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Arizona recap: How do you react to a lost season?

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Cal suffers their 5th straight double digit loss, 73-50, and it's time to talk about anything but the specifics of an individual game.

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Cal lost to Arizona on Saturday night. As I noted in the instant reaction thread, the game went almost exactly as expected, in multiple ways. Arizona smothered Cal's offense, and gradually pulled away. Cal kinda stayed close early thanks to defense, but were never going to score enough to stay with the Wildcats and eventually folded entirely late in the game.

This is a script you have seen before. I can't tell you anything about this team that you did not already know before, because Cal's loss to Arizona is virtually identical to losses to Arizona State, UCLA, Stanford, and USC. And so we have reached bleak territory.

Here are some facts that would be sobering if we all weren't so painfully sobered by everything that has happened since CSU Bakersfield:

  • Cal is now 1-6 in the Pac-12. It's their worst conference start since 1991-92, a season that somehow didn't end with the firing of Lou Campanelli, but should have. I was six at the time.
  • Cal's average point margin in Pac-12 games is -14. Yes, that number includes Cal's win over UW.
  • According to Kenpom, Cal is projected to finish with a conference record of 4-14, and he has the Bears as favorites in exactly one game left on the schedule: a home contest vs. USC.
  • Cal's adjusted offensive efficiency (essentially points/possession adjusted for schedule strength) ranks 280th in the country, behind luminaries like Longwood, Presbyterian, and Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Cal has the worst offense among major conference programs, and only a few are even within shouting distance.
When you add it all up, you get a team that is remarkably un-fun to watch, an issue I've touched on before. And I'll be brutally honest here: If I didn't have to watch these games so that I could write about them with the slightest bit of accuracy and insight, I wouldn't waste my time.

And so, rather than talking about this particular game, which is difficult to distinguish from previous games, I have two questions:
  1. Are you going to continue to watch?
  2. Does it make me (or anybody else) a 'bad' fan to skip out on watching this team?

Now, obviously, all of us here at CGB (and the Cal athletic department, too!) want to you watch Cal basketball. Keep those clicks coming! Daddy needs his ad revenue! And I was shocked at how many fans came to the game and stayed loud and engaged for the majority of the night. This team certainly can't complain that fans have turned on the team.

But I've never bought the argument that 'true' fans have to stick around with the same level of interest no matter the circumstances. True, I feel a bit more guilty about this attitude in regards to college sports - but at the same time, Cal has spectacular athletes who toil day-in, day-out, hoping to attract a 10th of the fans that regularly show up for Cal men's basketball. Did you know that #4 Cal women's water polo is undefeated? Or that men's and women's gymnastics are both highly ranked and enjoying excellent seasons? Or that Missy Freakin' Franklin is swimming in probably her last season at Cal? OK, you knew that last one already, but you get the point. There are other teams deserving of your attention.

Any team in any sport shouldn't expect thousands of rabid fans showing up as a matter of birthright. It's something teams have to earn with hard work and solid play. I'm not really in a position to malign the effort of this particular team, but it's obvious that the results aren't there, and in-game effort has been notably inconsistent - to the point that the team acknowledges it themselves. But even that's not the biggest issue for me.

More than anything else, sports fandom is supposed to be fun. I don't see the value in being unhappy for two hours twice a week. Actively engaging with this particular team means saying painfully critical things about them, individually and as a whole, and that's something I don't enjoy doing, particularly with college athletes. It's especially un-fun to watch and comment on good Bears like David Kravish and Tyrone Wallace as they struggle so badly. If you don't have anything nice to say, stop typing, right?

Don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm advocating radio silence. If I didn't have CGB responsibilities, I'd watch if I happened to be bored at home and a game was on. I'd read up on media reports to stay connected. But I wouldn't plan my life around watching games, which is what I've done for the better part of a decade.

Admittedly, my feelings are probably being impacted by Cal football. It's been seven years since Cal has had an above average football team, and now it looks like the men's basketball team is trending in that direction too. At a certain point, a fan base can only absorb so much frustration before it starts to shut down. Maybe I'm just discouraged because I genuinely thought (and still think, maybe) that Cuonzo Martin was a great hire, but now it looks like his tenure may be poisoned before it really got off the ground. I know, I'm rambling. That's what a 1-8 stretch of basketball will do.

But since I DO kinda have to watch, I'll be looking for little things. How will Kingsley Okoroh develop? How good can he be next year, or the year after? How much success will Jordan Mathews have getting shots off? Will he develop a stronger dribble drive game? What other returning players might be able to provide positive value in the future?

If you are still paying attention, that's what this season has been reduced to. The question of the moment: Are you still paying attention at all?