Hey, how about that for an unnecessary inflammatory headline?
You’ve probably already guessed what I’m referring to. Much of this season, Cal football fans (myself 100% included) have complained loudly about football scheduling practices - most specifically the large number of Pac-12 night games and the 12 or 6 day window before learning game start times.
While these frustrations are not brand new, this was probably the worst year for both. Cal had major games subject to the one week scheduling window, and Cal played 9 of 12 games at 6:00 pm or later (8 of 12 7:00 pm or later).
The complaints from Cal fans got so loud that Athletic Director Michael Williams took the unusual step of sending an e-mail out to anybody on the Cal athletics e-mail list trying to explain why things are the way they are.
Of course, we damned well know why things are the way they are. Television, more specifically the TV deal Larry Scott signed a few years back. It’s that TV deal that greatly increased revenue for all Pac-12 members.
And it’s that deal that has allowed (barely) to maintain their robust program of 30 sports - a program that was nearly cut already.
Which brings us to the question posed in the headline - what sacrifices are you, as a Cal fan, willing to make to continue to provide institutional support for all of Cal’s non-revenue programs?
The question, as posed, might seem leading. “Nick, are you just trying to guilt trip yourself because of how much you complained about driving back and forth from Sacramento for late night starts?” But it’s a serious question. How much are we willing to compromise our fan experience with revenue sports, as well as the Cal experience for all athletes impacted by scheduling that is more and more dictated by the Pac-12 network rather than logistical concerns that might include academics?
Not exactly a fun topic, but a necessary one. I bring it up because the “Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics” is still working, and will evidently have findings to present at the beginning of the 2017 Spring semester. That could be as soon as January 10th. (On a side note, who in the hell knows which person will decide whether or not to follow through on whatever the committee recommends?)
Of course, our complaints won’t really change anything - only the eyeballs of viewers could change the behavior of the TV companies that now own the soul of the Pac-12. Is that a fair and necessary trade to keep all 30 Cal sports up and running?
Women’s basketball rolls on, setting records in the process
Last week, I commented on how I don’t really have a good sense of how good Cal WBB are this year because their schedule hasn’t been particularly strong. It’s not necessarily that the schedule as a whole is weak (they’re middle of the pack at 162 by Sagarin and 146 by RPI) but that the schedule lacks high end opponents. Their toughest game to date has been against either St. Mary’s or Duquesne, neither of which will be challenging for a tournament at-large spot.
It was more of the same this week against Sacramento St. and Lehigh, two teams that were going to hurt Cal’s computer resume no matter the final margin. But the games still have to be played, and the Bears took care of business - and then some.
Obviously the highlight is Kristine Anigwe’s 50 point game against the Hornets. It’s a record that is hard to put in proper context. On one hand, the record simply isn’t possible without playing a team like Sacramento State that has very specific styles and weaknesses that combine to allow something like this to happen. The Hornets:
1. Play either the fastest or 2nd fastest tempo in the nation (and there’s a wide gap between 2nd and 3rd), so there are a ton of possessions to pile up counting stats.
2. Play a pressing style of defense designed to force turnovers, and that style means that Anigwe never faced a double team and entry passes were easy.
3. Are lacking in size, even by the standards of small conference women’s basketball. They basically play 5 guard lineups and they had players that were woefully unprepared to challenge Anigwe’s size and sheer talent.
It takes all of those ingredients to make a 50 point game possible. Having said that . . . if Cal had wanted to play simply to get Anigwe points, she probably could’ve scored 80. Her 50 came in just 24 minutes on the floor. It’s not like any random power 5 level center could have stepped in and provided the same production. The other necessary ingredient is the single best offensive post player in the country, ready and able to furiously run up and down the floor in pursuit of points and rebounds. To get to 50, Anigwe had to almost never miss a shot. By my count, she received something like 34 scoring opportunities (getting the ball in or near the post) and turned that into 50 points. Even against weaker opponents that’s absurd efficiency when you don’t shoot 3 pointers.
It’s fun to contrast with Anigwe did with what Alexis Gray-Lawson did to set the previous Cal single game scoring record on the road against Oregon State back in early 2010. AGL did it by handling the ball on essentially every possession, by sporting an absurd usage percentage, and by hitting every single free throw when she got to the line. It was what Cal needed to win against a solid opponent, but it wasn’t nearly as efficient as Anigwe’s 50 points on 24 shots.
The crazy Sac St. game got all the attention, but Cal dispatched Lehigh in similarly dominant fashion Sunday afternoon. The Bears will take their prolific offense and perfect record into finals and a 8 day rest before heading to Las Vegas where non-conference play will conclude. There they will face three teams, most prominently Oklahoma, a top 25 team that will provide a solid measure of the Bears before Pac-12 play starts. And Pac-12 play will be legit this year - we’ll take a look at how absurdly deep the conference is over the next few weeks.
Cal Men’s Basketball: . . . boy, if they just started shooting the ball
We’re almost far enough into the season to start looking at stats and drawing meaningful conclusions. And if we’re comparing Cal 2015-16 to Cal 2016-17, we’re seeing plenty of similarities. Cal still sports an excellent defense, primarily defined by their ability to force teams into mediocre 2 point shots. There are even early signs that Cal’s defense is fouling less often (thanks mostly to less fouling from Kingsley and Kam) and forcing more turnovers (though this is more likely a small sample artifact of 21 turnovers committed by hapless UC Davis).
Which brings us to Cal’s offense. Again, Cal’s numbers are mostly similar to last year. They still are drawing lots of fouls, thanks largely to Ivan. They’re pulling down a similar number of offensive boards. Their turnover percentage is up marginally to 1.5%, which I would mostly attribute to injury-related lineup inconsistency.
Pretty much everything is within last year’s margin for error so far on both sides of the ball . . . except for shooting. Cal just hasn’t shot the ball well.
Again, there are mitigating factors. Jabari Bird and Ivan Rabb are Cal’s two best shooters, and they have been either out or functionally unable to shoot for a combined total of 10 games. There’s the potential impact of the weird gym (which, to be fair, might be helping prop of Cal’s defensive stats a bit) on two games of shooting. And again, there’s the impact of injuries shuffling lineups and rotations in ways the Bears hadn’t prepared for.
As of right now, Cal is 141st in the nation on 2 point shots, 243rd on 3 pointers, and 287th from the free throw line. Those numbers might reflect the true talent of Cal without Jabari and Ivan (and, for that matter, Kam’s 57/58% shooting) but I don’t think they represent Cal’s true talent when fully healthy. Still, it’s up to the Bears to prove that they can create and make shots on offense. Exactly how much are they capable of improving on their current numbers? Cal’s ability to do so may very well dictate whether or not they can build an offense to support possibly the best defense in the Pac-12.