Cal played well against every team in the Pac-10 during the Monty-Jerome-PChris-Theo-Jamal era with only one real exception: Oregon State. So it was a satisfying surprise to watch the Bears dominate the Beavers from start to finish en route to an 85-57 win. I have a few potential theories as to why past Bears teams struggled against Craig Robinson's teams, mostly having to do with how the 1-3-1 zone impacted Jerome Randle, but that's a different subject. The important point is that the Beaver hoodoo appears to have been broken, and decisively.
Cal's win over OSU in Berkeley is really their only blowout win in Pac-10 play, but that game doesn't make me as confident as you might think. For one, the Beavers are 0-7 on the road in the conference but 5-3 in Corvallis, including upsets over Arizona and Washington. It's not entirely clear why Oregon State suddenly becomes a competent team at home, but we're far enough into the season to make me think it's not a fluke.
The main guy to watch on Oregon St. is Jared Cunningham, who leads the Beavers on both offense and defense. He's one of the few guys with an above-average offensive game, and the only one averaging double figure scoring. He's also the point man on the 1-3-1, which means he racks up steal after steal. His athleticism is one of the reasons Craig Robinson abandoned the slow-down offense and has the Beavers running this year. Stopping him on offense and getting around him on defense typically leads to a big win.
Beyond Cunningham OSU has a stable of players that can't be counted on to consistently score points, but are capable of good games if given the right match-up or enough space. Seniors Calvin Haynes and Lathen Wallace are the names Cal fans will be most familiar with, but Roberto Nelson and Joe Burton are other potentially dangerous players.
Note: The following chart concept has been blatantly stolen from mgoblog.
|Cal eFG% v. OSU Def eFG
|Cal Def eFG% v. OSU eFG%
|Cal TO% v. Ore OSU TO%
|Cal Def TO% v. OSU TO%
|Cal OReb% v. OSU DReb%
|Cal DReb% v. OSU OReb%
|Cal FTR v. OSU Opp FTR
|Cal Opp FTR v. OSU FTR
|Cal AdjO v. OSU AdjD
|Cal AdjD v. OSU AdjO
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.
Wow. Five big honkin' C's out of a potential six in eFG%, the most important of the four factors. And that right there is why Oregon St. is 10-16 with losses to Seattle, Texas Southern and Utah Valley. Oregon St.'s defense is pretty awesome at forcing turnovers, but incredibly horrible at stopping teams from getting easy, open looks. In fact, they are tied for last amongst major conference teams in that category. So Cal's mandate on offense is incredibly simple - if they don't turn the ball over they're going to score lots and lots of points. They only turned the ball over 13 times against the Beavers in Berkeley, and the result was 82 points in a 28 point blow out.
Defensively, we might actually be better off playing zone. I know we've all (rightly) bemoaned the necessity to go zone, especially considering how good the defense looked early in the season and in the first half against UCLA in man-to-man. But Oregon St. is a really bad shooting team, but almost as good as Cal at drawing fouls and getting to the line. So it would make sense to throw a defense out that encourages teams to shoot from the outside and is generally less prone to fouls.
A win means a few things. Most importantly, it would clinch a winning season, which is not technically required for NIT eligibility but realistically necessary to have a chance. And a win would all but clinch a top six seed in the Pac-10 tourney, meaning the Bears would avoid a play-in game and get an easier draw. With Washington St. and USC still having to face each other and Washington, and with Oregon having to travel to Arizona, Cal's chances of finishing at least fifth in the conference are very high. That finish would give the Bears as good a draw as they realistically can hope for at this point in the season - a winnable first round game and dreaded Washington on the other side of the bracket. So there's plenty of motivation. Go Bears!
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