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Cal Basketball Monday Thoughts: More from a thrilling win over Arizona

Are you tired of reading about Cal's win over Arizona to cap a weekend home sweep? I'M GUESSING YOU'RE NOT!

Thanks, Nike money!
Thanks, Nike money!

Like Reef said in his must read post-game recap, I haven't been able to watch the game yet, because I stupidly forgot to DVR it. But I now have had 24 hours to digest it, to watch some highlights, to look at the box score and think about what we saw Saturday evening. Here's various thoughts on a full weekend of Cal sports, with an obvious emphasis on the Arizona game because duh.

  • Arizona shot 52% on two pointers, 44% on three pointers, and 88% from the line, and Cal still won. That says something about the quality of play Arizona brought to the game, and the quality of play that Cal had to match. This wasn't a game where Cal beat a team that had an off night. This wasn't a game where Cal had some sort of obvious match-up advantage. This wasn't the game where the opposing coach brought in an awful game plan or couldn't deal with some sort of Xs and Os wrinkle. This was Cal taking an above average effort from a top 15 team and winning anyway.
  • And how, exactly, did Cal match Arizona's effort. The Bears won because they have Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown . . . and also because they have more than just those two freshmen. Stay with me here: As a team, Cal went  27-60 from the floor. But Cal's freshman duo only went 8-23. Jaylen Brown didn't have his finishing touch, in part because any time he got in the lane he was immediately surrounded by 2 or 3 defenders. Ivan Rabb was very well defended by an endless series of double teams, coming from the only team that can rotate through four dudes with enough size and athleticism to contain Ivan. Arizona's defensive game plan was clear: Don't let Rabb and Brown beat you.

    Cal needs Ivan and Jaylen, because the gravity of their scoring threat pulls in defenders, warps a defense away from their normal  positions. But Cal also needs their secondary players to step up and take advantage of the space afforded to them by the threat of those freshmen. 

    Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird: a combined 39 points on 26 shots
  • Somehow, some way, Cal got 39 minutes of court time from Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh. I don't know if Arizona came into the game with a plan to attack Cal's twin 7 footers inside, but when Kam and King had three combined fouls inside the game's first four minutes, the strategy became obvious. Arizona finished with 40 points in the paint, and their collection of forwards attempted 23 two point shots during the game, to say nothing of the many drives into the paint from Arizona guards.

    Kingsley in particular played 11 minutes with 4 fouls, and while he didn't make a dent on the score sheet, his presence allowed Cal to play the style of defense they wanted to play and also protected Ivan, who probably would have fouled out if he had to spend any time trying to guard Zeus or Ristic.
  • The most obvious weakness in Cal's team game is a turnover deficit - too many given up on offense, not many forced on defense. And yet, if you were to pick just one of the four factors that won Cal the game, it would be turnovers:

Four Factors
Arizona 64.3 .547 15.4 34.8 .283 114.1
University of California 64.3 .517 9.3 35.5 .200 115.6
  • Arizona marginally won the shooting battle, while rebounds and free throws were a virtual dead heat. The difference in the game was that Arizona turned the ball over four more times than Cal did. It's worth noting that Arizona, like Cal, does not play a defensive style designed to force a ton of turnovers. Still, with Jaylen Brown running the point for around 10 minutes of game time, turnovers very easily could have followed. Instead Brown made mostly excellent decisions with the ball. Other Pac-12 teams should be trembling at the thought.
  • During pre-game introductions, when Ivan Rabb was introduced, you could just barely make out boos from Arizona fans. It was perfect - just loud enough to let us all know that they are bitter about losing Rabb to Cal, but not loud enough to make any impact or distract from pre-game excitement.
  • Speaking of Ivan: his game against Arizona State will get lost in the shuffle a bit because ASU is one of two teams that aren't factors in this scrum of a season in the Pac-12, but wow. 20 points, 8 rebounds, 6(!) assists and 3 blocks. It's as dominant a game as I've seen from a Cal big man since at least Ryan Anderson, who was a very different style of player anyway.
Next up is the Mountain road trip, about which I have very mixed feelings. On the one hand, this is a trip to fear: Utah and Colorado have used their altitude advantage to great effect since joining the conference five years ago. On the other hand, Cal seems to match up relatively well with teams that rely on one post scorer and a bunch of spot up shooters to generate offense. We have already watched K2 give Josh Scott and Jakob Poeltl all kinds of trouble while the rest of Cal's defense denies 3 point shot opportunities. Will this be the weekend to break through with a road win or two?

All we can count on is another 80 minutes of heartburn.

The absurdity that is the Pac-12

Thanks to wins by Utah and Oregon State (and losses for USC and Washington) the Pac-12 is even tighter than ever. Just two games separate first place Oregon and Washington from 9th place UCLA and Oregon State. Only ASU and WSU have eliminated themselves from top half contention, and I fully expect ASU to have an impact on the title chase since they have enough ability to pull an upset or two.

It's not just the actual standings that put the Pac-12 in a crazy tight cluster. Kenpom ranks every single Pac-12 team except for Washington State in the top 100. Much more importantly, the RPI has every single Pac-12 team except for Washington State in the top 66!

Just as a matter of comparison: the 2009-10 Bears earned an 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, but only earned one RPI top 50 win in the regular season. The 2015-16 Bears currently have FIVE top 50 wins, and even if the Bears just went 9-9 in conference and picked up one Pac-12 tournament win, they could easily finish the year with 10 top 50 RPI wins.

The Bracket Matrix currently has 8 Pac-12 teams in, with another 2 teams in the First Four out. The Pac-12 might be lacking in top end teams, but it's the deepest conference I can ever recall, and by a pretty wide margin.

Back around New Year's, I thought that 14 wins would win the conference. Now? 12 very well might be enough, considering that three teams that figured to be the main contenders (Cal, Utah, Arizona) all have already picked up three losses. And the battle for top 4 seeds and first round tournament byes will be even more critical than usual since nearly every team presents a serious challenge. The next two months are going to be fun, depending on how you feel about constant fan stress.