I'll be upfront about this: I've barely seen the Ducks play this year. Between men's and women's basketball, finding time to watch what everybody assumed would be the worst team in the Pac-10 wasn't at the top of my priority list. But the Ducks have been surprising so far, and new coach Dana Altman looks like he's got them moving in the right direction after the slow, steady, Ben-Braun-like demise of the Ernie Kent era.
Altman has made Oregon competitive primarily though defense. The Ducks won't be mistaken for an offensively minded team, and in their three Pac-10 wins they held their opponents to 62 points or less. They do this with a pressure defense that takes risks and forces turnovers, sometimes to the detriment of field goal defense. Hopefully Cal's performance against another defense that relies on forcing turnovers in Oregon St. will be a positive harbinger.
Offensively, things are a little simpler. Joevan Catron on the inside, E.J. Singler on the outside. Catron is a load, and amongst Pac-10 players only Klay Thompson uses a greater percentage of his team's offensive possessions. When he's on the floor Oregon will be looking to get him the ball at every opportunity. He's a solid rebounder and he draws lots of fouls. Easily my biggest fear is that the refs somehow find a way to call three fouls on Markhuri on one possession guarding Catron. Sure, sure, doubt my fear. You know they'll find a way!
Singler, meanwhile, is one of the better 3 point shooters in the conference and the type of player that Oregon counts on to get hot on offense. If the Bears can limit the production of either it's hard to see Oregon scoring enough points to win on the road, although the Ducks broke an ancient Maples losing streak despite only limited contributions from Singler, so what do I know?
Note: The following chart concept has been blatantly stolen from mgoblog.
|Category||Cal Rank||Ore Rank||Advantage|
|Cal eFG% v. Ore Def eFG||134||226||C|
|Cal Def eFG% v. Ore eFG%||131||291||CC|
|Cal TO% v. Ore Def TO%||151||58||O|
|Cal Def TO% v. Ore TO%||266||67||OO|
|Cal OReb% v. Ore DReb%||273||167||OO|
|Cal DReb% v. Ore OReb%||6||185||CC|
|Cal FTR v. Ore Opp FTR||20||168||CC|
|Cal Opp FTR v. Ore FTR||103||322||CCC|
|Cal AdjO v. Ore AdjD||81||85||--|
|Cal AdjD v. Ore AdjO||58||168||CC|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
Turnovers looks to be the key to the game - Oregon wants to force them while the Bears want to hold on to the ball a bit better than they did against Oregon St. There will be pressure on Jorge, after such a brilliant performance on Thursday, to again stay calm and make the right choices in the face of Oregon pressure. Hopefully Brandon Smith's speed will help break the press. The Bears should be able to lock down the defensive glass, and they might even have a little success on the offensive glass for a change, though that's not something to count on.
The Bears should win this game on the defensive end. Cal has had two excellent defensive games in a row, and the team really seems to be getting confident and comfortable running the 2-3 zone. With Monty hitting on the idea of going big with Bak Bak or Richard Solomon the length and rebounding of the lineup really takes advantage. Hopefully the same zone that rendered Nikola Vucevic nearly invisible can do the same to Catron.
Realistically, this is a game that Cal should win without a ton of trouble, but Oregon has won 3 of 4 and should be coming in confident. This isn't an Oregon team that can be counted on to beat themselves, so the Bears will have to earn it. I haven't seen anything from the past few games suggesting they aren't up to the task.