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Rout Of Arizona State Keeps Cal In The Title Race

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I'll be honest - breaking down the events in Cal's 68-47 win don't really interest me. The game went almost exactly as pretty much everybody expected it to, which means that it was over very quickly. The Bears started the game on a 13-1 run and led the rest of the way by double digits. The lead was up to 18 at the half and reached 30 on a Robert Thurman dunk with 9 minutes left in the game. Nine different Bears scored, which is one more than Sun Devils who played in the game. It was over as soon as it started.

The simple reality is that Arizona St. is so depleted that Cal didn't need to do anything extraordinary to get the win. Without a point guard, the Sun Devils committed 20 turnovers, and only 5 of those were recorded as Cal steals. Play basic, solid defense and ASU will throw the ball away on their own.

Allen Crabbe led the way with 19 points, and he clearly enjoyed facing a not-particularly-intimidating zone defense rather than the typical tight man defense that most teams have used to deny him outside looks. The rest of the starters all contributed solid minutes and then enjoyed a restful 2nd half - Jorge's 28 minutes led the team, and Justin Cobbs and David Kravish didn't even have to play 20 minutes.

In fact, easily the biggest concern was the health of Crabbe and Harper Kamp, who both picked up seemingly innocuous injuries (ankle and finger respectively) but nonetheless had precautionary X-rays. Monty isn't worried about it, so there's no reason for us to worry either. The fact that both players played after their injuries and proceeded to make shots is as good a sign as any.

Cal's turnover percentage was a touch higher than you'd hope, and I'm surprised ASU out-rebounded Cal so badly (though garbage time might've impacted that) but the rest is all as lopsided as you could hope for.

So rather than breaking down an uninteresting game that says very little about what Cal will or will not achieve the rest of the way, let's talk about what matters: the race for the Pac-12 title. For most of the year Cal has been the odds on choice to take the crown. But a tough loss to Arizona and Washington's sweep of the L.A. schools means that for the first time Cal is no longer the prohibitive favorite. Kenpom's predictor now thinks the season will finish with the Bears and Huskies tied at the top with records of 13-5. That would earn the 1 seed in the conference tournament and a banner, but even a shared title would feel somewhat hollow.

What needs to happen for Cal to claim the title outright? Obviously enough Washington would have to lose two of their last seven games. That's not exceptionally unlikely because Washington's road schedule is heavily back-loaded, as Washington has 5 more road games including trips to Oregon and Los Angeles.

But Cal has 5 road games as well, a thinner roster, and one game (or two, depending on your perspective) to make up. I believe that Cal is still the better team, and that Washington's schedule is marginally tougher. Thank goodness Darnell Gant's 3 didn't go in, or Cal's title chances would be all but gone.

Four games on the schedule should be (relatively) easier and have to end in wins: @USC, vs. Oregon, vs. Oregon St. and @ Utah. If those games go the right way, the season boils down to three scary road games - UCLA, Colorado and Stanford. Colorado is scary because of their unique home field advantage. UCLA and Stanford are scary because of the idea that one of those two teams could ruin Cal's season. I'm breaking out into stress hives just thinking about that possibility.

For now the focus shifts to the Trojans, but that UCLA game on Saturday is already in the back of my mind. Fair warning: the preview of the Bruins you'll read next week will probably be even more angsty than the one I wrote last year. It's crunch time in the 2012 season, but I think this team is ready to handle the pressure.