Cal vs. Princeton
Tuesday, December 6
TV: Fox Sports 1
Cal vs. Seton Hall
Wednesday, December 7
TV: Fox Sports 1
Welcome to the Pearl Harbor Invitational, Cal fans! This is Cal’s best chance to get non-conference resume wins, but exact predictions will be difficult. Think of all the variables in play!
Will Jabari Bird play?! (he traveled!)
Will Ivan Rabb be 100%?! (he hurt his off-hand, but he traveled!)
Will Cuonzo Martin wear a lei?! If yes, will it be over a polo shirt or a full suit?!
Will this column look for any reason to laugh at UCLA for that one game you’re thinking about right now?!
Yes, yes this column will.
Ahh, Princeton. That team that I care about solely because of that one time that they made UCLA fans cry. Thanks, Princeton!
The Tigers are supposed to be pretty good this year. They return literally every player of consequence from last year’s squad, plus they get a key contributor from two seasons ago back from injury. How good was last year’s squad? 22-7, with a top 100 statistical profile. They gave eventual NCAA tournament darling Yale a strong run for the Ivy title.
On the downside, Princeton lost nearly every game of consequence last year - St. Joe’s, Maryland, Miami, Virginia Tech . . . when Princeton had a chance for a non-Ivy top 100 win, they inevitably came up short.
That pattern has followed this season. Princeton will probably be pretty good and will be strong candidates to win their conference, but they have already lost three games to solid opponents - BYU, Lehigh, and VCU. It makes one wonder if they just don’t have the athleticism needed to take on and beat major conference opponents. For Cal’s sake, I hope that’s true at least one more time.
The ugly start takes some of the luster off of the Tigers as a value win for Cal, but it doesn’t change the fact that Princeton is about as veteran a team as the Bears could face, with enough talent to notch the win. It’s worth noting that the Tigers have spent the entire season on the road, and this will be the first game they play without a home court advantage.
*Important question: Which name below is the most Princetony? I’m leaning towards Henry Caruso but Devin Cannady makes a strong case.
G Amir Bell, 6’4’’ Jr. - low usage guard, reasonably efficient shooter
G Henry Caruso, 6’4’’ Sr. - Go-to-scorer, most versatile offensive threat. Shoots, makes, lots of 3s
F Spencer Weisz, 6’4’’ Sr. - Shoots, makes, lots of 3s
F Stephen Cook, 6’5’’ Sr. - Shoots, makes, lots of 3s
F Hans Brase, 6’9’’ - True forward and rebounder . . . who shoots, makes, lots of 3s
G Devin Cannady, 6’1’’ So. - Shoots, makes, lots of 3s
G Myles Stephens, 6’5’’ So. - Energy bench scorer who attacks basket, draws fouls. Doesn’t shoot 3s?!
F Pete Miller, 6’11’’ Sr. - Solid back up big and rebounder, marginally efficient interior scoring option
Have you noticed a theme? These guys shoot lots of 3 pointers, and they tend to make them. 42% of Princeton’s shots last year were 3 pointers, and that was without Brase, a 5 who can step behind the arc and shoot. The percentage is actually down a touch so far this year, but in only 4 games against decently athletic teams that are probably capable of running the Tigers off the line. They want to shoot plenty of 3s.
Do they run the Princeton offense? Pretty much. Head coach Mitch Henderson is a Princeton grad (he scored 8 points when UCLA nearly pulled the upset in ‘96!) who came up under Bill Carmody, a Princeton assistant for 14 years in the 80s and 90s. You’ll still see back-door cuts. But Henderson isn’t a Pete Carril clone - he lets his team run a little bit. The result is an efficient offense, and a roster that Henderson hopes doesn’t sacrifice too much defense for offense.
Our Computer Overlords Predict
Kenpom sez: Princeton 67, Cal 66: 49% chance of a Cal win
Revise this number up ever so slightly if Jabari Bird plays, revise it up even more if Jabari Bird plays like he hasn’t been out since the first game of the season.
Keys to the Game
- Extend the defense with off-ball discipline - I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Princeton doesn’t have a ton of guys who can take Cal’s defenders one on one. And Cal will also have a massive size differential. Power conference teams have trouble finishing against Cal, so I’m guessing an undersized Princeton team will have the same problem. So can Cal stop Princeton from spreading the court with shooters and making things happen with off-ball movement? That’s the test. This isn’t the game to help off of your man, because that man is very likely to knock down a 3. Easier said that done, though - Princeton has a high end offense despite rarely pulling down offensive boards or drawing fouls. They know how to get the shots they want. From a strength vs. strength battle, this should be a good one.
