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Cal Basketball Hosts the Rice Owls

Saddle up and put on your goggles, Cal fans. Your sturdy Golden Bears are set to take on the Rice Owls in a barn-burner.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Deep shots shall be hoisted and possessions look to be gobbled up faster than you can say "Allez cuisine."

After eight years under Ben Braun, the Owls made a change last year and brought in Mike Rhoades, a fiery sapling off the Shaka Smart coaching tree. Although Uncle Ben's program showed a brief resurgence, it was evident that his Rice teams would take a lot longer than five minutes before they were competitive again.

Whereas Coach Braun directed a slow simmer of an attack like congealing congee set to the somnambulant cadence of "Goodnight Moon," Coach Rhoades promptly declared,
"We want to play fast, we want to go after people...We want to wear people out."  Coach Smart's VCU teams were known for Havoc:  a relentless pressure on D combined with a fast-paced offense based on the weave and drive/kick sets.

A Havoc-style recipe sounds enticing, but without the size and athletes to get this done, you're cooking with a Hello Kitty playset. Coach Rhoades might have envisioned a swarming, pressing Parliament o' Doom...but what he got was more akin to a Mildly Vexing Charm. The Owls' already short playing rotation took an offseason hit with the graduation of three regulars, including their best big, Seth Gearhart. Although Coach Rhoades brought in five frosh headlined by McDonald's AA Honors nominee, Chad Lott, it remains to be seen how soon the youth movement will be ready to provide meaningful depth.

Last season, the Owls were one of Conference USA's worst defensive teams. Not to say that they didn't stop anyone with a pulse, but there are rumors of a youtube video featuring Dick Vitale's late grandmother dunking on their center. Name a defensive stat and it's a safe bet that they did it poorly.

Where they were relatively formidable was on the offensive end. They combined the highest 3PA/FGA with the best A/FGM, stirred with hot hand of the league's best three point shooter and produced C-USA's best eFG%. However, as charitable as they were with sharing the ball, they were just as generous with gifting it the other team as they also lead the league in turnover percentage.

A gimmicky uptempo offense coupled with a non-existent defense? Madness! It'll never work. (Too soon?)

Their particular style and lineup play exactly into Cal's strengths. Expect a ludicrous-speed game as the Bears roll out Ludacris-style dunks all over the place.

Projected Starters:
G Max Guercy(Sr), 5'9, 170 lbs, 9.8 ppg, 4.5 apg
G Marcus Jackson(Sr), 6'3, 175 lbs, 14.5 ppg, 2.7 apg, 3.5 rpg, 40%3PT
G Bishop Mency(Jr), 6'5, 185 lbs 7.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg
F Jeremy Jones(So), 6'5, 205 lbs, 2.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg
C Andrew Drone(Jr), 6'10, 260 lbs, 6.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg

Key Players:

Marcus Jackson is their headliner and best all-around player. He lead C-USA in three-point shooting last year which is no big deal since Cal has historically never let anyone go crazy from beyond the arc... Bishop Mency is his mighty wingman and was touted by their athletic department as "making a statement." That statement would be, "I can't shoot," and it translates well in the universal language of bricklayers everywhere. (35%FG) He is their 2nd-best three-point shooter (34%), however, in both attempts and by percentage. Max Guercy runs the point and gets the bulk of his assists from throwing it to Mency and Jackson. He's not much of a shooter nor a finisher, so we need to remember to play him for the pass. Andrew Drone is their best returning interior scorer and rebounder. Jeremy Jones was listed as their primary backup at the 4-spot last year, but may very well be supplanted by one of the newcomers.

Keys to the Game:

1) Make Reef happy.

We're fairly certain that we're going to be a good team. But to be an elite team, we need to show that we're capable of consistent execution on both ends. This means being sharp on our defensive rotations and staying disciplined with our close-outs. They have one big gun and love to shoot 3's. For years, Cal has struggled to get quality shots off against teams with long-armed athletes. It's our turn to be stifling.

On offense, we need to show the ability to enter it to the post, move without the ball, and make good decisions within our motion.  Scoring in transition or on isolation plays is eye candy;  what we really want to see is that our guys understand how to run an efficient offense.

2) Take the next step.

Everyone is hyped to see Brown and Rabb. But the make or break aspect to this team could very well be the offseason development of our returners. Can Kingsley and Rooks form an effective tandem when we go big? Will Domingo and Moute a Bidias emerge as defensive stoppers? Can Mathews and Bird elevate their all-around games? Can Singer share the load at point? And most importantly, will Wallace shoot 70% on his free throws?

3)  Establish our rotation and best line-ups.

One of more intriguing aspects to previewing this Cal team is figuring out how the minutes will be distributed.  Are we better with a traditional big at center, or does our destiny lie with small ball?

Go Bears!

Tip-off: 8:30pm
TV: Pac-12 Network