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Cal Basketball Tips off Regular Season with Win Over Rice

Cal 97 - Rice 65 in a dominating first game for the Golden Bears

Tyrone Wallace: Dominant
Tyrone Wallace: Dominant
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

And so it begins.

Cal Men's Basketball tipped it for real on Friday night, to a surprisingly full and raucous Haas Pavilion. Or maybe this is just the new reality. There's an exciting, ranked basketball team in Berkeley, and folks are going to come out for a late Friday start against the Rice Owls because they get it. Something special is brewing. You're not going to want to miss this.

Last year, offensive options were limited for the Bears. Tonight, Cal sent out Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews, Jabari Bird, Jaylen Brown, and Ivan Rabb to start the game. How do you guard all that? The first play answered that question for Rice -- you don't. Brown to Wallace on the wing, with a two-way option, Mathews cutting baseline and Bird coming off a Rabb downscreen to the top of the key. HOW DO YOU GUARD ALL THAT? You don't. Ty chose Jabari, who rose up for a clean look as his man fought through two screens. Splash. Easy game.

Early on Friday, Scott Chong told you Rice isn't a good team. They are even worse with Marcus Jackson out with a knee injury. So let's be clear that a win against them should be a foregone conclusion. And it was. The Bears won easily, 97 - 65. Even the most paranoid of Old Blues were never worried during the course of the game.

But let's be clear about something else. Last year Cal lost at home to 14-19 Cal State Bakersfield--a team that was probably not among the top 250 teams in Division 1 basketball. In that game they scored .81 points per possession. Over the course of the 2014-15 season, Cal scored .97 points per possession, good for 224th in the country. Tonight, with a new, rocket fueled, hyper-drive roster in place, Cal scored 1.35 points per possession. Yeah, I think this year is going to be different.

There was a lot to like about the Bears performance. There was a lot of room for growth. Normally, that would be woven into a neat narrative, with a theme and coherent organization, and the brilliant writing style you've come to expect around here. Problem is they decided to start tonight's game at 8:30pm, the cross country team I coach is running in CCS early tomorrow morning, and there's zero time to break down film or dissect press conferences. So here we go -- rapid fire, stream of consciousness, Reef after dark.

  • Tyrone Wallace had an average, slightly problematic floor game in the exhibition against Carroll on Monday. Tonight he was brilliant. 20 points on 9-12 shooting, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, against only one turnover. He got to the hole at will against inferior defenders, creating high percentage looks for himself and for teammates. He made few mistakes defensively. Most importantly, the ball did not stick (as much) when it rotated through him on offense. He looked like a point guard, or at least a lead guard who can facilitate an offense, and he looked like one of the best players in the country.

  • Ivan Rabb has bounce. 14 points on 6-8 shooting, 13 boards including 7 offensive, 2 blocks, and one glorious assist out of the post to a cutting Jabari. All this while getting very few straight post-ups and only playing 16 minutes because of early foul trouble. The most impressive thing about Ivan early on is how quickly he gets to balls. He has an instinct, reach, and first hop that make him one of the best natural rebounders I've ever seen at the college level.

  • Jaylen Brown struggled, comparatively. Four fouls limited him to just 15 minutes. He didn't move his feet well on defense. He forced a few drives, had trouble finishing others, and ended up going 5-15 from the floor. I'm not worried about it. He'll learn. He's still a stud.

  • Kameron Rooks is going to help this team. His sense of spacing offensively is quite good, and he generally uses position effectively on defense. He does not make a lot of mistakes, which is all he needs to do to be a productive big for this team.

  • Ultra small lineups (with Brown or Stephen Domingo as the biggest player on the floor) are still a work in progress. A small lineup gave up the only Rice run of significance at the end of the first half. That group looked confused both offensively and defensively, and Cuonzo called them out in the TV interview heading into halftime.

  • In general, the ball moved very well on offense -- much better than I'd seen previously. There were a lot of sets I haven't seen before. On the other hand, on defense there is still too much miscommunication, and guys getting beat one on one. The road will get tougher, but as Jaylen Brown has observed:

Press conference videos!

Cuonzo Martin

Jordan Mathews, Ivan Rabb, Jaylen Brown

Update: Additional Thoughts (Reef after the after dark)

Shout out to Avi (I presume it was Avi) for adding the press conferences, in the after after dark portion of our coverage. A few more observations after watching Cuonzo's presser:

* I appreciate coach for backing up some of my thoughts :)

* Seriously, though, it's been awhile since I've heard him talk real hoops, and I'd forgotten how impressed I am by Cuonzo Martin. His thoughts are always so sharp, and honest, and aware. You hear some other coaches talk and you wonder what game they just watched. You hear Cuonzo talk and you just nod. In last week's weaknesses threads I questioned his ability to coach execution. I am feeling much better after the first week. He gets it, and based on their play and their comments, the team is headed in the right direction.

* 5:30 -- sounds like the idea is to put in sets with good spacing, lots of options, and let the players rely on good principles to make good decisions...I like that a lot

* 6:00 -- the new freedom of movement rules are a double edged sword, great for our newfound offensive wealth, bad for the style of D Cuonzo typically likes to play. How we navigate that will tell an important part of the story of the season. That is a deeper dilemma that I need to examine in writing in more depth as the season goes on.

* 7:00 -- Run!

* 8:30 -- I love love love the coaching principle that there are good shots, and if you understand what those are, and you get those looks, you must shoot them. It sounds simple, but too many coaches don't teach it this way. This is how you get the most out of diverse offensive talent.

tl;dr We've got a smart coach. This year could be pretty good.