This Sunday, Cal women's basketball will conclude the non-conference portion of their schedule, hopefully with a win over Lafayette from the Patriot League. Prior to the season, I think most Cal fans expected that the Bears would head into Pac-12 play with a record of 9-2. Assuming the Bears beat 6-4 Lafayette, they will instead stand at 8-3 due to a road loss to George Washington. Then again, most Cal fans were including a healthy and available Gennifer Brandon into their projections, so one extra road loss perhaps shouldn't be particularly surprising.
As a result, there is an odd dichotomy between perception and reality for the Bears right now. In many ways, the non-conference schedule was a success. Cal essentially met pre-season projections, particularly considering various injury issues. They will carry a top 20 RPI and strength of schedule into Pac-12 play. And yet, rightly or wrongly, there's a perception that this team hasn't lived up to their potential.
The funny thing is that I don't know what to make of this team, either. For the sake of argument, let's throw out the UConn game because the Huskies are playing an entirely different game as compared to the rest of the county. Cal has done plenty of impressive things. They have a solid record despite having faced only one team (4-6 CSU Bakersfield) with a losing record. So far, Cal's opponents (including Lafayette) have a combined record of 82-42. True, the Bears have only played two truly elite teams, but they haven't played more than one truly bad team as well.
And, obviously, they have done all this without Gennifer Brandon, the best rebounder in the entire country.
And yet, Cal wasn't especially competitive in their two games against ranked opponents, and they have struggled to put away teams that they would have defeated easily last year. If UOP beats Cal in overtime and Idaho hits another few shots, the Bears would have five losses.
I think it comes down to two factors. Firstly, the Bears are coming off a dream season in which they only lost four games all year long, all against ranked teams. Fans aren't used to losing, and even if regression is expected to happen, it's still not fun. Secondly, it's hard to be patient with talented freshmen, even when you know it's going to take time to put the pieces together.
Frankly, Cal fan angst all comes down to a few simple numbers that we have already discussed in some detail previously:
2FG%: 42.5 (201)
3FG%: 22.0 (330)
Cal has been an awful shooting team, and from behind the arc there are only 19 teams in the country that have been worse. To keep things simple: So far this season Cal has been the worst three point shooting team amongst all major conference teams. In a sense, it's amazing that Cal has fared so well against a tough schedule despite such horrific shooting.
The good news is that the past is in the past, and no matter how much Cal has struggled to put the ball in the net, they're sitting in a perfectly envious position from a computer resume perspective. And much to my surprise, the conference as a whole is looking surprisingly strong as well, so conference play may not be nearly as damaging to Cal's hypothetical tournament resume as years past.
Next week we'll recap what the rest of the Pac-12 has accomplished so far, look back at my already laughably bad pre-season projections, and try to predict how Cal will stack up in the conference race.