating Colorado and Utah at home isn’t anything that will stir the selection committee, but it was still important that the Bears avoid their first ‘bad loss’ of the year. At this point, Cal just needs to win their first round game of the Pac-12 tournament against a team like Washington and they will finish the entire season with a loss to a team with an RPI higher than 75 after losing six such games last year.
With two wins last week I officially consider Cal an NCAA lock. The worst case scenario right now is a loss to Stanford and a loss in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, and that’s just not enough to keep a team with a profile like Cal out of the tourney. Even better, the Bears could hypothetically win four more games. Let’s consider a few basic scenarios:
1) Cal beats Stanford, then wins the Pac-12 tournament. In this dream scenario, I think that Cal should be in the 5 seed range, and could even get lucky and get sent to Spokane.
2) Cal goes 1-1 against Stanford while winning twice in the Pac-12 tournament over UW and USC. This would still be a great, great result. Losing to Stanford really doesn’t hurt much. Cal would still add two top 50 RPI wins and could still be in play for a 6 seed.
3) Cal doesn’t get a win over Stanford, but still makes the Pac-12 tournament final. A solid result, the expected result by many. It would neither raise nor lower Cal’s current profile, which hopefully is a 7 seed.
4) Cal loses to Stanford and loses prematurely in the Pac-12 tourney. Maaaaybe Cal falls back to the 8-9 game, if other teams around Cal pick up resume wins in their own conference tournaments.
Simply put, Cal is sitting pretty. They have a few chances to raise their tournament profile and limited chances to lower it. I would be pretty surprised if Cal ended up with anything less than a 7 seed, and a 5 or 6 seed is still in play. It won’t be easy, but the opportunity is there.
Stanford, Sunday night, 6:00. Be there. As usual CGB will have a variety of info about that game over the rest of the week. Go Bears!