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Cal Basketball Two Wins Away From Pac-10 Title, No One Seems to Care. What Gives?

It figures. When our Bears are finally in position to capture a conference crown for the first time in half a century, a lot of Cal fans seem either disappointed, apathetic, or looking ahead to other things. It might be the nature of Cal fandom to be so miserable about everything, but you'd think that our fans would be super-revved up now for a conference title bid.

But with only two weeks left in the season, there is literally zero buzz about our team. It's just not there.

Mike Montgomery's Golden Bears are in an uncertain position heading into the final two weeks of the season. The Bears could capture a conference title. They could go to the NCAA tournament. They could do neither. They could do both. Almost all of it will come down to what happens Thursday and Saturday, when all Cal's seniors need to do is win their final two games at Haas to wrap up at least a share of the title.

You'd think there'd be more excitement and anticipation about this sort of breakthrough. But I'd have to describe the attitude taken by most Cal fans as...lethargic. I sure don't feel a lot of excitement, and Coach Montgomery has resorted to desperate measures before our final homestand.

Coach Mike Montgomery ended his postgame radio interview by imploring folks to come out to Haas Pavilion this week for the team's final two home games, Thursday against Arizona and Saturday against Arizona State.

Roxy Bernstein, the team's play-by-play announcer, was practically begging fans to come out and get behind the team.

"Where are the fans?" Bernstein asked. "They are missing."


The percentage of capacity for the Bears at home, where they are 13-1, is slightly less than 75 percent — considerably lower than that of the almost 91 percent the Warriors get at Oracle Arena. It hasn't mattered that Haas (11,877) is smaller than Oracle (19,596), that the Bears have the vastly superior record or that they have the cheaper ticket.


There are plenty of reasons for this apathy, but I'm guessing much of it stems from the weakness of our conference. The Pac-10 might be lucky to get two teams in. If projections hold, the Pac-10 champion could have six conference losses. That would be almost as bad as the Furd's '99 Rose Bowl bid. Not a lot to get excited about there.

After the jump, let's explore some of the reasons our fanbase has been curiously apathetic about our Golden Hoopsters.

"But the totally arbitrary preseason polls told me we'd be much better!": What's probably cursed the Bears the most is their fall from that totally overrated preseason rank. The ignorant pollsters were as hilariously wrong about the Bears in basketball as they were in football, discounting the lack of a true big man and Harper Kamp's doubtful status for the season. Of course Bears fans fell right back into that trap of believing the 'experts' rather than judging this team with their own eyes.

But when have journalists ever predicted things right? Someone from the Pac-10 had to go into the top 25, and it should be Cal, right?

Whether we'd have beaten any of the top 25 teams at full-strength is irrelevant now, but you'd have to say those national setbacks in New York and Lawrence have worked out for us in terms of getting that at-large bid. The Bears have played tough opponents, they've earned their RPI, and they're still in good position for an at-large bid--assuming they win the conference.

How they HAVEN'T worked for us is that interest in this team has totally nosedived. Because a lot of us expected Cal to be much better than they were, and because most Cal fans seem to care more about March Madness than the actual season or even our team, much of the interest has been muted.  Add in a pretty tumultuous football season before all of that, and it seems like a lot of us are more interested in taking a break.

Basically, it's a malaise of "Who cares? We're one-and-done even if we make it to the tourney." Talk about pussyfooting.

The "wow" factor: It's kinda strange saying that we lack this, but it couldn't be more true. We're very efficient. We make high percentage plays, taking open jumpers or giving up the ball when it's not there. We give the extra pass. We play very well on defense (sometimes). All those basketball cliches. In other words, this hasn't been a team that a lot of people are telling these friends, "Wow, I have to go watch these guys tonight." It's more of a private treasure.

Cal's three stars (Christopher, Randle, Robertson) are all perimeter-oriented players--their games are all pretty efficient, especially when they're all on the floor together. They do the little things that most fans can't appreciate. Their most talented big (Boykin) isn't a real low post threat--he's good with the midrange jumper, the most underrated aspect of basketball, but can't get you two points automatically. Jorge has the corner 3, Amoke has the offensive rebound putback, MSF has that bizarre looking hook shot, etc.

