Cal men's basketball travels to face Stanford

Can I get a miracle healing? Arise and walk, Mr. Bird! - Dave Weaver-USA TODAY Sports

I hope Cal fans everywhere got their fill of holiday treats; it's time to open up conference play and there are no more cupcakes on the schedule. Is there a better way to shake off the last cloying grasp of good tidings than by heading out on the road to confront your bitter rival?

Although the poster child for Furd hate, Aaron Bright, is trapped in a cave with an ancient dragon out for the year with a shoulder injury, fear not - there is still much to despise about this Stanford team. Namely their players, coaches, spirit squads, and alumni.

After five largely undistinguished years, the seat for Johnny Dawkins might finally be getting a heat check. On paper, he's had a roster of talented players that never seems able to come together for a run at the NCAA tournament. However, if the stars are ever going to align, this might the season; he has one of the biggest and most experienced squads in the Pac-12. Perhaps more importantly, Coach Dawkins seems to have laid to rest his schizophrenic ways (12 different starting lineups last year) and is leaning heavily on his starters.

Although they largely played a cupcake schedule early, the Cardinal managed to go on the road to upset the #10 UConn Huskies. Their key to overcoming a 10-point halftime deficit was the use of a stifling 2-3 zone that completely disrupted the UConn offense. The Old Coach Dawkins would have switched back to man down the stretch. In fact, he might never have used a zone for the rest of the year. Before we write this off as a fluke game, they followed it up with a strong effort at Michigan where they came within a point in the closing seconds.

In general, Stanford plays a tough man to man anchored by their huge front court. They're one of the better shot-blocking teams in the conference and do a very good job of shutting down dribble penetration. If they have one weakness, it's that they prefer to shut down the paint at the expense of giving up three point looks. Overall, they're very tough on this end of the floor and don't give up many offensive boards.

On offense, Coach Dawkins has decided to go away from the 3-2 motion he learned at Duke. Instead, he's running a variant of the triangle offense using Dwight Powell (4 apg) as a point forward. With his upperclassmen-dominated lineup, this finally seems like a good fit and has translated into a highly efficient attack.

We're not favored to win this one. In fact, kenpom gives us only a 31% chance. But it's road upsets in the Pac-12 where you build the foundation for a run at the title. Maybe we can bite their legs off?

Projected Starters:

F Josh Huestis(Sr), 6'7, 230 lbs, 11.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg
F Dwight Powell(Sr), 6'10, 240 lbs, 15.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 4.0 apg
C Stefan Nastic(Jr), 6'11, 245 lbs, 7.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg
G Anthony Brown(Jr), 6'6, 215 lbs, 16.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg
G Chasson Randle(Jr), 6'2, 185 lbs, 18.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.0 apg


Bench:

C Grant Verhoeven(So), 6'9, 245 lbs,
G Robbie Lemons(Sr), 6'3, 205 lbs
F John Gage(Sr), 6'10, 225 lbs
G Marcus Allen(Fr), 6'3, 190 lbs

Josh Huestis is their high-motor athletic wing who can do a bit of everything. He's always been a great defender, rebounder, and shot-blocker. On offense, he's been more of an opportunistic scorer in the past, but has shown plenty of growth in his overall game. He's a legitimate threat to score from deep (43% 3FG) as well as anywhere in the paint. Dwight Powell is their talented head case that you love to hate. He's athletic enough to put the ball on the floor and hit outside shots. But he's best suited to stay inside. In the past, he had a tendency to get himself into foul trouble which could put him into a funk for the whole game. When his head is on straight, he's a tough cover. Stefan Nastic starts, but often platoons with Verhoeven and Gage. He's got a good touch around the basket and is yet another shot-blocking threat. Anthony Brown is back from a serious knee injury and may very well be the key piece this team has needed. He's long, athletic and plays good defense. But more importantly, he punishes teams from collapsing on their bigs because he's hitting 58% from three. Chasson Randle is another guy who looks to have taken that next step. He's a threat from deep, but he's much more dangerous this year because he's not relying on his jumper. He's actually leading the team in free throw attempts because he's attacking the basket. Although he scoring and shooting percentages are up, he's gone a bit into black hole mode and his assists are down.


Key Matchups:

1) Cobbs vs. Randle

It's a contrast in styles. Randle has been more of a scoring point who attacks the basket with the intent to finish. Cobbs has been a team-first distributor who is selective about picking when to assert himself. Both are capable outside shooters, although Cobbs has been in an inexplicable slump. Each player is essentially indispensable for what they bring to their respective team. If either can dominate this matchup or get their counterpart in foul trouble, it would skew the game in their favor.

2) Kravish/Solo/? vs. Powell/Nastic/Huestis

Solomon versus Powell is a good match-up. You've got two big athletic guys with good mobility. Solomon is the superior rebounder while Powell is the better shooter. Both are prone to picking up cheap fouls. Kravish is a better all-around player than the Nastic/Verhoeven/Gage brigade. But, they can wear him down via attrition, particularly if Kravish is forced to play as our lone big. Huestis is a big problem. Kreklow versus Huestis would have still been a mismatch in their favor. Huestis is athletic enough to cover Kreklow out to the perimeter. However, Kreklow might not have strong enough to keep Huestis off the glass and out of the paint. With both Kreklow and Bird out, we're in trouble. One option might be to try Wallace on him. Another might be Moute a Bidias. My guess is that we're going to have to go zone and try not to get killed by the offensive glass.

3) Wallace/Mathews/Singer vs. Brown

As it stands, Brown has been their best outside shooter, but is also a threat to slash. When he's on his game, this is a decent matchup for Wallace. He has the size and the athleticism to check Brown as well as being able to attack him defensively. When Mathews and Singer are in the game, we'll have to hope that their outside shooting makes up for any defensive lapses.


Go Bears!


Tip-Off: 6 pm
Television: Fox Sports 1
Radio: KGO 810 AM

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