- Does Princeton have anybody that can stop Ivan? - This is a question that can be asked in most games, but particularly here. Princeton only has two dudes taller than 6’5’’ in their regular rotation, and both are foul prone. I’m going to speculate that neither have the athleticism to deal with a future lottery pick, and that’s ignoring what might happen when Cal goes big with Kingsley (side note - can Cal actually go big and play defense when Princeton can play 5 shooters?) Ivan should have a monster game even compared to his recent standard.
- How big will the free throw gap be? - As noted above, Princeton doesn’t really draw fouls. Cal has been getting to the line with frequency. If Princeton gets hot from outside or if Cal goes cold, a big free throw discrepancy could keep Cal in the game or end up making the difference between two teams that were otherwise evenly matched.
How disappointing has The Hall been to start the season? So disappointing that they lost to Stanford by 14 points. This means that they by definition suck.
OK, that might be hyperbolic. 2015-16 was a banner year for the Pirates. A 6 seed represented their best season since the glory days of the late 80s/early 90s, and they entered the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation, going 12-2 down the stretch and winning a Big East conference tournament title.
Of course, momentum isn’t a thing and the Pirates were promptly dumped from the tournament by criminally underseeded Gonzaga.
The Hall are back, although without early entrant and 2nd round draft pick Isaiah Whitehead. Still, the next 5 best players on that team are back this year alongside one impact freshmen and one impact transfer. This team shouldn’t be vastly different than last year’s squad - the best out of Newark in 25 years.
Last year’s team had a top 10 defense. That defense, for whatever reason, hasn’t quite materialized yet. If it does in this game we could be treated to an ugly, low-scoring affair.
PG Madison Jones, 6’2’’ Sr. - Pass first facilitator turns the ball over too frequently
G Khadeen Carrington, 6’4’’ Jr. - Marginally efficient scorer has been deadly from the field to start the season.
F Desi Rodriguez, 6’6’’ Jr. - Go-to-scorer in an early shooting slump but dangerous from all over the floor. Lock down, disruptive defender - will they put him on Charlie?
F Ismael Sanogo, 6’8’’ Jr. - Low usage defender/rebounder, missed two games (including Stanford) with a shoulder injury)
F Angel Delgado, 6’10’’ Jr. - Monster rebounder on both ends, efficient interior finisher. Wish we had Kam to guard him, will probably foul out Kingsley.
G Myles Powell, 6’2’’ Fr. - 4 star recruit appears to be one of the best shooting freshmen in the nation if early returns are indicative.
F Michael Nzei, 6’8’’ So. - Active on the offensive glass, gets plenty of put backs. Solid shot blocker. Interesting match up for Ivan.
Powell and Nzei are nominally back-ups, but really the seven players listed above are more or less even in the rotation. Nobody else plays enough minutes or impacts the box score enough to particularly matter for our purposes.
Carrington, Rodriguez, and Delgado are about equally important within the offense, with Powell as the hyper-efficient shooter when defenses pay too much attention to the main threats. Carrington happens to be leading the team in scoring by a wide margin because so far he’s been shooting the nets off the basket.
Our Computer Overlords Predict
Kenpom sez: Seton Hall 70, Cal 69: 46% chance of a Cal win
Same as above re: injuries. Pray to Oski.
Keys to the Game
- Point of attack defense - Seton Hall wants to attack off the dribble with their guards/wings, with Delgado and Nzei available to clean up on 2nd chances. So far this year the formula has been effective, both in terms of their 2 point offense and their ability to draw fouls (making those foul shots, however . . . ) What’s the best solution? Point of attack defense to deny dribble penetration and send attacking guards where you want to on the floor. That hasn’t yet been a consistent skill for the Bears thus far this year, and this will be a big test.
- Who gets into foul trouble? - Seton Hall and Cal are both athletic, aggressive teams that draw fouls. The Hall have also been a bit foul prone to start the season. Both teams are relatively shallow as well. This game is more likely than most to hinge on ref whistles, a prospect that surely thrill all of you.
- Who gets traction on the offensive glass? As a duo, Ivan and Kingsley have been very effective on the offensive glass. The same can be said for Delgado and Nzei. There’s a decent chance this will be a push, but if either team wins this battle decisively it likely swings the game.
Bonus obligatory key to the weekend: #Kod5 Let’s get some goddamned variance in our favor
This hasn’t felt like a lucky season yet for the Bears (he said, fully knowing that Cal has already won two overtime games that we had hoped would be routine). The bad luck has been more injury related than in-game variance.
Having said that, Cal simply hasn’t been shooting the ball very well other than one I. Rabb and another C. Moore. Grant Mullins hasn’t really gotten going and nobody has done anything from the wing since Jabari got hurt. Wouldn’t this be just the perfect time for Jabari (if he plays) or Grant to go supernova? Or how about a randomly awesome game from a role player like Sam or Stephen?
Also, if Cal’s opponents could continue to shoot 28% from three I would be much obliged.