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Cal Basketball Preview: Oregon Ducks

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Life on the road in the Pac-12 begins tonight at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, where the Bears face one of their tougher road tests of the season.

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

When: 6:00 pm, but probably preempted for 10 minutes by a stupid east coast game that goes long
TV: ESPN2

Before we get to Oregon, let's talk a little bit about the bigger picture. Cal is riding a three game winning streak over solid teams, and has been playing at a high level for the last six games or so. The metrics generally see our Bears as one of a few contenders for 2nd best team in the conference behind Arizona, just a hair outside of the top 25.

But we want more than that, obviously. If you believe that post-Las-Vegas, post-Incarnate-Word Cal is, at a minimum, what we will get for the rest of the season, then it's like what Reef said on Sunday: The Bears are bona-fide title contenders (or future champs, if you've got more guts than I do).

What will it take to have a shot at the Pac-12 title? I would expect that a record of 14-4 is likely a must. Maybe better, if Arizona improves. That means road wins. At least five of 'em, maybe more. And that starts tonight, in what might arguably be the 2nd toughest road game Cal will face in conference play. The stakes are obvious.

Of course, this is the first of a three game trip through Oregon and Palo Alto, and I think we would be reasonably pleased with a 2-1 record afterwards. Win this game, and we can start dreaming about even more. OK, onto the Ducks

The Ducks

The Quackers are 11-3, with all three losses coming to top 100 opponents on the road. On the downside, Oregon's only particularly impressive wins came against Valparaiso (better than you'd think!) and a Baylor team that has been blown out twice already in Big 12 play. After getting throttled by the Beavers and Gary Payton on Sunday, the Ducks will be looking to bounce back and avoid the 0-2 start.

From a stylistic concern, Oregon is average in most respects - tempo, three pointers attempted and allowed, assists per field goal, etc. They will play both man-to-man and zone, which creates an obvious storyline if Dana Altman happens to think that Cal still has trouble scoring against zones.

Roster

Starters

PG Casey Benson, 6'3'' Sophomore - weak shooter & rebounder makes up for it with solid passing and ball-handling, but not really one to create shots for others.
G Tyler Dorsey, 6'4'' Freshman - McDonald's All-American Prized recruit is a gifted shooter and foul drawer. High turnover rate.
G Dillon Brooks, 6'6'' Sophomore - Oregon's go-to scorer always a threat to get to the bucket, moderate threat from deep.
F Elgin Cook, 6'6'' Senior - Undersized, average efficiency big man, will Cal go small when he's on the court?
F Chris Boucher, 6'10'' Senior - Best rebounder on roster by a wide, wide margin, and can step out and hit a 3.

Bench

F Dwayne Benjamin, 6'7'' Senior - Undersized stretch 4, doesn't foul much, shoots more threes than twos.
F Jordan Bell - Standard back-up post, decent rebounder, fouls a lot.
G Kendall Small, 6'1'' freshman - Back-up guard who doesn't like to shoot, turns the ball over too much. More defense than offense.
F Trevor Manuel & Roman Sorkin - Will they play? See 'keys to the game' below.

Oregon's offense tends to focus on the skills of Dillon Brooks, with Cook, Boucher, Dorsey and Benjamin as roughly equal offensive options behind him. This game will be a very different defensive challenge, as Oregon doesn't really have any true post-up guys like Josh Scott or Jakob Poeltl. Oregon is closer to the all-wings lineup, with a bunch of dudes who can dribble drive and kick to a bunch of other dudes who might hit a 3.

Statistical Preview

When Cal has the ball

Category California
Offense
Oregon
Defense
D-I Avg
Adj. Efficiency 109.4 48 97.2 60 102.6
Avg. Poss Length 17.2 182 17.9 303 17.1
Four Factors
Effective FG%: 53.1 59 46.3 69 49.5
Turnover %: 17.4 106 21.8 33 18.6
Off. Reb. %: 35.2 46 31.7 222 30.3
FTA/FGA: 40.1 104 28.8 44 36.5
Miscellaneous Components
3P%: 35.2 134 33.6 142 34.4
2P%: 53.2 49 44.2 56 48.4
FT%: 67.4 232 71.2 260 69.1
Block%: 6.4 31 15.5 11 9.3
Steal%: 7.3 43 11.3 25 8.8
Style Components
3PA/FGA: 33.5 214 34.8 174 35.1
A/FGM: 49.3 239 51.3 138 53.0

Oregon's defense brings the rare combination of forcing lots of turnovers without allowing easy buckets, at least so far. Hopefully Cal can change that.

