Losing a tough game to Stanford? That won't stop the Bears from giving the Cal band a little love.
We’re now almost to February, and the Bears are about two thirds of the way through their pre-tournament schedule. It’s about time to start talking about the NCAA tournament. I bring this up now because the Bears will present a strange resume to the selection committee. As it stands right now, Cal’s grid breaks out like this:
Record against RPI top 50: 1-4
Record against RPI 51-100: 7-2
Record against RPI 101+: 8-0
Cal has zero bad losses, but just one great win. That one win was over Virginia, who currently sits at #45 in the RPI and could conceivably fall out of the top 50, leaving the Bears with no top 50 wins. Which begs the question – how much will the selection committee consider margin of victory?
I would argue that Cal has been one of the unluckiest teams in the country. Cal’s wins have come by an average margin of 18.7 points, and wins against RPI top 100 teams have an average margin of 15.5. Four of Cal’s losses have come by three points or less. That’s why the Sagarin Predictor ratings (which use margin of victory) ranks Cal as the 20th best team while his ELO Chess ratings (which don’t) put Cal at just 33rd. That’s very close to Cal’s RPI of 36. WBBState has a computer ranking system that also includes margin of victory, and they put Cal at #23. So there’s a pretty clear gap in opinions between differing ranking systems, and they represent the difference between a 5 or a 6 seed and an 8 or 9 seed. I don’t need to explain to you how different those seeds are. It’s the difference between a shot at the Sweet 16 or better or a date with Brittney Griner in the 2nd round in College Station Texas.
Here’s the thing: I don’t trust the selection committee to pay the slightest attention to margin of victory, and I don’t trust the selection committee to do any favors for the Bears. Right now ESPN has Cal as a 9 seed (playing Virginia again?!) and that’s likely where the Bears will stay without more big wins. That means Cal needs to take matters into their own hands and get those wins. Cal may have as many as three or four opportunities for top-50 RPI wins. USC and Stanford will finish the season in the RPI top 50, and Arizona St. is right on the borderline. The Bears need to take two of three from those teams without stumbling against weaker competition. That translates to an 8-1 finish to the conference schedule.
That sounds optimistic after a 6-3 start to the season. But why not? For one thing, Cal’s 2nd half schedule is much easier. USC, UCLA and Stanford all come to Haas Pavilion. Arizona St. is the only intimidating road game. USC has lost three straight amidst major injury issues. True, an 8-1 record means that the Bears can’t afford to let up even once like they did against UCLA and USC. But I believe in the improvement this team has shown all year. They have the depth and talent to go 8-1, earn the 2nd seed in the Pac-12 tournament, and set themselves up for a 6 seed or better in the NCAA tournament.
Other Scattered Stanford Thoughts
First, various things you should read:
Bear Insider’s game report
Swish Appeal photo essay
Nate P. breaks down the awesome that is Brittany Boyd
C&R’s take on the game
It really hurts," said Boyd. "The seven turnovers, some of them, I could have done something better. I just need to get back in the gym and practice and decrease my turnovers."
She always asks after about how many turnovers she has," said Gottlieb. "What people may not know is how she sets such a high standard for herself.
Love it. If I had the time to go back I’d like to see Boyd’s turnovers. I feel like most of her turnovers are over-ambitious entry passes that could be characterized as high-risk, high-reward – the types of passes that if successful give post players easy baskets, but if they fail tend to go out-of-bounds or get kicked around the key. It’s not good to turn the ball over, but those types of turnovers I can accept.
-Taking Stanford to overtime in Palo Alto was great, but Cal will likely have to play even better to win at Haas. Nneka Ogwumike was apparently ill the week prior to the game and I doubt that Stanford will shoot 15% from behind the arc again. Stanford will almost assuredly play better in March. But there are plenty of ways for Cal to improve between now and then as well, which is why the game should be the most anticipated west-coast game of the year.
-Cal received 18 votes, good for ‘29th’ in the AP poll. The Bears could barely get noticed all season, but taking Stanford to overtime on the road is as good a way as any to get some attention.
Even on the road there’s no excuse for not beating Arizona – the Wildcats have only two Pac-12 wins and have lost four conference games by double digits, and they haven’t even played Cal or Stanford yet.
Arizona St. is the big challenge. Stanford will likely snap their five game winning streak on Thursday, but the Sun Devils have rebounded nicely from an early three game losing streak and Cal has lost two in a row in Tempe. Still, ASU’s best conference win is a home victory over Colorado and there isn’t much in the non-conference schedule to suggest that ASU isn’t beatable. It’s a game that could go either way and it’s one that the Bears need to get before the L.A. schools come to town the week after.