Can Cal Men's Basketball Tame the #1 Arizona Wildcats?

Thearon W. Henderson

All Cal pilots to their fighters. The Arizona Death Star just moved into orbit around Haas Pavilion. Undefeated and ranked #1 nationally, the Wildcats are cast in the role of Godzilla and the rest of us are just supposed to scurry away in fear.

You know you have an elite program when you can lose three of your top four scorers, and not just reload, but upgrade into a more formidable team. Coach Sean Miller has always had the athletes. This year, he has chemistry. Bolstered by one of the most formidable front lines in college basketball, the 'Cats are playing the most stifling defense in the country. They're holding teams to an eFG% of 39.9. By comparison, the 2nd-best eFG% defense in the Pac-12 is at 45.6.(Cal) Their man defense starts with pressure on the ball-handlers. The guards have free reign to gamble and go for steals because their bigs do such a good job of protecting the paint. This attacking style has made them #1 in the conference in forced turnovers and #2 in steals.

On offense, they space the floor and run a motion offense with plenty of ball reversals. They do a good job of sharing the ball and lead the conference in assists per made field goal. Surprisingly, they're actually playing at a more deliberate pace this year. Where they're truly terrifying is on the offensive glass. They lead the conference by a wide margin with an offensive rebounding percentage of 37%. All three bigs average more than two offensive boards per game, and their sixth man averages almost three.

Anyone know if JCobbs used to bulls-eye womp rats as a kid?

Projected Starters:

C Kaleb Tarczewski(So), 7'0, 235 lbs, 9.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg
F Brandon Ashley(So), 6'8, 230 lbs, 12.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg
F Aaron Gordon(Fr), 6'9, 225 lbs, 12.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg
G Nick Johnson(Jr), 6'3, 200 lbs, 16.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg
G T.J. McConnell(Jr), 6'1, 195 lbs, 7.4 ppg, 6.2 apg

Bench:

F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson(Fr), 6'7, 215 lbs, 7.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg
G Gabe York(So), 6'3, 180 lbs, 7.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg

Kaleb Tarczewski came on last year as a strong defender and rebounder. Although he's capable of blocking shots, he's better at using his length to contest and alter. He's dangerous on the offensive glass and has improved his scoring presence around the basket.

Brandon Ashley is a capable post scorer and rebounder. He's improved his range out to the three point line, but does most of his damage inside. Like all the Wildcat bigs, he's a menace on the offensive glass.

Aaron Gordon is putting on a cameo at Arizona before taking his talents to the NBA lottery. His offensive game isn't exactly polished, but he's so athletic that he's able to finish shots regardless of degree of difficulty. A natural power forward, he's able to play the three in Sean Miller's system because the spacing gives him plenty of open space to attack the rim off the dribble. If there's one area of kryptonite, it's at the free throw line.(46% FT%)

As surprising as it may sound, Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell might be the most important newcomer to this loaded Arizona team. The Wildcats have always had plenty of scorers, but they haven't had a floor leader who could facilitate the offense. McConnell is annoyingly competent. He's scrappy, can dish the rock, and will bury the open jumper if you leave him open.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is yet another McDonald's All-American. He's long and can guard multiple positions. His jump shot is a work in progress, but he's capable of posting smaller players or taking bigger ones off the dribble. Where he really shines is on the offensive glass. (13% OR%)

Gabe York is their designated sniper off the bench. He's actually shooting a higher percentage from three (43%) than from inside the arc.(34%)


Key Matchups:

1) The Frontcourt Battle Royale

Solomon, Kravish, and Wallace will have their hands full. First and foremost, they have to keep the Zona bigs away from the offensive glass. The Wildcat offense is capable of looking ordinary provided you don't give them endless second chances. Our bigs will also have to be aware that both Ashley and Gordon can put the ball on the floor. Gordon, in particular, will drive the lane, absorb contact, and rely on his ridiculous athleticism to hang in the air and finish. Besides being the best NBA prospect in the league, Gordon might also have the best motor. If we don't match his intensity, there is no upset bid.

2) Ball movement and shot selection

Surprisingly, Arizona is a good, but not great shot-blocking team. They get it done by applying pressure, causing turnovers, and forcing teams to put up bad shots. It's a testament to their speed and discipline that they manage all of this while giving up the second-fewest number of free throws in the conference. Our guys have shown a tendency to get frustrated if our initial set doesn't create a good shot. If we're settling for pull-ups, fade-aways, and deep threes as the clock winds down, this is could be ugly.

3) Convert your opportunities

Allen Crabbe isn't walking through that door. Someone has to step up and make shots. Whether it's Solomon and Kravish going beast mode in the paint, or one of our young wings catching fire, we need someone to rise to the occasion. This would be a really good time for Cobbs to re-discover his early-season mojo.

Go Bears!


Tip-Off: Saturday, Feb 1, 7:30pm
Television: Pac-12 Network
Radio: KGO 810 AM

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