Every game is a good game to keep Ivan out of foul trouble, but against Oregon's iffy rebounding, it would be great to have him on the court for 35 minutes, picking off Cal's missed shots all game long.

When Oregon has the ball

Category Oregon
Offense
California
Defense
D-I Avg
Adj. Efficiency 111.1 38 94.5 29 102.6
Avg. Poss Length 16.1 71 18.4 333 17.1
Four Factors
Effective FG%: 50.5 131 41.9 6 49.5
Turnover %: 17.9 127 13.7 347 18.6
Off. Reb. %: 34.1 66 25.4 33 30.3
FTA/FGA: 42.8 53 32.3 83 36.5
Miscellaneous Components
3P%: 32.3 236 36.0 244 34.4
2P%: 51.5 71 37.2 1 48.4
FT%: 71.2 124 73.4 319 69.1
Block%: 7.8 91 12.7 54 9.3
Steal%: 6.5 14 5.5 345 8.8
Style Components
3PA/FGA: 34.8 185 27.9 11 35.1
A/FGM: 54.6 126 51.4 139 53.0

Oregon has a good solid offense, but I mostly just look at the numbers above and spend my time admiring that big bright green '1' in Cal's column.  So beautiful, even through my tears of joy!

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Kenpom: Oregon 72, California 69, 38% chance of a Cal win

Sagarin Predictor: Oregon by 1 point

This one approaches coin flip territory, which means it's an obvious opportunity to boost conference title chances.

Keys to the Game

1) Play big or play small?

This question really goes for both teams. Oregon's regular rotation calls for a stretch 4 (either Bejamin or Cook), and they don't have many good options behind Boucher, their starting center. Does Cal respond by playing lots of Kam and Kingsley in the hopes that Rabb can take advantage of his size on a smaller defender? Does Cal try to match Oregon's speed by playing Rabb more frequently at the 5?

Oregon has a pair of true posts (Manuel and Sorkin) [Ed note: Manuel decides to transfer right after this was written, what an ingrate] who receive very minimal playing time. Might Altman turn to them to prevent Oregon from getting mashed on the boards if Cal goes big?

The bottom line is that Cal has more positional flexibility than Oregon and can potential dictate the type of game they want to play. But which game will that be?

2) Can Cal control the glass and get out in transition?

Oregon has an unusual rebounding profile - very good on the offensive glass, not very good on the defensive glass. Their struggles on the defensive glass is likely a function of size. As mentioned above, they play small a lot. They get offensive rebounds because they have the freedom from Altman to attack the glass.

Cal, thus, has two opportunities: They should earn themselves multiple 2nd chances on offense. And if they can lock down the defensive glass, they have the chance to beat Oregon down the court if the Ducks are still trying to crash for offensive boards. Don't be shocked if Oregon isn't as aggressive on that front, however.

3) Ball control

Regardless of whether they play zone or man, Oregon's defense is about ball pressure and turnovers. The onus will be on Tyrone Wallace and the rest of Cal's ball handlers to make smart decisions with the ball. This is probably not the game for Jaylen to play too much one-on-one, because he will find his passing lanes restricted and a bunch of hands ready to swipe at the ball.

4) Will defense travel?

On paper, the biggest mismatch of the game might be Cal's field goal defense vs. Oregon's shooting. The Ducks just aren't a great shooting team relative to everything else they do on offense, while Cal has stifled three straight teams with better finishing than the Ducks. Will that same pattern continue with the Bears back on the road? If they can do it in Virginia, you would think they can do it in Oregon, right?

5) Hit shots

Did you know that Cal basketball has never lost a game at Matthew Knight arena? That's because of a variety of reasons, not just shooting the dang basketball. But it certainly helps when Justin Cobbs can hit a fade away iso at the buzzer. It helps when Jordan Mathews drops 32 points on 14 shot attempts. It helps when Allen Crabbe nails six 3s en route to 26 points.

The Bears evidently like the rims in Eugene. Keep it going and another big win will follow.