I love just about everything about the NCAA tournament. I love comparing resumes and complaining about the RPI and speculating about draws and all of that stupid, over-analyzed stuff. With one exception.
I hate the 'bubble.' The bubble is made up of a bunch of teams that are somewhere in the general vicinity of 40th-50th best in the country. None of them particularly deserve a shot at the national championship. It's only gotten worse with the decision to add 4 more spots so that a bunch of power conference teams working hard for a .500 record can back their way into March.
Some of those teams will get in, some won't. Sometimes fans and the media throw a fit about it, but ultimately none of those teams deserve any sympathy because they made their own bed. This year, Cal is one of those teams.
The Bears may or may not make the tournament. If they beat Colorado this weekend they stand a pretty good chance of earning a first round bye in the Pac-12 tournament thanks to owning the tie-breaker over Colorado, Stanford and Oregon. But it's hard to muster much enthusiasm for a team that has now lost 8 of their last 12 games. Does the committee still put an emphasis on a team's record in their final 10 games? Maybe they should.
The only bright side from this loss was the play of Richard Solomon, who went for 19 points and 10 rebounds as he single-handedly tried to stem the Utah tide in the 2nd half. If you've been reading CGB all year you probably know that I'm an unabashed Richard Solomon homer, and the poor fellow has borne more than his fair share of blame for Cal's season. What we all knew intuitively was shown quite starkly last night: What is happening this year isn't on any one player more than anybody else. It's a team wide problem, whatever it is.
Here are three key stats to explain why Cal lost:
Shots attempted: Utah 57, Cal 46
Turnovers: Utah 6, Cal 13
Offensive rebounds: Utah 13, Cal 6
Cal's (pre-rebound) defense was pretty good relative to what we've seen lately, and should have been enough for a home win, even if would have been an ugly win. Instead Cal's profligacy with the ball allowed Utah to get off 11 more shots.
None of that should be happening. Utah is decent but not amazing at forcing turnovers, and they aren't a great offensive rebounding team. That didn't stop Cal from simply losing the ball for no reason or for various undersized Utes from beating Cal up on the offensive glass.
It's very hard to explain what is happening this year, because we're seeing a first from a team coached by Mike Montgomery: they are regressing. I didn't focus any more attention than I had to on Monty's Stanford teams, but I don't recall him ever having a team that played meaningfully worse baseball at the end of the year than they did earlier in the season. And with six underclassmen in the rotation, this is a team that you would particularly expect to improve as younger players gained experience in games and practice.
It hasn't been a very fun month of basketball. It's a shame that, for whatever reason, Monty hasn't been able to get his message across to this team. Here's hoping he has more success next year.
At least we'll always have Vincent's genius right hand. He's planning on working all off-season to finish to his left: