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Cal vs. Washington State: Pac-12 Tournament preview

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What will it take for the Bears to beat one large carnivorous feline so as to earn another game against a slightly different carnivorous feline?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

When: 12:10 PM PT
TV: Pac-12 Network

It's the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament, which means that Cal will be sitting on the sidelines, wondering who they will play tom - wait, we're playing today at noon? Weird.

For the first time since the final year of the Ben Braun era, Cal has been relegated to the first day of the tournament, which will take some getting used to. Of course, Mike Montgomery had a collective record of 3-6 in the conference tournament during his tenure, so it's not like the Bears did much of anything with their generally high seeds over the last six years.

Getting stuck with the 8 seed this year means a first round game against the all-offense, no-defense Washington State Cougars (and the 'reward' of a game against rested Arizona if the Bears manage to win). The Bears and Cougars split two games this year, with the road team winning both games. Cal's loss to Wazzu in Berkeley was in the middle of their mid-season swoon, and Cal's win in Pullman kicked off  their surprising resurgence.

If you're looking for stakes, then there are two angles. Obviously, Cal can win four games in a row to steal a tournament bid and get like a 13 seed or something. Mathematical types are telling us there's a chance, Dumb and Dumber style. More likely is a potential NIT at-large bid. The NIT Bracket Project (which sadly, does exist) currently has Cal as an 8 seed, but hasn't been updated in a week and likely doesn't include all of the small conference regular season champs who lose in their conference tournaments and get automatic bids to the NIT. Which says to me that Cal is currently a long shot for an NIT bid and needs a win or two to up the odds.

The good news on that front is that Cal is a favorite against Washington State. Let's talk about the Cougs. If you're lacking in information, you can read previews from Scott AND Trace. Now you get me, so keep the complaints to a minimum.

The Cougars have gone 4-6 since we last saw them, and all of those wins were by five points or less. In fact, Washington State's seven conference wins have come by 3, 3, 9 (OT), 1, 3, 4, and 5 (OT) points. You will note that the largest margin of victory for a regulation win is four points. Washington State just isn't good enough to beat anybody by much.

And that's because Wazzu plays the worst defense in the Pac-12. They are middling at securing defensive rebounds and avoiding fouls, don't force any turnovers and give up a high shooting percentage.

Roster

Starters

G DaVonte Lacy(Sr), 6'4, 215 lbs
G Ny Redding(Fr), 6'2, 180 lbs
G Ike Iroegbu(So), 6'2, 190 lbs
C Jordan Railey(Sr), 7'0, 245 lbs
C Josh Hawkins(So), 6'10, 245 lbs

Bench

G Que Johnson(So), 6'5, 205 lbs
F Brett Boese(Jr), 6'7, 230 lbs
G/F Dexter Kernich-Drew(Sr), 6'7, 190 lbs
F Junior Longrus(Jr), 6'7, 240 lbs

The obvious danger men are Lacy and Hawkinson, who have both had two good games already this year against the Bears. The key, however, might be Dexter Kernich-Drew or Jordan Railey, who shredded Cal's interior defense in Berkeley, then struggled in game 2. Lacy will probably get his points, and Hawkinson will get plenty of boards and clean looks inside. If any of Wazzu's secondary scorers get hot, that's when Cal might be in trouble.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Kenpom: Cal 75, Washington St. 72, 61% chance of Cal win.

I'll take it. What this game really is is an interesting match-up of two teams that significantly outperformed their efficiency numbers in terms of conference W/L results.

Keys to the Game

1. Defend without fouling: Wazzu attempted 29 free throws in Berkeley, then 26 in Pullman. Most of that came from Lacy and Hawkinson, very capable free throw shooters. The Cougars have a solid offense, but it is flawed, and if you take away the freebies they will be very hard pressed to keep up defensively.

Maybe the key should just be drawing refs willing to call the game loosely?

2. Run, run run: If there is a team in the Pac-12 that might have trouble keeping Cal away from transition opportunities, it would be fast-paced, defensively suspect Washington St. The Cougars struggle to pull down defensive rebounds. How much will Cal be able to translate those boards into run-out opportunities?

3. Kingsley and David bringing the interior defense: This obviously goes along with point #1, but let's make entry passes tough, let's stand our ground in the paint, let's contest everything inside. After a few games with limited playing time due to various circumstances, it would be nice to see the King get some solid minutes and try to stand up to Railey.

5. #kod5: Who even needs key #4? Bow to the Godfather