And now it gets hard. Remember Texas, the team that pummeled Cal on the glass and smothered our offense? Well, Wisconsin is a better team than the Longhorns, with some of the same strengths. This is probably the 2nd toughest game of the year (hooray we get to play Arizona in Tucson!)
Wisconsin is obviously known for their deliberate, hyper-efficient style of offense and defense. They are currently 313th in the country in adjusted tempo per Kenpom, which is actually a tick faster than usual for Bo Ryan. Cal has been forcing teams to take plenty of time on their offensive sets so far this year, so you should fully expect this to be a slow game that may not get to 60 possessions.
Playing Wyoming wasn't very much fun, but it's going to be good experience for Cal. Now they'll just have to get used to a team that runs that executes that offense much better. The back cuts will be crisper, the passes will be faster, and the shots will (likely, but hopefully not!) fall much more often
PG Traevon Jackson, 6'3'' Sr.
G Josh Gasser, 6'4'' Sr.
F Sam Dekker, 6'9'' Jr.
F Nigel Hayes, 6'8'' So.
F Frank Kaminsky, 7'0'' Sr.
G Bronson Koenig
F Duje Dukan
F Vitto Brown
Kaminsky is on the short list of players who have an actual chance of taking home various national player of the year honors. He's probably the best big man in the country, a 7 foot shot blocking, foul drawing, defensive rebounding monster who also has 3 point range. A match-up nightmare for any defense.
Dekker is a versatile wing and future 1st round draft pick who is equally capable of hitting jumpers, moving without the ball, and scoring on drives to the basket. Relative to everything else Wisconsin can do, Cal probably prefers him shooting jumpers. About half of Wisconsin's possessions will end with either Dekker or Kaminsky getting a shot.
Traevon Jackson runs the point, with Koenig spelling him when he sits. The point guard doesn't necessary have huge ball handling responsibilities in this offense, as the ball ideally moves through everybody's hands when the Wisconsin offense is run well. (Spoiler alert: they run it well.)
Nigel Hayes is an athletic, active forward who will occasionally shot a 3 but prefers to work inside and attack the rim, and draws more fouls than any other Badger as a result.
Gasser is a classic low-usage 3 point gunner, but happens to be one of the best in the nation. He's shooting 3s at a 41% career clip, and he will punish Cal if he is ever left open.
Because Wisconsin plays a slow pace and doesn't foul much, they really don't have to dip into their bench much. Against dangerous teams they will often only play 7 deep. Dukan backs up both Hayes and Kaminsky, and his main role is to come in and clean up the defensive glass and snipe some 3 point looks. Brown is the next big off the bench, and again is relied on to clean the glass and occasionally post up.
(All numbers via Kenpom.com, national rankings in parenthesis)
Kenpom sez: Wisconsin 64, California 58, 75% chance of Wisconsin win.
Wisconsin offense vs. Cal defense
|Wisconsin Offense||Cal Defense|
|eFG%||55.8% (19)||41.7% (14)|
|Rebound%||31.8% (151)||22.2% (3)|
|Turnover%||14.1% (4)||15.5% (344)|
|FTA/FGA||36.4 (201)||39.3 (208)|
|Adjusted Efficiency||115.1 (5)||91.1 (25)|
Cal offense vs. Wisconsin defense
|Cal Offense||Wisconsin Defense|
|eFG%||51.4% (86)||43.0% (29)|
|Rebound%||28.2% (260)||21.1% (1)|
|Turnover%||15.5% (12)||21.4% (89)|
|FTA/FGA||33.0 (268)||23.8 (6)|
|Adjusted Efficiency||101.7 (132)||88.3 (8)|
Here's where things get tricky. Both teams have great defenses, but Wisconsin has a great offense while Cal's is iffy. Cal will not score points via a boatload of offensive rebounds or a ton of free throw shots, so good shooting is more of a must than usual.
Keys to the Game
100%, constant, focused defensive energy: Wisconsin is obviously willing to use every second of the shot clock when needed, but unlike most teams they won't necessarily settle for a crummy shot as the buzzer nears. This game will be the biggest test of Cal's effort and focus on the defensive side of the ball. I do expect Cal to be able to hold Wisconsin to one shot on most possessions - but will that shot be a miss?
No sloppiness with the ball: Like I said above: Cal won't be getting a ton of offensive rebounds or free throws, which means they will have to keep their offense afloat in other ways. But for Cal to get a good look on every possession, they obviously can't be turning the ball over much. It's something that Cal has mostly been very good about, but in a few games this year they have hurt themselves with dropped or errant passes that weren't forced.
Have a plan for Kaminsky: Honestly, I don't know what that plan should be. Kravish has enough length to match up reasonably well, but part of me thinks that Christian Behren's physicality and energy might be more successful. Probably the answer is to switch around on him to give guys a break and to see what works best. But I don't think consistent double teams are viable. If a guard wants to occasionally cheat down to help out over the top Cal will eventually get burned on 3 pointers.
Outlier shooting nights: Remember when Cal played Syracuse, and the Bears started bombing 3 pointers and a bunch of them went in? That was awesome, let's do it again. Hey, did you watch Wisconsin play Marquette? No, you probably didn't, but the Badgers shot 17-52 against a pretty mediocre Golden Eagle defense.
So yeah, some weird things probably have to happen for Cal to win. But Cal has a good enough defense to turn this game into a low scoring slog in which neither team can pull away. It's hard to beat good teams on the road, even when you're a final four contender. This is a game Cal can win.