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Cal Men's Basketball vs. Arizona Wildcats Preview

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Circle the wagons, Bear fans.

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing like a visit from a top-25 squad to cure all that ails you, right?

It was certainly the case last year when Justin Cobbs hit an iso fadeaway at the buzzer for _the_ seminal highlight of the '13-14 season. In fact, it might have been the biggest Cal upset win of the past decade-plus.

Both squads lost key players during the off-season as the Wildcats sent Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon to the NBA while the aforementioned Cobbs and Richard Solomon graduated.

Yes, the Wildcats' swarming defense is less formidable without the uber-athletic Gordon.  And it's apparent that they have not yet found a replacement for Johnson as a deep threat or a clutch scorer. However, it's also clear that Arizona re-loaded while our sturdy Golden Bears are sadly trying to re-build.

For those who like math, I weep for you. The stats are particularly unkind. Depending on the metric, Zona is top-3 in the conference on both offense and defense. We, on the other hand, are the basketball statistics equivalent of the coffee sludge at the bottom of a cup. Do you turn your back on our hippy roots and waste it, or steel yourself and just drink; either way, it's a bitter after-taste.

This Arizona squad doesn't play as fast as they did in previous years, nor are they quite the terror on the offensive glass. But their defense remains formidable, and they're one of the best teams in the conference at forcing turnovers. If they have a weakness, it's their lack of reliable three-point shooting. When Oregon State upset them, the Wildcats simply couldn't find ways to make shots.

On paper, this is another huge mismatch, and their advantage inside is likely to prove decisive. But that's what we said last year, too.  Our oft-repeated formula for success is both simple and difficult.  We need to play tough D, turn it into an ugly grind-out game, and hang around long enough to see if someone can make a key buckets down the stretch.


Starters:

G T.J. McConnell(Sr), 6'1, 195 lbs, 8.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.9 apg
G Gabe York(Jr), 6'3, 180 lbs, 9.2 ppg,
SF Stanley Johnson(Fr), 6'6, 225 lbs 13.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg
PF Brandon Ashley(Jr), 6'8, 230 lbs, 11.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg
C Kaleb Tarczewski(Jr), 7'0, 235 lbs, 8.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg

Bench:
F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson(So), 6'7, 215 lbs, 11.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg
G Elliot Pitts(So), 6'5, 180 lbs
G Parker Jackson-Cartwright(Fr), 5'8, 150 lbs
C Dusan Ristic(Fr), 7'0, 240 lbs


Key Players:
T.J. McConnell is a scrappy defender and a pass-first distributor. Although he's capable of making threes, his shot has been inconsistent (26%) in every game except for this one. Gabe York is their designated long-range sniper...at least he thinks so. He leads them in attempts while converting at a 36% clip. Super-frosh Stanley Johnson is the latest in a long line of blue-chip thoroughbreds. He leads them in scoring and is actually their best three point shooter.(43%) Brandon Ashley is a powerful force around the basket. He missed the 2nd half of last season with surgery to repair a ligament in his foot. He appears back to form and has extended his shooting range. Kaleb Tarczewski has surprisingly not taken a step forward this year. His scoring, rebounding, and shot-blocking numbers are all slightly down. However, he remains a skilled presence in the paint that has to be accounted for. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is their ridiculously athletic sixth man. He's their best offensive rebounder and is a dangerous scorer who plays well above the rim. Elliot Pitts brings deep firepower off the bench. Jackson-Cartwright gives someone for Chauca to post-up, but was 57th on ESPN 100 out of high school. Dusan Ristic must break you.


Keys to the Game:

1) Don't back down

So what if we're facing a roster stacked with McDonald's All-Americans? We've all eaten at Mickey D's. No big. At this point, my personal barometer for whether I consider this team a success or failure hinges on effort. I understand our limitations. I can accept losses. But, I want to see our guys playing their hearts out for the blue and gold.

2) Protect the ball

Our offense has been a little bit like watching the ballet...if the dancers were wearing hockey skates. Failing a miraculous return to orchestrated execution in the half court, we at least need to avoid fueling big runs with turnovers.

3) Make their front court earn it

They've got two bruisers, a leaper, and a couple of annoyingly un-stiff 7 footers. We've got to battle for position and use our feet instead of our hands. Honestly, we need to concede shot-blocking in favor of contesting and try to keep our main guys out of foul trouble. Considering that McConnell's outside shot is currently AWOL, I'd sag off his man all day to double the post. I might also consider selective big to big doubles when Ashley and Tarczewski get the ball in the paint because neither of them are great passers.

4) & 5)

It would be most helpful if Zona were to have an off shooting night, while all of our have the games of their lives. I hope this is not too much to ask.

Go Bears!

Tip-off: Sat, Jan 24, 2015 - 7:30pm
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: KGO 810