It's a staple of Mike Montgomery basketball--efficient, banging and bruising, hardly exciting. We don't force a lot of turnovers and hit the fast break often. We don't attack the basket a lot. We have a set of strategies that work very well, and we stick to them. It's kind of like watching Tedford's football team lately--not as exciting as the old days, but still pretty good at generating wins.

All these Bears do their things, fill their roles, but for some reason it's not a team that you're raving about to everyone else you know. Probably because you know when a few of those pieces get out of place, Cal falls apart in frustrating fashion. And then you kind of feel stupid talking them up. So they're just for us diehards.

Thus the basketball hasn't been pretty: I'll be honest. If the Bears were playing with NBA rules, even pickup rules, they'd probably have dropped only two or three games in the conference. The 35 second shot clock isn't as much a problem as the teams that milk the clock, drop those defenses that only a 70 year old roundball purist would delight in, and drive the rest of us fans away from the games.

With the way you can play zones in college, unless you have a dominant presence in the post or someone who can pass up high, or a lights out point guard who sets up everyone else, your team is going to struggle trying to move the ball around. It doesn't make for pretty basketball. And the way Cal is set up, it's all about patience executing the offense, which as we've talked about, is far from artistic. Aesthetically displeasing is the phrase.

(Imagine how much easier this season would've been with Kamp. The Bears could've CRUSHED the Pac-10. It's one of those "what-if" scenarios I don't even want to think about.).

And of course, the teams haven't helped either. The Pac-10 has four of the slowest teams in the country (UCLA, USC, Oregon State, and ASU), six of the top 100 defenses, and only three of the top 50 offenses (Cal, UDub, ASU). That's a recipe for uggggly hoops no one wants to watch.

Oregon State, ASU and USC have mucked most of their games up to an agonizing standstill, and it's been a real struggle to watch our matchups with them. Oregon's looked horrid going down the stretch. UCLA fans are close to open revolt. Washington and the Furd are all about home cooking--they're atrocious on the road.  Wazzu and Arizona are young and talented and blow leads because they feel like it. 

This isn't a slate of high-quality teams. And when the teams aren't good, the resulting basketball isn't much better.

We haven't been consistent enough. Despite the strength of our team and the weaknesses of the others, our longest winning streak this season has been three. THREE!  Does anyone here have great confidence the Bears will win the Pac-10 tournament (i.e. winning three games in three nights)?  You're always worried with these Bears, because you know the off-night is coming. A jump shooting team will eventually go cold.

Worst of all, the hot shooting kinda makes you fall into this trap that these results can be replicated. you know the letdown is coming, but you get sucked back in just before it's coming, and then, WHAM, Joe Burton dominates your defense. These Bears are not a team you feel safe with, and in this day and age, many people just don't want to commit themselves to that.

How will we screw this up again? This is probably the factor everyone's afraid to talk about. Cal fans have been burned too much, too recently. It's hard to feel anything more than cautiously optimistic going into the final home stretch. We always wait for something horrifying to happen. We all know it's coming. We just don't know how it'll happen.

Are we ready to go through this? Well, whether we like it or not, we're going to find out in a few days whether our Bears are capable of being conference champions, or become another batch of 'coulda been contenders'. Hopefully, we'll at least all care about the outcome.


Choose the answer that best describes your current state of mind about our Golden Hoopsters.

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Excited. We're so close to finally getting that conference title!
    (142 votes)
  • 32%
    Frightened. How on Earth are we going to screw this up?
    (127 votes)
  • 12%
    Disappointed. This team should've clinched this a long time ago.
    (47 votes)
  • 11%
    Proud. But I don't really follow basketball.
    (45 votes)
  • 6%
    Apathetic. When does spring practice start?
    (26 votes)
387 votes total Vote Now