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Roll On: Scouting The Stanford Cardinal

Even in defeat, I've enjoyed nearly every Cal men's basketball game this year, with just a few prominent exceptions. Foremost amongst them was Cal's 82-68 defeat against Stanford in Palo Alto. If you scripted a nightmare loss to Stanford, all of the elements were there. Jeremy Green nailing contested threes? Check. Constant foul trouble for Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp? Check. Dwight Powell and Anthony Brown looking like the more polished, talented freshmen? Check. And to make matters worse Gary Franklin announced his transfer soon after. It was by far the lowest point of the season.

That game happened more than two months ago, but considering how much has changed since then it seems much longer. Allen Crabbe broke out with three straight games of 17 points or more and never looked back. The transition to a zone defense kept Kamp and MSF out of foul trouble enough to establish one of the best offensive duos amongst Pac-10 bigs. Brandon Smith stepped into the starting lineup and exceeded everyone's wildest expectations. And Jorge Gutierrez morphed from a defense-first facilitator into a Pac-10-first-team caliber player.

And as for Stanford? Since defeating Cal to open their conference schedule they've gone 5-10 with just one win over a team in the top half of the conference standings. True, there have been flashes of a team that some thought might compete in the top half of the Pac-10. Anthony Brown scoring 15 points in back-to-back games against Washington and UCLA, or Josh Owens going for 31 on the road against Oregon, for example. But it would be hard to characterize Stanford's season as anything but a disappointment at this juncture.

Considering Stanford's stagnation, does the combination of home court advantage and Cal's season-long improvement mean that we should be expecting a Golden Bear victory on senior day Markhuri Sanders-Frison day? That's tougher to answer. Stanford showed enough in their win to create concerns about match-up problems. For example, Cal's three point defense, which has been abysmal, vs. Jeremy Green. And the Bears will certainly have to find an answer for the athleticism of Powell and Owens. But Cal is such a vastly different team compared to the one that took the court on January 2nd that it's very hard to draw any meaningful conclusions. Let's see what the numbers say:

Kenpom Sez:

Cal 73, Stanford 66, 75% confidence

Note: The following chart concept has been blatantly stolen from mgoblog.

Category Cal Rank Stan Rank Advantage
Cal eFG% v. Stan Def eFG 100
Cal Def eFG% v. Stan eFG% 238 145
Cal TO% v. Stan Def TO% 116 97
Cal Def TO% v. Stan TO% 284 201
Cal OReb% v. Stan DReb% 239 61
Cal DReb% v. Stan OReb% 20
Cal FTR v. Stan Opp FTR 8
Cal Opp FTR v. Stan FTR 39 179
Cal AdjO v. Stan AdjD 39 77
Cal AdjD v. Stan AdjO 115 106

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.

Nothing too earth-shattering here. Cal has a pretty iffy defense, Stanford has a pretty iffy offense. The Bears have the advantage because of an excellent offense that outshines Stanford's good-but-not-great defense. From a four factors standpoint the teams are fairly similar. Neither defenses force many turnovers, and neither offenses have a huge problem with coughing up the ball. Neither team is any good at grabbing offensive rebounds, yet both teamss are good at preventing offensive rebounds.

Where the teams differ, as typically seems to be the case for the Bears, is from the line. Per the usual, Cal has a huge advantage in both drawing and avoiding fouls, and of course that advantage is typically more valuable at home. Stanford actually won the free throw battle in Maples:

That was caused mostly by Dwight Powell, who managed to keep MSF and Kamp both in foul trouble for most of the game. That will likely look very different this time around with Cal playing more zone, although it also wouldn't shock me to see Monty come out in man-to-man like he did against UCLA. Regardless of the defense, slowing down Powell and Owens will likely be the key to the game.

Because Washington St. beat USC last night this game arguably takes on added importance, depending on your opinion on Pac-10 tournament match-ups. Cal has clinched at least 6th place in the conference, and could finish anywhere from 4th to 6th. Where you want Cal to finish exactly depends on how you feel the Bears would do against potential first round opponents UCLA, Washington, USC or Washington St., and likely second round opponents Arizona, UCLA or Washington. I would imagine that the majority of Cal fans would like to see Washington on the other side of the bracket, and the easiest way to do that is to win and hope that either WSU or USC lose. It's all a jumbled mess right now, but I think we can all agree on one thing: The best way to end the regular season is by blowing away that silly band and that silly tree. Go Bears!


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