Kristine Anigwe: National Freshman of the Year?
Kristine Anigwe is averaging 21 points/game. Even if you remove her outlier 43 point performance against bizarro Sacramento State, she's still averaging 18 points/game. That's impressive for anybody, let alone a frosh with less than 10 games under her belt. But the real reason to be excited? She's going for 20+/game while shooting 58% from the field.
In the past I wrote about how Reshanda Gray was the master of that rare combo of high volume, high efficiency scoring. Anigwe has stepped in with an impressive Reshanda Gray impression, and after her performance against Nebraska, I'm ready for a (bold? At this point I'm not sure) prediction: Anigwe is currently the best freshman in the country.
What makes me say this? Well, she's currently the 2nd leading freshmen scorer. She's 4th in rebounds/game. More importantly, she's by far the most efficient scorer for freshmen that have that type of shot volume. But most importantly? She just badly outperformed one of her peers. Nebraska's Jessica Shepard was rated the #4 freshman recruit in the country by ESPN, a couple spots ahead of Anigwe. They spent much of Saturday's game directly guarding each other, and Anigwe dominated the match-up. Offensively, defensively, on the glass - Anigwe got blocks, drew fouls, limited shot opportunities, and the final result was 29 points and 10 rebounds vs. 6 points and 4 rebounds for Shepard
We already knew going into the Nebraska game that Anigwe will score plenty and rebound plenty. Against the Cornhuskers we saw flashes of a high value defensive player as well, somebody who could stymie post-up attempts with her height, alter and block shots, and do that without fouling out over nearly 40 minutes. It's a part of her game that is still developing, but already is a big potential plus.
Three point dead eyes?
The Bears are currently 28th in the nation* in 3 point shooting, and are hitting 37.6% of their long range efforts. Courtney Range, Asha Thomas, and Mikayla Cowling are all shooting 44% or higher, which is almost certainly above their (and, really, ANY college player's) true talent level. I don't necessarily expect Cal to continue to shoot as well, but with the way Range and Anigwe are scoring inside the arc, all they need to do is keep defenses honest, and I doubt that will be much of an issue over the rest of the season.
*But amazingly only 6th in the Pac-12, which is evidently either full of great shooters or on one hell of a collective hot streak to start the season.
Breanna Cavanaugh Transfers
Cal is officially down a guard now that Breanna Cavanaugh has announced her transfer to Rutgers. Cavanaugh understandably wanted to be close to home as she recovered from her concussion(s), so chalk this one up to bad luck. The Bears were already dangerously thin at guard because of her medical leave of absence, which makes it an even bigger recruiting priority for 2016-17.
The Non-Conference resume
In a way, the non-conference schedule is basically done. Cal plays one last team not from the Pac-12, and that's 1-8 CSU Northridge in a game that probably won't be very close or meaningful.
That leaves 19 games against Pac-12 teams, including a home game Monday night against UCLA in a game that won't count in the Pac-12 standings. Because the Bears will only play UCLA once (in L.A.) during conference play, both teams agreed to a 2nd game outside of the usual schedule. It will be a useful schedule strength boost for both teams, and another tough game.
What have the Bears accomplished? Their 7-2 record is solid, and wins over Louisville and Nebraska will likely be valuable later in the year. Losing to Texas A&M is no shame. The difference between a solid non-conference resume and a great one was a tough, near buzzer-beater loss to a good St. Mary's team. It was a game that Cal probably should have won, but considering the youth of this team, we knew a game like that was bound to happen at some point.
Most importantly, Cal is poised to make the tournament with a decent Pac-12 season. The team looks much better now than they did earlier in the season, and further improvement from a young team seems likely.
How good exactly is the Pac-12?
I wasn't necessarily expecting an amazing collective season from the Pac-12 this year. Cal and Stanford seemed likely to be down a little bit from recent highs, Washington and Washington State seemed likely to take steps back, and weaker teams towards the bottom of the standings seemed likely to stay in the doldrums.
But so far, it's been a collectively strong non-conference performance from Cal's conference mates. Three Pac-12 teams are still undefeated, with USC, Oregon and Arizona in particular putting together surprisingly strong resumes based on their recent history.
Hell, if you believe the RPI, the Pac-12 just might be the best conference in the country. The Conference of Champions currently has a combined record of 80-22 against the toughest combined schedule of any conference in the country. The biggest plus looks to be the lack of a truly awful team that will drag the rest of the conference down with it - Arizona, Colorado and Utah have performed credibly enough to avoid that type of label this year.
Granted, that's just by RPI, which is a critically important but flawed metric. The Sagarin ratings put the Pac-12 in 3rd place, but within a rounding error of three other major conference rated 1 through 4. Regardless of the exact metric, the Pac-12 will be strongly represented in March if current trends continue. With only a handful of non-conference games left to play, the Pac-12 has made a strong early case for deserving 5 or 6 tournament spots.