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Cal Basketball vs. East Carolina Pirates Preview

Ante up, Cal fans. The first round of the Las Vegas Invitational tips off with a home contest against the East Carolina Pirates.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It may very well be bitterness and jealously that were the tipping points which originally forced East Carolina's turn to piracy. Sure, everyone knows about North Carolina and most even recognize South Carolina. But a school in East Carolina? Sounds like a yarn told by a gas station attendant giving directions.

Sadly enough, they spent more time walking the plank than keelhauling their opponents last season en route to a 14-19 record.

Quite ironically, this was not a squad that was good at stealing nor were they particularly adept at defending their plunder. Without any notable size inside, other teams could sail into the paint at will and have repeated chances to plant their flags emphatically at the rim. In an attempt to compensate, the Pirates played a lot of zone with an emphasis at chasing shooters off the three point line. Even so, they were still one of the worst defensive teams in their conference. In particular, they were fairly dreadful at giving up offensive boards.

But despite the eye-patches, this is squad that lead their league in three-point shooting. All three of last year's leading scorers return; two of them are deadly from long-range while the last is an accomplished slasher. What's uncertain is whether former 4* point guard Lance Tejada is ready to fill in for graduated floor admiral Antonio Robinson. Though not much of a scorer, Robinson lead the team in assists and was in charge of setting course on what was typically a deliberate offense. While they might not take all the wind out of the sails like Princeton, their idea of tempo was more doggie-paddle than freestyle sprint.

So on paper, it's an under-sized team that likes to play zone, slows the ball on offense, and loves to shoot the three ball. Historically, this is a map to a less than ideal match-up for Cal teams relying more on athleticism than fundamentals.

It's a new era for Cal basketball, however. We no longer have to rely on one versus many hero-ball to manufacture points. There is a legitimate inside presence and we should have enough slashers and shooters to create multiple options on offense. Whether we are disciplined enough to lock down the perimeter against a methodical group of jump shooters is another question entirely.

As long as Cal remembers to pillage before we burn down the nets, we should have too much size, depth, and talent to bet against us.

Projected Starters: (Stats from '15)

G Lance Tejada(So), 6'2, 190 lbs, 4.1 ppg
G B.J. Tyson(So), 6'3, 190 lbs, 12.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg
G Terry Whisnant(Sr), 6'3, 180 lbs, 12.3 ppg, 37% 3FG
F Caleb White(Jr), 6'7, 190 lbs, 12.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 41% 3FG
C Marshall Guilmette(Jr), 6'10, 250 lbs, 6.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg

F Michel-Ofik Nzege(So), 6'7, 215 lbs, 5.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg
F Deng Riak(Fr), 6'10, 225 lbs

Key Players:

Tyson, Whisnant and White form a three headed monster on the wing. Tyson can step out for the deep ball, but does most of his damage inside the arc. He lead the team by far in free throw attempts last season. Whisnant led the team in three point attempts and took over half of his attempts from deep. Perhaps the toughest cover is White whose size makes him a difficult match-up. Of course, he's also the team's most accurate three-point ace. Guilmette and Nzege platoon inside. Nzege is far more active, but Guilmette provides more sheer size. Newcomer Deng Riak was another 4* signee and adds an influx of needed height.

Keys to the Game:

1) Establish Brown/Rabb in the paint.

Slightly less well known than "don't start a land war in Asia" is "don't just settle for contested threes against a zone." We'll have perimeter shots available all day. But by being patient with our ball movement, we should be able to get ourselves better shots inside against a poor defensive squad that lacks size.

Both Rabb and Brown should be able to operate out of the high post. In particular, Rabb might be ideally suited to force defenders to collapse and then hit cutters down the lane or along the baseline.

2) Know your scouting report.

At no point can we lose track of their big three. If our strategy involves switching screens, we can't get caught going under or Whisnant and White will light us up. For both of these guys, we need to chase them off the line. On the other hand, Tyson is a guy we should dare to shoot and play for the drive. Our guards have occasionally gotten caught flat-footed early in the year from playing a half step close to guys who want to put it on the floor. In the post, Nzege is a high motor guy and our wings will have to match his effort if we're going to go small.

3) Crash the boards.

Our high flyers should have a field day on the offensive glass. It might not be the most aesthetic type of basketball, but it's the surest way to go for the jugular early.

Go Bears!

Tip-Off: 8pm
TV: Pac-12 Network