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Cal Basketball vs. Utah, Part Two: Can Bears win on the road?

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Cal has already beaten Utah once, all they have to do is the exact same thing again. Easy, right?

Now I'm dead inside! /heavy guitar riff
Now I'm dead inside! /heavy guitar riff
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

I dislike two aspects of the expanded Pac-12. First of all, we no longer play a true round robin. I don't like going a season without seeing Lorenzo Romar at Haas Pavilion. Miss you buddy!

Secondly, I don't like seeing a team twice before we've seen more than half of the rest of the conference. Utah again? Didn't we just play these guys? Indeed, we have. I've already run out of unsavory Austrians with which to jokingly compare to Jakob Poeltl.

In the 2nd game of conference play, Cal emerged with a surprisingly routine win over the Utes, who struggled badly to deal with the size and defensive abilities of Kam and King, who played 37 combined minutes and stifled Poeltl and Kyle Kuzma. Can the Bears sweep the Utes by following a similar template?

This is a big game, but then again aren't all of them? With the conference so oddly even, and with 10 teams within two games of first place, pretty much every game is a big game matching up contenders. But beating a team that most pegged as a legit title contender, and earning the early tie-break, could have plenty of value come Pac-12 tournament time.

Roster

Starters

PG Lorenzo Bonam, 6'4'' Junior - Steady, mistake free point guard arguably Utah's 2nd best player so far
G Brandon Taylor, 5'10'' Senior - Has been better since I described his non-conference struggles 3 weeks ago
G Jordan Loveridge, 6'6'' Senior - Teams have been targeting him, has struggled to find open looks
F Kyle Kuzma, 6'9'' Sophomore - Nearly as high usage as Poeltl, struggling to score efficiently in conference play
C Jakob Poeltl, 7'0'' Sophomore - Pac-12 POY candidate does everything well

Bench

G Isaiah Wright, 6'2'' Sophomore - back up ball-handler, very limited on offense
G Dakarai Tucker, 6'5'' Senior - 3 point sniper, attempts a 2 point shot roughly once a game.
F Chris Reyes, 6'7'' Junior - Standard low usage back up big, solid rebounder
F Brekkott Chapman, 6'8'' Sophomore - See above.

Note: Kenneth Ogbe is still out, and now hasn't appeared for about a month and a half, with no reason to expect him back.


Not much has changed since the last time we looked at Utah. As you would expect, the Utes are leaning a little harder on their starters in conference play, but not much. It's still a dedicated 9 man rotation, with Tucker probably the #1 option off the bench.

This is very much an offense focused on the talents of their bigs. Poeltl and Kuzma combine to take nearly half of Utah's shots when they are on the court together. It should be noted that both players have been significantly less efficient in conference play than non-conference play. Maybe that shouldn't be a shock considering we watched the duo net a mediocre 21 points and 4 turnovers on 20 shot attempts against Cal.

Statistical Preview

When Cal has the ball (All stats Pac-12 games only)

Category California
Offense
Utah
Defense
D-I Avg
Efficiency 106.8 5 100.7 1 103.2
Avg. Poss Length 17.0 7 17.1 7 17.2
Four Factors
Effective FG%: 54.0 2 47.9 3 49.7
Turnover %: 19.1 12 16.0 6 18.4
Off. Reb. %: 28.8 10 30.2 5 30.1
FTA/FGA: 40.9 2 25.9 1 36.7
Miscellaneous Components
3P%: 36.8 6 37.0 9 34.6
2P%: 53.4 1 45.2 2 48.5
FT%: 66.7 10 70.1 6 69.5
Block%: 10.8 7 8.2 9 9.2
Steal%: 8.8 10 7.9 5 8.7
Style Components
3PA/FGA: 33.4 4 26.2 2 35.2
A/FGM: 52.0 4 40.4 1 52.8

It's tight, but in a league that has been more offensive minded than average, Utah has narrowly played the best defense so far, mostly by being solid across the board. Only twice have they really been burned by an opposing offense, but one of those games was against Cal.

