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Cal Basketball vs. UC Santa Barbara: Preview

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Can Cal go to 2-0 and grab a measure of revenge for a loss to the Gauchos two years ago?

Gonna have to print lots of posters this year.
Gonna have to print lots of posters this year.
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

When: 7:00 pm PT
TV: Pac-12 Network

Game one for the new look Bears went about as swimmingly as possible, but it was still just one game. Now we get to find out just a little bit more about this team - will they be bringing the same level (or higher!) of execution again? This game should be illuminating in part because UC Santa Barbara is a decent team - probably the best the Bears will face until the Las Vegas Invitational - and maybe about equivalent to a lower tier Pac-12 team.

Cal last played UCSB two years ago, in a frustrating loss that saw Alan Williams drop 24 and 10. Williams has finally graduated, but beyond that the Gauchos return the bulk of last season's contributors. As a result they're expected to challenge UC Irvine for the Big West title.

UCSB started the season out with a narrow 1 point win over Nebraska-Omaha. You would expect a more comfortable victory, but there were extenuating circumstances. For one, the game was on the road. But more importantly, leading returning scorer and Big West POY candidate Michael Bryson was serving a one game suspension and will be back against the Bears. UCSB will be tougher than what they showed in Game 1.

Roster

Starters

PG Eric Childress, 6'0'' Jr.
G Gabe Vincent, 6'3'' So.
G Michael Bryson, 6'4'' Jr.
G John Green, 6'5'' Sr.
C Sam Beeler, 6'10'' Sr.

Bench

G DaJuan Smith, 6'3'' Sr.
F Mitch Brewe, 6'8'' Sr.
G T.J. Taylor, 5'9'' Sr.

There are a few other dudes who got a minute or two in UCSB's exhibition game and against Nebraska, but they are unlikely to meaningfully contribute against Cal if they even play. This will probably be the rotation the Gauchos throw at Cal.

You will note that UCSB essentially plays four guard lineups. Cal will have every opportunity to play small, and there may not be a ton of minutes available for Rooks or Okoroh against such a small lineup. Rooks will probably be able to bang down low against Beeler at times.

It's the trio of shooting guards that make UCSB go. Vincent, Bryson and Green combined to score 35 points/game last year, all averaging over double figures. Those numbers will likely go up now that Williams isn't around to score down low. Green is the closest of the trio to being a forward, and he'll spend more time in the paint than the others. But all three are capable shooters from deep and can put it on the floor. Everybody else on UCSB's roster will be secondary options, and I would expect all three to play 35 minutes plus if foul trouble allows.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Kenpom: Cal 74, UCSB 63, 85% chance of a Cal victory
Sagarin Predictor: Cal by 16 points

This is one of those games where the Bears should win comfortably, but there's just enough doubt that you're allowed to be nervous about this game if you're inclined to that type of thing. I probably would have been really worried about this game if Cal hadn't looked so polished (relative to expectations) against Rice.

Keys to the Game

1. Can UCSB keep up on the boards?

Over the last few years Alan Williams was one of the very best rebounders in the country, but UCSB was only a mediocre rebounding team because nobody else on the team helped him out on the glass. Now he's gone, and the Bears have Ivan Rabb (amongst others) ready to hoover up anything near the basket.

2. Communication and help on defense

UCSB has four players who are roughly interchangeable - guards who are all decent passers and shooters - and there will be a ton of off-ball movement with crisp passing. This will be a much tougher test for Cal's defense, and as a result a better indication of where Cal is on the developmental path. Will the Bears switch on screens? Will they be ready to help on drives? Will they prevent the sharp shooting Gauchos (64th in the nation in 3 point % last year) from getting open looks from deep?

3. Who will impose style?

If Wikipedia is to be believed, UCSB head coach Bob Williams once said, "I would rather lose a close, low-scoring game than win a high-scoring blowout. I think that is what true basketball fans admire." Sure, Bob. The Steve Nash Suns, Paul Westhead's Loyola Marymount teams, the Showtime Lakers , Steph Curry's Warriors, Shaka Smart's VCU - nobody admires fast teams.

Anyway, UCSB wants to slow this game, while Cal wants to attack, preferably together. I fully expect that the game will be played more to UCSB's tempo, but I also fully expect that not to bother Cal much, because this team shouldn't be reliant on transition baskets to keep the offense moving. But if Cal CAN create transition opportunities that's all the better.

4. Who guards Jaylen Brown, and how badly is that going to go for that dude?

Jaylen Brown is going to have at least 2 inches and 45 pounds of a size advantage over his defender, in addition to whatever likely big advantage in speed and athleticism. After spending one game wowing with his moves but missing a few opportunities to finish, I suspect he'll break through with a big scoring performance.

5. Hit shots

#kod5forlyfe