What is the world coming to when the name "Beavers" sends a chill down the spine of Cal fans everywhere? And, we're not just talking about the gridiron ownage. Somehow, they've taken 3 out of the last 4 games from us on the hardwood ever since Craig Robinson took the reigns.
How do they do it? A pesky 1-3-1 zone combined with a Princeton offense is apparently the magical recipe for a Golden Bear trip to Facepalm City. And to be clear, it's not the type of groovy trip that Berkeley is known for.
Earlier in the year, the Beaver team looked like it had taken a step back. Waaaay back. They went 5-6 in non-conference play including some losses to notable powerhouses such as Seattle, Texas Southern, and Utah Valley. There were panicked fanposts with titles like, "Is this Oregon State team the worst the Pac-10 has ever seen?", "Dam This Sucks" or "Craig Robinson Will Soon Need Witness Protection for Killing Beaver Basketball." (I might have made that last one up)
So, what did the hapless Beavers do? They started off conference play by sweeping the Arizona schools at home. Huh?!? A road trip to the Washington schools resulted in two losses. Okay, that's more like it. A close loss to the Bruins at home wasn't all that unexpected. But, then they tripped up previous conference frontrunner 'SC. Uh oh. Plucky, bucky, or otherwise, these Beavers have teeth...Big, sharp, nasty teeth.
Fortunately for us, this contest takes place in Haas Pavilion. We'll worry about getting Beav'd up in Corvallis next month.
For the statistically inclined, kenpom says we're going to win! Hooray, Beer!
But, we know better than to trust stat-geeks, psychic-octupi, or even prescient aardvarks. We know that we're Cal and we're very, very good at seizing defeat from the jaws of victory...or at least mining stress/pain/angst from the molars o' happiness.
Coach Robinson has a nice mix of youth and experience that goes 10-11 deep. Because they play so many different guys, it really lets them go all out on defense. Speaking of which, they still run that evil, soul-stealing 1-3-1 zone. And I'm not kidding about the steals. The Beavers lead the nation with 10.61 steals per game. Uber-soph Jared Cunningham is the tip of the spear and leads the Pac-10 with 3.11/steals per game. It's a good thing we don't have any issues with turning the ball over. Sigh. To make things interesting, they're mixing things up with some 2-3 zone as well. On offense, they're going a little more up tempo than in the past and have increased their scoring average from 60 ppg to 72 ppg.
Senior Power Forward Omari Johnson doesn't score a lot, but leads them in rebounds and double-doubles. He's more lanky than a true bruiser.
Sophomore Center Angus Brandt has been starting in the middle recently, but only plays about 15 minutes/game. He's the tallest Beaver at 6'10. Although he's not much of a shot-blocker, he uses length to shut-down passing lanes.
Sophomore Center Joe Burton has really improved from his freshman campaign. He's more than doubled his scoring average from 4.6 to 9.3 ppg, and he rebounds almost as well as Johnson. Although he doesn't have great height, he has the bulk (280 lbs) to bang with MSF and Kamp.
Freshman Devon Collier has been starting on the wing. Rated as a 4-star and top 150 prospect, he was the prize of the Beaver's recruiting class. At this stage of his career, he's more of a defensive specialist, using his quickness and 6'7 frame to good advantage in that zone.
Junior Power Forward Kevin McShane offers yet more depth.
Soph G Jared Cunningham does it all for this team. In addition to his previously-mentioned knack for pilferage, he leads them in scoring at 15.3 ppg. Last year, he was more of a slasher and a scorer than a shooter. This year, he's shooting 44% from 3, and 46% from the field. And if the game gets close, he's been money at the line with 79% and is the school record-holder for most consecutive free throws without a miss.
It only seems like senior G Calvin Haynes has been there forever. Maybe it's because he torments us whenever we play. Although he was a second-team All-Pac-10 selection last year, he's willingly deferred to Cunningham's brilliance. He's been struggling from deep so far (27%), but I wouldn't want to leave him open.
Senior G Lathen Wallace and Frosh Roberto Nelson offer shooting off the bench.
True frosh Ahmad Starks is the small, but quick understudy at point guard.
1) It's no great revelation that the key to all the cupcakes in this one is whether we can execute our offense against their swarming zone. In particular, it will be interesting to see if Smith will be able to handle passing the ball around their taller guards/wings. If we show poise, make good decisions, and are patient running our offense with plenty of touches inside, I think we'll be fine. If we let turnovers ignite their transition game or fall in love with deep jumpers early in the clock, then this one could be epically ugly.
2) Can Jorge and Allen Crabbe slow down Jared Cunningham? Noted defender Malcolm Lee shut him down during a Bruins victory. 'SC's lock-down ace Simmons got lit up for 24 in the Beaver upset.
3) Quality over quantity? They rotate so many players that foul trouble is unlikely to be an issue for them. We can't really say the same, although Solomon, Bak Bak, and Murray are all starting to become more consistent contributors. Hopefully, fatigue is a non-issue for our veterans because this is the early game of the homestand.
I'm actually a little more concerned with our defense than our offense in this one. Sure, turnovers and offensive execution are likely to be an ongoing issue all year. But when the wheels have come off for this Bear team, it's because of untimely lapses on defense. Some of the Bears have admitted that they have a tendency to relax a little too much at home. Here's hoping that veteran leadership sets the right tone. Besides, Monty should have plenty of "coachable moments" at his disposal after last week's trip to emphasize the need to give constant effort. It's all about defending the home court in conference play. Let's start with this one. Go Bears!