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Cal basketball roundtable: Making sense of the struggle

Why do the Bears look so ... bad?

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

What are the biggest reasons Cal basketball is slumping?

Avinash Kunnath (follow on Twitter):

1) Cal lacks a second effective big. We can bag on David Kravish all we want, but we're asking too much of him right now.  He's being asked to guard 5s when our center gets into foul trouble. He has to go out into the perimeter to chase stretch 4s. He needs a second big (like Harper Kamp, or Richard Solomon, or Robert Thurman) to take the load off of him in some form or another as a post-up option or a defensive anchor. Kingsley Okoroh might be that guy next year, but right now he and Behrens would be better off in the bench. This is the year where all our recruiting misses on big men have come back to bite us.

2) Cal's guard rotation is in rough shape past Jabari Bird. Sam Singer has lost all confidence in his outside shooting abilities and Cal has become much easier to guard when he's on the floor. Roger Moute a Bidias is better defensively and should be better polished next season, but his shooting numbers are worse. With one guard and one big always on the court that are essentially non scorers, teams are swarming Tyrone Wallace and forcing Jordan Mathews to run all over the court to find an open shot. With Kravish off and Bird out, it's a domino effect. Our offense is unwatchable.

3) This team is so bad at free throw shooting--it definitely cost us the Bakersfield game, and missing those front end of one and ones have probably taken us out of at least one or two other games. Only Mathews and Bird are good free throw shooters. Everyone else who has taken more than two free throw attempts is attempting 65% or worse. That's horrid. I'm starting to wonder if the bad free throw shooting makes our players more tentative in driving to the rim so they can avoid the charity stripe.

4) The cracks appeared last year with a much more talented squad. We lost Justin Cobbs, the only guy who seemed capable of generating offense with ten minutes left. We lost Richard Solomon, the instant human rebound and a player teams had to think twice about attacking at the rim when he was on the court. We replaced them with Okoroh (a year away), Brandon Chauca, and Dwight Tarwater. That is a dramatic drop in talent, and the results are finally starting to bear them out.


1) The defense has tailed off significantly since non-conference play: We've discussed this a ton in the comments section on CGB (the last few recaps) but the Bears are struggling mightily on defense compared to earlier in the year. I've noticed a few things I think are major contributors to this. First, our guards are not able to keep opposing guards out of the paint consistently. Singer and Wallace have the tools to be plus defenders (I'm not sold on Mathews though his effort level may be more consistent), but they're often caught out of position or rotating a step slow on help defense. They struggle to navigate ball screens - Singer in particular I've noticed tends to trail the shooter on the high side when going under would be more efficient. Second, we're undersized. Like Avi pointed out, Kravish has hd to guard some big, burly 5's due to Behrens' foul trouble and Okoroh's rawness. Last, the intensity has not been consistent. We've shown flashes of good defense, but not really played a good defensive game since conference play started. There aren't a ton of naturally talented defenders on this team (Moute? Okoroh?) so we have to play with consistent energy and focus, which we haven't been doing.

2) Rebounding, especially defensive, has been poor: I mentioned earlier that we are undersized, and that is really hurting us on the defensive boards. Tyrone Wallace is doing his part - he is a great rebounder for a guard - but it's really been our 3rd, 4th, and 5th players who have been getting hurt on the boards. Mathews, Tarwater, Singer in particular don't really do anything well in terms of rebounding - they're inconsistent in getting their body on a man to box out, they're not great leapers (and their timing can't make up for it), and they don't have strong hands and have lost a number of balls on deflections or tips.

3) The offense, rather predictably, has stagnated: I'm not a fan of Cuonzo's offense, especially for this team. I may be biased, but I think this scheme and the "freedom" given to our guards to read, react, and create is leading to a lot of problems. Wallace is the only player with a handle strong enough to get to the rim and create, but our other guards are too limited to do much. Singer has lost complete confidence in his shot, Mathews isn't getting easy looks off of pindowns or kickouts (which makes his recent scoring run even more remarkable), Jabari is still working his way back, and Chauca doesn't even present the threat of much except a potential catch and shoot.

From the bigs, it's more of the same - no one can create their own shot naturally and the offense isn't doing them any favors. Kravish has been relegated to a late-clock option and appears to have no confidence in his jump shot. Okoroh has actually shown some nice touch on jump hooks, but he's still learning how to process the game and struggles to score off of anything else but deep position and putbacks, Behrens has been a non factor (where has all that nifty finishing around the rim gone?!), and Moute refuses to shoot from outside the key (that being said, he's shown some nice 1-2 dribble ability to get to the rim). Put it all together and you get an offense with a lot of side to side movement, little penetration, a lot of shots very late in the clock, and a lot of Ty Wallace heroball. This may be a great scheme long term to recruit athletes and make us difficult to plan against, but it isn't working this year.

Rob Hwang (follow on Twitter): Player Development has come to a standstill, and that's not a knock on our coaching staff. With the majority of our roster being underclassmen, we need an offseason to be a huge growth period for our team. Here's our underclassmen: Kameron is out for the season, Jabari's hurt, Jordan is playing out of his mind, Sam has lost all confidence in everything, Roger is still a project, Chauca/Glapion are hail mary's. Granted Injuries are hard to judge but, the current sophomore class had so much hype coming and they exceeded expectations last year on a squad which was led by our seniors.

It seemed the summer would be perfect for them to take the next up in their development, but with the coaching change, it seems to hurt a lot of game development. Granted most of them have hit the weight room and bulked up but not having a staff to work with for the full off season along with learning a new system has finally taken its toll on the squad. Cuonzo has done the most he can coming in but losing Rooks for the season hurt big time. Having Ahmaad Rorie or an eligible Stephen Domingo right around now would have done wonders for the depth of our squad.