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Cal Basketball vs. Syracuse Preview and Open Thread

"It seems like every year we play Syracuse...and their doggone zone." - Monty

Ethan Miller

The names and faces may change, but the results stay the same. We've had veteran squads, players w/ NBA-range, defensive stoppers, and simply haven't had the horses to overcome the Orange and their infamous match-up zone.

At its heart, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's formula is simple; deploy a bunch of long-armed athletes in a stifling zone that converts turnovers into offense. Despite a seemingly endless procession of one and dones, he's shown a deft hand at re-loading season after season.  The pre-season pollsters are showing a lot of love with a #11 ranking despite losing their three best players to the NBA.

But could this be the year where the experience tax finally takes its toll? Unlike past seasons where Boeheim has had solid veterans ready to assume the mantle of leadership, his returning upperclassmen have been more characterized to date as role players.

The early returns suggest...maybe. Syracuse trailed by 15 to a where-are-they-from Carleton team before pulling out the exhibition win earlier this year. Then again, Syracuse needed overtime to defeat Carleton last year and proceeded to win 25 straight en route to 28-6 before being upset in the 2nd round of the tournament by Dayton.

Like the Bears, Syracuse has breezed through the first two rounds of the 2K Classic to the point where stats are largely useless.  This is the first real game for both teams.

Probable Starters:
G Kaleb Joseph(Fr), 6'3, 165 lbs
G Trevor Cooney(Jr), 6'4, 200 lbs
F Tyler Roberson(So), 6'8, 212 lbs
F Chris McCullough(Fr), 6'10, 220 lbs
C Rakeem Christmas(Sr), 6'9, 250 lbs

G/F Michael Gbinije(Jr), 6'7, 200 lbs
G Ron Patterson(So), 6'7, 200 lbs
F B.J. Johnson(So), 6'7, 200 lbs

Notable Players:

Highly touted uber-frosh Kaleb Joseph is the heir-apparent at point to Diaper Dandy alumni Tyler Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams. He's a dangerous finisher and distributor who has also shown off a mid-range jumper. Fellow frosh Chris McCullough is the prototypical long-armed athlete that Boeheim loves at the 3/4 spot. Senior center Rakeem Christmas is a solid defender and shot-blocker, but has been inconsistent on offense throughout his career. One might almost say that he only shows up once a year. Naturally, he's had some of his best games against Cal, so expect a career night. Off the bench, former Duke transfer Michael Gbinijie is their Swiss army knife and Ron Patterson is the designated long-range sniper.

Keys to the game:

1) Protect the ball

This Syracuse team may not have the dominant scorers from last year, but they're still a bunch of blue-chip athletes who thrive off of converting steals and deflections into fast break points.

2) Rebound

Could be interchangeable with #1 and might as well be copy/pasta'd to every preview for Cal this year. Extra possessions and especially put-back baskets will absolutely kill us. This isn't a great outside shooting team, so denying them easy baskets inside will be key.

3) David Kravish

He needs to stay out of foul trouble and assert himself offensively. His ability to score from the foul line extended might be our best option against their zone. When he's not on the court, we need to be able to minimize the bleeding.

4) Be aggressive with dribble penetration

During the exhibition season, CSU-San Marcos threw a 3-2 zone at us. Initially, we didn't adapt well and resorted to hesitant passing around the perimeter. After the game, Coach Martin emphasized that his point guards need to be more aggressive with their ball handling so that the defenders have to rotate and create openings in the defense.  Similarly, Cal struggled at times offensively during the 1st half against Kennesaw State;  the Owls had clearly scouted our transition game and were well-coached to sag back and prevent easy forays into the paint.  Decision-making will be key as we'll need to both force the zone to rotate and then make the right pass to exploit this rotation.

5) "Shoot the ball very well." - Reef

And that's why he's the CGB Hoops Specialist.

Go Bears!

Tip-off: Thursday, November 20th, 6pm