I'm generally getting the sense that Cal's offense matches up well against teams that don't force a ton of turnovers, which in the Pac-12 applies to most teams other than the three teams Cal lost to on the road, plus Washington. Against Utah the Bears only coughed it up 7 times, and I would expect a similar number this time around.

When Utah has the ball (again, Pac-12 only)

Category Utah
Offense
California
Defense
D-I Avg
Efficiency 100.8 11 102.7 4 103.2
Avg. Poss Length 19.9 12 17.9 11 17.2
Four Factors
Effective FG%: 48.1 7 44.3 1 49.7
Turnover %: 18.2 10 14.9 8 18.4
Off. Reb. %: 29.1 7 30.4 6 30.1
FTA/FGA: 34.9 9 43.9 10 36.7
Miscellaneous Components
3P%: 30.9 11 32.6 3 34.6
2P%: 49.0 5 42.9 1 48.5
FT%: 68.6 8 75.6 10 69.5
Block%: 12.5 9 11.9 5 9.2
Steal%: 9.4 12 5.7 12 8.7
Style Components
3PA/FGA: 34.6 3 22.2 1 35.2
A/FGM: 54.2 1 45.4 2 52.8


Utah's offense is . . . not doing so great. They've got Poeltl, it's true, and he's been scoring at a consistent level. But after that, there are all kinds of issues. The guards are struggling to find open looks and none of them are great off the dribble. None of the secondary bigs offer a ton of efficiency. Utah needs their secondary players to step up, or else they'll be relying on Poeltl to carry a load that he can't quite shoulder.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Kenpom: Utah 70, Cal 67, 39% chance of a Cal win.

Sagarin Predictor: Utah by 2.3 points

Really, not much has changed in the 3.5 weeks since these two teams last met - the computers generally think Cal is the marginally better team, but certainly not so much better as to trump home court advantage.

Keys to the Game

1) Limit the trees, limit the threes

Cal followed a simple formula in their 13 point win: don't give Poeltl and Kuzma easy buckets, and stop Utah's collection of guards from getting off many 3 point attempts. Those two sources of offense are critical for Utah, and they just so happen to match what Cal's defense has been built to take away.

2) Do fouls even matter any more?

If the Arizona game is any indication, it almost feels like Kam and King are foul proof. When you use two players interchangeably, it's really, really, really hard to foul both of them out over 40 minutes. It's almost like Cuonzo has a player who gets 10 fouls to play with and never gets tired.

True, Cal doesn't want to send Poeltl to the free throw line constantly, but his life is going to be difficult when he knows he'll have various 7'0'' tall dudes who outweigh him, who are on the court for the sole purpose of defending him. That plus Ivan around to perhaps occasionally provide help or even a double team.

3) Get another great game from Ivan

Last time around, Ivan bossed whichever defenders Utah sent at him (rarely Poeltl, as I recall) on his way to 19 points on 12 shots. Utah doesn't like to foul, and I think that hesitancy allowed Ivan to boss things inside. Get another game like that and the Bears stand a good chance grabbing their first conference road win.

4) More traction on the offensive glass

At times during the non-conference schedule, Cal looked like they had the potential to really make an impact on the offensive glass. But that potential has only shown up on occasion in conference play. One of those games? Against Utah, when the Bears pulled down 12 offensive boards. Utah has been vulnerable on the glass, and they aren't going to be particularly dangerous in transition. Opportunities for 2nd chances will be there.

5) Hope for another crummy Utah shooting game

Don't get me wrong, the Bears played well and fully deserved their win over Utah. But it was probably more comfortable than anticipated in part because Utah missed looks they might otherwise hit. Poeltl missed a couple of close looks at the basket, and Utah only hit 2 of their 12 three pointers. More of the same would be greatly appreciated.