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Sonny Dykes Saga & Cal Basketball Review: Minimum Information, Maximum Reaction

What happens when Twitter says that stuff is going down when nothing is actually, in fact, going down.

"Hey Todd, do you think today's game will have ANY impact on where our teams will head to in December?"
"Hey Todd, do you think today's game will have ANY impact on where our teams will head to in December?"
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Cal fans! It's Monday morning, but there's no football game to over-analyze! Thus, a change in direction. Rather than post-game thoughts, you will now be getting my post-week thoughts on whatever the hell I feel like typing about. What will that typically be? Well, at least for the next few months, expect the following:

  • Lots of Cal men's and women's basketball takes (hot or otherwise)
  • News relevant to the Pac-12, and by extension Cal
  • An extended post-mortem of the 2015 regular season, and what it means for 2016
  • Maybe, like, some recruiting thoughts because recruiting is critically important even though I hate talking or thinking about it?
  • Probably other stuff too because why not?

The completely uneventful Sonny Dykes saga of 2015

The Cal football community has had a very entertaining week-long freak out, and as best I can tell, two legitimate, actual things have happened:

  • Sonny Dykes had some sort of interview for the Missouri head coach position
  • Cal made an official offer of a contract extension to kick off your standard contract extension back and forth.
Neither of those events are especially unusual or noteworthy in the larger scheme of the college football industry - or any industry, for that matter. Jeff Tedford, for one, almost certainly interviewed for other positions, and was certainly offered contract extensions. But because we live in this breathless, new-media world, (and because somebody close to Sonny Dykes appears to be leaking things to certain media members) the potential dalliance of our current coach with other jobs has become a much more dramatic, real-time experience. Weird.

As I write this on a Sunday night, it appears likely that Sonny Dykes will be signing some kind of extension and will stay at Cal for the foreseeable future. Cal will then hold a press conference in which everybody will smile and shake hands, and Sonny Dykes will say how happy he is to be at Cal, and how he and the Athletic Department are equally committed to a successful, improving football program, and how he doesn't pay attention to anything the media says, and that it's all silly stuff with little to know basis in reality. Then Michael Williams will come on stage and say that Cal is very happy with the growth Cal football has shown in the classroom, and the clear improvement in win totals each season under Sonny, and that they think he is the man to keep things moving in the right direction.

It will all be very hunky-dory, we will all move on, and this silly week will seem even sillier in retrospect, until the next time somebody tweets about how Sonny is unhappy in Berkeley, or the next time somebody links him to whichever position is open-or-soon-to-be. That probably won't happen until October of next year, thankfully.

None of this will be an answer to the ultimate question, which is: Is Sonny Dykes the coach to take Cal to the Promised Land? Many people here an elsewhere will pretend to know with a high degree of certainty whether or not Sonny Dykes is or is not that coach, and they will all be fooling themselves because we like to believe that college football is ordered and predictable when it is in fact 95% chaos. We'll try to parse out that leftover 5% between now and September of 2016.

Unless some sort of major, unexpected news breaks, I'll be using this space next week in this space to look back at this post I made before the season began to try to get a sense of exactly how much Cal did or did not improve, and how much room for improvement there will be next year.

Heading to Fort Worth

There are plenty of factors that influence how fans feel about any particular bowl game. For me, I mostly care about which team Cal will play. Based on the rumors we heard, here were the possibilities:

vs. Air Force (Armed Forces Bowl)
vs. Southern Miss (Heart of Dallas Bowl)
vs. West Virginia (Cactus Bowl)
vs. Virginia Tech (Independence Bowl)

And out of those choices, by far the best was West Virginia and the Cactus Bowl, and as soon as we missed out on that it didn't really matter where we ended up, it was going to be an unexciting match-up. Air Force, Southern Miss, and Virginia Tech are all roughly about as good as each other, so we may as well go for the game that gets us the most amount of practice.

Air Force is typical Air Force - limited mistakes, difficult to handle offense, mediocre defense, solid special teams. With the possible exception of Navy, Cal will present the toughest offensive challenge Air Force has faced this season and certainly the best passing offense the Falcons have had to defend. It's a game that Cal should win.

MBB: Close to an elite offense

There has been lots of hand-wringing over the state of the Cal offense, which I understand. Cal lost to San Diego State in part because they scored 8 points over a 15 minute stretch in the 2nd half, and they have had two other ugly, too-close-for-comfort wins against zone defense teams. But I think the underlying stats give reason for optimism (usual caveats about small-sample-size, weak schedule, etc.).

Why optimism? So far this year, Cal has been good-to-great at offensive rebounding, avoiding turnovers, and drawing fouls, and I see no particular reason why that should change. Cal was already a low turnover team last year, but the additions of Rabb and Brown mean that there are two new players who have immediately become the best offensive rebounders and two of the three best foul drawers on the team. If anything, you would expect continued growth and improvement from two young players still adapting to the college game.

So we have established that, offensively, Cal is already good at three of the four factors. Unfortunately, the problem area is the most important factor: shooting. Cal has just not shot the ball very well this year. Can we expect Cal's shooting to improve? Here are three areas where it's reasonable to expect change in a positive direction:

  • 3 point shooting

Cal is currently shooting 31.6% from 3, more than 4% lower than last year. Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews are both below what they shot last year, amongst other players. Expect regression to the mean.

  • Find ways to get Ivan the ball

Ivan Rabb is currently 2nd by a hair to Jakob Poetl in the Pac-12 in eFG%. The problem is that he's taken way fewer shots than Utah's sophomore. Hopefully as Rabb and the Bears settle into the season they find more and more ways to get Ivan the ball so that one of the most efficient finishers in the conference can get more shots.

  • Wait for Jaylen Brown to start finishing, and hopefully within the flow of the offense.

Right now, Jaylen Brown is doing plenty of good things. He's drawing a ton of fouls and getting to the basket exactly like we all expected him to. But it's not resulting in made baskets as often as one might expect. I would feel safe wagering that it's just a matter of time until the and-1s start falling.

By raw efficiency, Cal has a top 50 offense despite sub-standard deep shooting and challenges integrating their two uber-talents into the offense. By the end of the season I fully expect us to be closer to top 20 or so.