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Golden Bears Basketball Kicks Off the Second Season, Tries to Avoid Letdown Against Cardinal

(Cal fans, do your part. Buy the remaining tickets available on Craigslist and make this our final 'home' game of the year. Turn Maples Blue and Gold!)

It's March, which means we can finally start looking towards the dance. Everyone is starting to look forward toward bigger moments, especially in that Cal locker room, where a Saturday win means the Bears will be back in the Tournament of 64 for the second year in a row.

Jeff Goodman of the Daily Cal received the low-down from Jamal Boykin after winning the Pac-10 championship.

"It's a great feeling, but in the back of my mind we still have to win this last game," Boykin said. "I feel this team can accomplish so much. I think all the feelings will kick in once the season is over and we can look back on everything that we accomplished, but our goal is to go to the NCAA Tournament and go as far as we can."

That long hard road starts tomorrow, when Cal wraps up the regular season with a date in Maples with their best friends forever. With ASU beating USC yesterday, the Bears will have a chance to win the Pac-10 outright with a win on Saturday. None of this sharing business, which is nonsense to begin with. More importantly, more wins=better chance at favorable seeding in March Madness, especially for the first week of play. A win should also assure the Bears they'll be playing in the tournament--a loss here coupled with a loss in the first round next week could instill doubt in a lot of people's minds, but a win should at least put us through.

Yeah, it's a possible letdown game. It's hard to see Cal coming back from the game experience they had last week and expect to play at the same high level they showed the last two games. It's human nature to regress to the mean, and the Bears played over their heads last week at Haas. With the tournament coming, with a 26 point win already in their back pocket against the Furd, with a share of the conference title wrapped up, would it surprise any of us if Cal came out a little flat?

The Furd will definitely be playing over their heads as they try to avoid the dreaded 8/9 slot in next week's conference tournament. Also, four seniors, including Landry Fields, will be playing their final game at Maples. I expect the first half to be hard-fought and for the red and white shirts to work for every point they can get. If Cal can weather that storm they should have a good shot at winning the game, perhaps blowing it open. If they don't, we could be in for a long battle, something we don't really need to deal with.

Jerome Randle will hopefully have the troops ready to go by tipoff.

"We're playing for seeding right now," Randle said. "I'm a little concerned about it. If we lose Saturday's game and someone else wins the Pac-10 Tournament, that could maybe bump us out."

Randle will probably be super motivated on Saturday, not only because it's the Furd and because of the reasons he laid above, but because Landry Fields is his main competition for Pac-10 Player of the Year. A sweep of the Trees followed by a solid tournament showing could clinch that honor for him, and would cap off a monumental regular season.

Talk is cheap though. Let's see what energy the Bears bring on the court.

Last time we danced: Cal wrecked the Furd 92-66. The Bears jumped out early and ended this one quickly. Max Zhang came in and bothered Landry Fields on his drives to the basket, plenty of Bears like Christopher, Jorge and Theo all saw action on the versatile guard, and the rest of the team spent much of the game owning their counterparts on the floor outside of Jeremy Green. Although we'll have no Max in this one, expect the Bears to use the same variety of defensive looks to try and disrupt Fields, then let Green get his. No one was able to stop Randle that night, and expect him to come out super motivated to have a big game after only scoring 7 points in the Pac-10 clincher.

Monty returns as conqueror: Mike Montgomery's first trip back to Palo Alto as a Golden Bear did not go so well; the Bears were a year younger, they had just come off the Washington sweep, and their shooters (Theo, Christopher, Randle) didn't shoot well. A lame Furd squad won a squeaker. This Furd squad is probably worse. Don't underestimate these guys at home on Senior Day, even if they've dropped a few in a row; Maples is a tough place to play, as Cardinal fans do seem to show up there with greater frequency than they do for their football squad. (All thanks to Monty, of course.)

Obviously, the circumstances are different now, as Montgomery no longer has to worry about proving he's coaching a good team. Hopefully, now that Cal has that "Pac-10 champions" moniker to live with, they'll start putting together the kinds of efforts like they did last Saturday against ASU--tough-nosed defense, lots of good possessions finished with high percentage shots. That's the way we've played in our wins this year, and that's the way we're going to need to play the rest of the year.

Hey, we're not REAL Pac-10 champions yet! Okay, yes, I know. The Pac-10 title isn't clinched in the official sense. Still, in the worst case scenario ASU and Cal would have the same record and the Bears have already swept the Devils, so screw all that 'official' crap. But really for Cal, it's less about the conference title now and more about finding place in the tournament. Wins will put us in a better position bracket-wise. Losses could cripple us and place us in a seeding that sees us exiting the first week, maybe even not making it at all.

So although a win would be nice to make our Pac-10 title 'official' in everyone else's eyes, these wins are more about the big picture.

Numbers Breakdown:

As always, ccourtesy of Pomeroy.

Category Cal rank Furd rank
Cal eFG% vs Furd def eFG% 35 245

Cal def eFG% vs Furd eFG%
136 143
Cal TO% vs Furd def TO% 44 209

Cal def TO% vs Furd TO%
237 49

Cal OReb% vs Furd DReb%
82 64

Cal DReb% vs Furd OReb%
74 263

Cal FT rate vs Furd opp FT rate
240 151

Cal opp FT rate vs Furd FT rate
106 200

Cal AdjO vs Furd AdjD
4 120

Cal AdjD vs Furd AdjO
74 107

Neither team is projected to turn the ball over much against the other. The Furd play some of the worst defense in the conference and can't seem to defend shooters, they don't get enough rebounds, they get to the free throw line even less so than Cal does. They are pretty much the worse possible matchup for the Bears on paper. As PaulThomas once put it so elegantly,

Their top two players (Landry Fields and Jeremy Green) are as good as Cal's top two

In fact, they might be the best two-man tandem in the league.

Unfortunately for them the next six are like a billion zillion times worse than Cal’s next six.

So most likely, it'll come down to a game of effort. If the Furd can come out with great intensity and energy, play over their heads, and get Cal to miss their shots, AND if Cal is afflicted with championship hangover, then they can make a game of it and really put a dent into our long-term aspirations. From here on out, the target is on our backs, especially this week and in the conference tournament.

If we're going to be champions, we're going to have to keep on playing like champions. BEAT THE FURD!