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Cal defeats Wyoming, college basketball's sedative

If you were interested in watching 25 seconds of aimless passing before a missed shot, you got your wish. Also: Cal's defense? Pretty good!

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday night Cal faced Wyoming, and won. Ultimately, that makes it a happy day. I doubt Cuonzo Martin concerns himself with concepts like style points, or entertainment value, as well he shouldn't.

But boy, from a fan perspective, that wasn't any fun to watch. The game featured just 55 possessions, which is almost as slow as a game can get while still kinda sorta resembling basketball. Cal and Wyoming are a particularly lethal combination, because Wyoming is slow, and both teams feature defenses well ahead of the offenses. This game could have legitimately finished with both teams scoring in the 30s.

For the record, I don't blame Cal for this. Sure, the Bears played their part. Cal shot the ball poorly and had some impressively comical turnovers. But remember: this is how Wyoming wants to play basketball. They want the game to go as slowly as possible, and they want every possession to be like a trip to the dentist.

It's because of teams like Wyoming that college basketball is getting slower nearly every single year. Coaches have largely given up on both offensive rebounds and transition basketball in favor of trying to micromanage every single possession in the half-court set.

And you know what? I wouldn't even necessarily hate that if the half-court basketball was decent, but when Wyoming HAD to score at the end of the game, their last three meaningful possessions resulted in an airball contested jumper and two turnovers. Wyoming has intentionally murdered the joy of basketball . . . for that?

I realize that this entire recap has been a hyperbolic rant against a certain style of basketball. I realize that one of the joys of college basketball as compared to the pros is the incredible diversity of styles you can see day-in, day-out, and I don't necessarily want to lose that. I realize that potential solutions, like lowering the shot clock to 30 seconds, might just result in lower offensive efficiency without actually increasing the amount of transition opportunities teams get in each game.

But man, I'm willing to accept some changes after that game.

Assorted non-rants about the actual game:

  • The game was close in large part because David Kravish had a nightmare of a game. He went 2-11 from the floor, missed nearly every mid-range jumper by a mile, blew a gimme lay-in and repeatedly lost the ball inside. If he plays even close to his abilities Cal rides to an easy double digit win. I'm assuming the shooting touch will come back, but again: his inability to exert more control inside against lower level competition is concerning.
  • Tyrone Wallace was the man again. Cal really only had two consistent ways to create offense, and the best way was to let Ty break down the defense on helter-skelter dribble drives that resulted in either a decent look in the lane or a dish to somebody else.
  • The other reliable form of offense? How about Christian Behrens inside! Behrens finished with five huge offensive rebounds and he took a number of them back up for 2nd chance points himself. He earned Cal a few extra possessions with hustle plays, and held Wyoming's best offensive option to 5-14 shooting inside.
  • Roger Moute a Bidias was one missed 3 pointer away from a 12 trillion.
  • As much as I enjoyed joking about Wyoming's offense: The Cowboys have had a decent offense so far this year, and Cal held them to their worst offensive performance of the season by far. As an example, they scored 56 points against Colorado in a game that was actually slower than this one. For long stretches Wyoming looked like they had no idea what they could do to get a decent shot off, and Cal deserves plenty of credit for that. The Bears may already have a borderline top 25 defense, even this early in the Cuonzo Martin era. The improving defense will deserve closer scrutiny than I can provide in a game recap.
So, good win. Not a fun win, but a good win. How good? Wyoming has had a strong start to the year (in part because they have only played two road games) and will likely spend the year hovering around 100 in the RPI. It's a decent win for a Cal team that will look to win as many ugly defensive slugfests as they can. The eventual return of Jabari Bird will help the offense immensely, and if they can integrate him in without compromising the defense, this could be a pretty good team.

Perhaps most importantly: Other than (obviously) Wisconsin, this was the non-conference game most likely to end in a loss. Winning this game means that an 11-2 or better non-conference record is within sight. For a team that has had injury issues and is still in the early stages of a new coaching tenure, that would be excellent. Landmine avoided.