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Half an Ivan? No problem, because Jabari’s back

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. . . is no longer keeping him from playing basketball boy aren’t I clever! Also, Cal beat Princeton 62-51.

Pearl Harbor Invitational - Princeton v California Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

The caption to the picture above?

The California Golden Bears bench erupts after Jabari Bird #23 of the California Golden Bears drains a three point basket during the second half of the Pearl Harbor Invitational NCAA college basketball game at Bloch Arena on December 6, 2016 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

A-friggin’-men.

In his return from a nearly month long layoff due to back spasms, Jabari Bird scored 13 points and pulled down 8 rebounds in 28 minutes on the floor. That might not exactly jump off the page, but it was desperately needed offensive production from a position that hadn’t been providing many positives on the offensive end, in a game that was lacking scoring for long stretches.

An obvious example (at the :50 mark of this video): Cal gets the ball with a 6 point lead and 3 minutes to play. They run their set but can’t develop a solid look. Charlie resets, and uses his speed (and the threat of a Kingsley screen) to drive the lane. His man trails him, but two other defenders are nearby to cause problems.

Except that one of those defenders was on Jabari Bird, who was busy making a perfect baseline cut. Charlie, naturally, makes the pass and Jabari soars underneath the basket for a beautiful reverse layup that all but ices the game.

It’s probably simplistic to suggest that Cal loses this game without Jabari. But at the same time - it was a back-and-forth game, and Cal’s biggest lead for the first 36.5 minutes of the game was just four points. Without Jabari to add production, keep the defense honest, and improve spacing . . . well, who knows where points were going to come from?

The answer to that question is typically going to be Ivan Rabb, except that Ivan wasn’t IVAN. Thanks to a sprained left hand, Rabb simply wasn’t a force, in a game where he would ordinarily be expected to dominate. You could tell that he became more uncomfortable (and likely more pained) as the game went on. In one noticeable 2nd half instance he immediately passed back out of a post entry as he grimaced in pain. From that point onward he was nearly useless as an offensive player except as a decoy and as a screen setter. He ended the game with 6 points including an unsightly 0-6 from the line because his shooting motion was basically broken.

Of course, Ivan Rabb is still IVAN RABB even when he’s not - his defense was almost unaffected. Maybe my favorite play of the game was on a late Princeton possession. Off of a missed jumper in the lane, Ivan skies for the rebound. But, unable to use his 2nd hand, he attempts to palm the ball and instead slams it off the front of the rim, where it bounces to a Princeton player. That player charges the lane and tries to shoot over Ivan, and he promptly blocks him back to New Jersey.

It was an ugly game. Neither team shot well, and Cal’s injuries and shifting lineups made for a somewhat disjointed affair. But we’re starting to (I think) see the light at the end of the injury tunnel, and Cal managed to escape that tunnel (I think) without any truly damaging losses. Now the Bears can focus on regaining offensive chemistry with four games left before Pac-12 play starts.

Notes

I mention this because both teams struggled badly to shoot the ball, and I think there’s reason to suspect that Bloch arena had something to do with the ugliness. Not necessarily because of the shape of the arena, but because the upper level walls are all windows, and the time of day for this game had the sun beating down through the glass and reflecting off of pretty much every smooth surface.

The effect was more obvious in the first half when both teams combined to shoot 2-26 from 3 point range. While some of you cynics might argue that Cal just isn’t a good shooting team, I would point out that Princeton shot 38% on more than 700 3 point attempts last year. The Tigers can shoot from deep . . . except not in Hawaii.

You can probably add in knock on effects from travel and fatigue and humidity and whatever other variable were in play, but I wouldn’t recommend judging Cal or Princeton for that display of non-shooting.

  • It’s taken 8 games for me to start to take Charlie Moore for granted. Hey, it’s just a freshman breaking down a defense that has like 19 years of combined experience on the floor and spearheading a 9-1, game altering run in which he made or assisted every basket.
  • If I had been Princeton, trailing by 6-8 points late, I would’ve started playing hack-a-Rabb immediately. Based on post-game interviews with both Cuonzo and Ivan, I don’t think there’s any hand-related reason that Ivan doesn’t play tomorrow, so I’m curious if Seton Hall goes that route come crunch time. On a side note, how much healing can you do in 24 hours, exactly? Lots, right? Please?
  • Kingsley had another solid game, and ended up being a mildly surprising defensive plus against a team that we worried might have been able to exploit his relative lack of speed by going small. That plus chipping in with a few points and his usual solid rebounding, and we’re not noticing Kam’s absence as much as I had feared. We’ll see if more athletic teams will cause him any problems starting . . . tomorrow.
  • The other key contributor was Sam Singer, who alongside Charlie really made the Cal offense go with purposeful penetration. He was pretty much the only guy keeping Cal’s offense afloat during the ugly first half shooting display.
  • This is almost certainly #badanalysis because of the shooting background and because I missed the first half thanks to work running long, but for those who want to see halftime adjustments from Cuonzo, how about going from .54 ppp in the 1st half to 1.33 in the 2nd? Regardless of what happened in that first half, going 1.33 against a reasonably decent defense without Ivan as a primary threat is pretty encouraging. MO(o)RE PLEASE!
  • The biggest difference in the game? Cal made 54% of their 2 point shots, Princeton just 35.5%. After finishing second in 2 point defense last season, the Bears are sitting in eighth so far this year - the hallmark stat that defines this period of Cal basketball.

Now it’s the 24 hour turnaround against Seton Hall, who defeated Hawaii 68-57 after Cal and Princeton wrapped up.

On the bright side, Jabari is back and appears to be pretty well integrated back into the lineup. On the down side, it’s anybody’s guess as to how effective Ivan will be on offense tomorrow. I’m of the humble opinion that Seton Hall isn’t as good as Cal when the Bears are at 100%. How close can we get to 100% tomorrow?

Unfortunately, there’s a big difference, resume-wise, between 8-1 with two above average neutral court wins, and 7-2 without (probably) any top 50 RPI wins. But I think Cal has enough pieces (and enough defense) to hold their own against most teams.

God it’s good to see Jabari back on the court again.