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Cal Basketball vs. St. Mary's Preview

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Has there ever been a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than...Moraga?

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Thank Oski, we play this one at Haas and get to stay well clear of the helicopter mom blockade.

Even so, I've got a bad feeling about this one, Cal fans.  Is my lack of faith disturbing?

The computer overlords predict that our sturdy Golden Bears will blast the visiting Gaels, but never tell me the odds. Despite losing all five starters from last year's 21-win squad, St. Mary's has quietly put together a 7-0 season which includes a decisive 78-61 romp over noted Pac-12 strategist, Johnny "Jar Jar" Dawkins.

Following their established pattern of bad life-choices, the Furds found themselves thoroughly spanked on a Gaels Gone Wild highlight film. Make no mistake, this was no band of plucky mid-major furballs ambushing armored troopers. Saint Mary's blew this game open in the 2nd half by exploiting the Cardinal's pick and roll defense. Whether switching or sagging, the Furd bigs were simply destroyed by the Gael backcourt.

Considering the inconsistencies in our own D, this in no way sounds like a trap.

With the caveat of a 338th-ranked strength of schedule, Saint Mary's leads the nation in effective FG% while shooting 46.2% from three, 65% from two, and are 15th nationally in assists/field goal made. The front court is deep with five solid bigs who can all score, board, and defend. Cal fans may not believe in this mystical mumbo jumbo, but apparently you are allowed to have more than one effective post per season. If you think they smelled bad on the inside, it's their outside game which is truly dynamic. The starting backcourt combines to average 28.2 ppg, 13.8 apg, 4.2 rpg, and they have a long-range specialist off the bench shooting 59% from deep.

Defensively, Coach Randy Bennett prefers to play man. The numbers call them a slightly above average squad, but this may very well be skewed by the opposition to date. Holding the worst-shooting team in the Pac-12 to 44% isn't all that noteworthy when the Furds are only at 45% without the benefit of grade inflation. What is notable is that the Gaels have been extremely disciplined about keeping opposing teams away from the offensive glass.

We might have an edge in sheer athleticism, but our opponent is well-coached and arguably plays better fundamental team basketball. Thus far, the Bears have yet to put together a complete game against a credible adversary, but is this the week where we finally sense an awakening?

Projected Starters:
C Evan Fitzner(Fr), 6'10, 215 lbs, 9.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 42% 3FG
F Dane Pineau(Jr), 6'9, 225 lbs, 7.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg
F Calvin Hermanson(So), 6'6, 200 lbs, 8.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 45% 3FG
G Emmett Naar(So), 6'1, 195 lbs, 16.8 ppg, 6.4 apg, 4.0 rpg, 62.5% 3FG
G Joe Rahon(Jr), 6'2, 195 lbs, 11.6 ppg, 7.4 apg, 4.2 rpg

Bench:
C Jock Landale(So), 6'11, 255 lbs, 9.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg
F Kyle Clark(Fr), 6'6, 215 lbs, 9.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg
G Stefan Gonzalez(Fr), 6'2, 195 lbs, 8.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 59% 3FG

Key Players:

Boston College transfer Joe Rahon has been playing fantastic all-around ball. His deep ball is good enough to force guys to play up, but he's most dangerous when he gets into the paint. Emmett Naar is the universe's way of restoring balance for the last few shooting guards we've faced who couldn't throw rocks into the ocean. Combine 2FG and 3FG percentages, and he's _still_ hitting at 62%. Evan Fitzner is the dark horse pick for the guy whose name we'll hate the most by the end of the game because he's a center who can pop triples.  Hermanson almost exclusively lurks on the perimeter, but he's very good at hitting jumpshots from everywhere.  Pineau is their best rebounder and most rugged inside player. Off the bench, Gonzalez is the precocious youngster who used to bullseye womp rats back home. Fellow reserve Jock Landale is their designated walking carpet.


Keys to the Game:

1) Do or do not, there is no try.

Stop talking about needing to come out with energy and do it already.

2) Have a plan to deal with dribble penetration.

In a perfect world, we'd frustrate their offense by shutting things down at the point of attack. But since I can't Force-choke refs nor can I convince football coaches that these are not the field goals they are looking for, let's try being realistic. They have two guards who are extremely good at getting into the lane. We're going to be in help situations frequently which means we need to be prepared to rotate so that we don't give up lay-ups and open threes. They're a good shooting team, but at least let's make them take tougher shots.

3) Hedge screens, don't switch or sag.

Our bigs don't have a chance of sticking with their guards. It might be pick your poison, but at least force them to give it up instead of allowing finishes at the rim. The Furds sagged, and the Gael guards shot over them. The Furds switched, and the Gael guards drove it all the way. The Furds asked to drop the game afterwards, but still have to walk around with fingers and thumb in the shape of an "L" on their foreheads.

4a) Lock S-foils into attack position and run, run, run.

They're a better shooting team who might also be more disciplined on defense. So, play to our strengths. Stay out of the half court and push it whenever possible. They rely heavily on their starting backcourt for big minutes, so run them into the ground and dare them to risk foul trouble or get out of the way.

4b) This is not the bench you are looking for.

Obligatory reminder to stay out of foul trouble

5) Witness the power of our fully operational offense, and make shots.

Go Bears!

Tip-Off: 12:30 pm, PST
TV: Pac12 Network
Radio: KGO 810