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Berkeley Sub-Regional Preview: Cal, Wichita St., Texas & Western Kentucky

A brief look at the Bears, Shockers, Longhorns, and Hilltoppers.

Point-forward Alex Harden leads the Shockers into Berkeley.
Point-forward Alex Harden leads the Shockers into Berkeley.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday and Sunday, Haas Pavilion will host first and second round NCAA tournament games. If you haven't done so already, you should buy tickets now and help make Berkeley as blue and gold as possible.

But first, here's a quick look at all four teams that will be trying to advance to Albany and the Sweet 16.

4 seed California Golden Bears

Record: 23-9 (13-5 Pac-12)

Best player: Brittany Boyd

Choosing between Boyd and Gray is an unenviable dilemma, but Boyd is Cal's most important two-way player - her ability to impact a game defensively is something nobody else on the roster offers, and Cal's half court sets are meaningfully impacted when she's not in the game. When Boyd is playing at her force-of-nature best, Cal can look unbeatable.

Biggest Strength: Defensive length and athleticism

Cal finished the season 25th in the country in 2 point field goal defense and 59th in the country in forced turnover percentage - and those numbers aren't adjusted for strength of schedule. Suffice to say that the tremendous size Cal brings to the court (occasionally, the Bears will play with four players 6'2'' or taller) means that it is very, very difficult to pass the ball and score inside the arc. Teams that can't shoot jumpers very well struggle badly against the Bears.

Biggest Weakness: Depth and foul trouble

Cal doesn't have any glaring flaws, and I idly considered putting rebounding and jump shooting here, but Cal's biggest challenge is depth and foul trouble. It's entirely possible that Lindsay Gottlieb will want to stay with a six player rotation, and that's just not many players to distribute fouls to. When you add in that certain key players are naturally very foul prone, you have a dangerous situation. Giving up free chances to score from the line only adds to the problem.

13 seed Wichita State Shockers

Record: 29-4 (17-1 Missouri Valley)

Best player: Alex Harden

A magnificently versatile player who essentially players point-forward for the Shockers. Her numbers are Brittany-Boyd-esque: 16.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.2 steals/game. Won MWC player of the year, and for obvious reasons - her scoring is impressively efficient and she's the biggest disruptor defensively for a team that relies on forced turnovers.

Biggest Strength: Pressure defense

More than 25% of every possession from WSU opponents end in a turnover - and when you're playing a team that slows it down on offense like the Shockers, you might not get a ton of possessions. WSU is one of the best pressure teams in the country, and they will throw a bevy of small, quick, pesky guards at ball-handlers in an effort to force turnovers. It usually works.

Biggest Weakness: Size/rebounding

Wichita State gives regular minutes to just one player taller than 5'11'', and as a consequence they don't tend to do well on the glass. A weak strength of schedule allowed the Shockers avoid seeing their lack of size get exploited with any frequency - is it something that Cal will be able to take advantage of?

5 seed Texas Longhorns

Record: 22-10 (9-9 Big 12)

Best player: Kelsey Lang

Halfway through the season the answer would have surely been Nneka Enemkpali, Texas' leading scorer and rebounder. Unfortunately, a knee injury has sidelined her for the rest of the season and led to Texas' fall from the top 10 to outside the top 25. 6'5'' center Kelsey Lang has been the most reliable scorer and rebounder in Enemkpali's absence, and although the Longhorns are very balanced, they will likely need a big weekend from her to advance.

Biggest Strength: Interior defense

Even without Enemkpali, Texas has an absurd amount of size in the post. As a result, it is extremely difficult for teams to get much going inside. Texas blocks a ton of shots and their bigs pull down defensive rebounds. While they do tend to foul too much, the paint is tough, tough sledding for opponents

Biggest Weakness: Shooting

The biggest impact of Enemkpali's injury was the loss of a very efficient scorer. Texas just doesn't shoot the ball very well. They struggle to get the ball into their bigs for decent looks, they struggle to hit jumpers, and they struggle to convert from the free throw line. They don't really play any transition basketball, and they don't have the shooters to open things up inside.

12 seed Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Record: 30-4 (16-2 Conf. USA)

Best player: Chastity Gooch

The best name in Berkeley this weekend, Gooch is another versatile wing/forward. She's enough of a shooter to keep teams honest, but she's equally comfortable mixing it up inside and getting to the line. 17 points, 7 boards and 2 steals/game? Berkeley is going to be full of two-way terrors this weekend.

Biggest Strength: Forcing turnovers

Remember everything I wrote about Wichita State's pressure defense? Put it on repeat for WKU. The Hilltoppers are force 20 turnovers/game, a high number for a team that prefers to play slowly. If the 12 and 13 seeds faced each other in the 2nd round, the result would be a game equal parts ugly and goofy, entertaining and frustrating.

Biggest Weakness: Field goal defense

Like many pressure teams, if you can break through the first line of the defense without coughing the ball up, you stand a good chance of scoring. WKU is 157th in the nation in 2 point defense, an impressively bad number considering their schedule strength. Getting past that first line is easier said than done, however.