With Cal trailing by 1 point with about 1:15 left, Ivan Rabb is working his ass off to get position in the post. He makes a nimble move around his defender and finds acres of space on the low block. Charlie Moore is on the move and finds him quickly. Run that exact scenario and that’s either a basket or a foul (or both!) . . . I dunno, 80% of the time? 90%?
Ivan fumbles the ball, giving Seton Hall time to send a double team at him. One of the defenders hits the ball out of Ivan’s hands and off his knees. Angel Delgado scores on a beautiful, nearly unstoppable hook shot on the ensuing possession, and Cal can’t do enough in the final minute to come back.
Ivan Rabb might be the single most valuable player in the nation, in terms of how you would measure his value for his individual team. There might be better individual players, but those 5 star recruits tend to have other teammates that are 5 star recruits. Cal, for as well as they have recruited relative to historic norms, isn’t there yet, and they don’t really have anybody else to play the 4 anyway.
But alas, for the 2nd game in a row Cal didn’t exactly have Ivan Rabb. Cal’s best player, still hampered by a sprained hand, went just 3-8 from the field and again was a mess from the line. His 3 buckets? Two of them were uncontested lay-ins from Charlie Moore lobs. His 5 misses? All on iso post-ups. For the 2nd straight game he was visibly uncomfortable, and didn’t demand the ball.
Does Cal win this game with normal Ivan Rabb? I don’t think it’s homerish to suggest that. Seton Hall is a good team - good enough to beat Cal at full strength on the right night - but not better than Cal at full strength.
The good news is that Cal is getting closer. Jabari Bird looks great. Rabb looked marginally less pained (and hit 2-6 from the line rather than 0-6!) and will probably be back to normal by the time Cal will face a team good enough to beat them. Kingsley Okoroh has stepped up in Kam’s absence, and I haven’t yet heard any reason why his recovery from his knee problem will be longer than what was originally announced. So close to #wholesquad.
When Cal is at 100%, they’d be mild favorites against a top 50 team at a neutral site. When they aren’t the game is a coin flip that came up on the wrong side. Damn.
- The story of the game if Cal had won would have been Jabari, who was by far Cal’s go-to option and kept Cal in it by attacking the basket relentlessly. It says something that he went 1-8 from 3 (DAMN YOU BLOCH ARENA) and was still Cal’s best player on the night. Kudos to Cal’s coaches and medical staff for getting his rehab right, because he was ready to play the second he was cleared to play.
- More weird shooting at Weird Arena USA. Unfortunately for Cal, the Bears are marginally more jump shot reliant than Seton Hall on a normal night, and very much more reliant on jump shooting when Ivan Rabb isn’t the offensive focal point. I won’t be sad to see Bloch Arena in the rearview mirror.
- Gus and Bill were busy praising what were apparently Big East refs, but I can’t say I was too impressed . . . although it may have favored Cal in the aggregate. Ivan picked up an awful charge call, but had been gifted an awful block call earlier (see the picture above of Ivan charging directly into the chest of a set player). Cal later earned a bucket when Jabari dragged his pivot foot 6 feet before missing a runner that Kingsley tipped in via basket interference. That plus the usual garden-variety missed calls and the all-too-typical increase of whistles in the 2nd half made for a frustrating watch.
- This was the first game of the season where Charlie’s height was actually noticeable and exploitable. He had a bunch of shots that were either blocked or altered, although to be fair he was probably asked to force it on offense a little bit more thanks to Ivan’s injury.
- Grant Mullins has been increasingly less involved in the offense of late and went scoreless today. I don’t expect him to be crashing the lane with a ton of frequency, but Cal needs him to be more than just a shooter who struggles to get his shot off. Hopefully this is just part of the transition to facing high major athleticism.
- We really missed Kam today, who I still believe is our best one-on-one interior defender. Angel Delgado had a ton of success, to the point where we started sending rather ineffective doubles at him in the 2nd half. I’m not saying Kam stops his final hook shot, but maybe Delgado doesn’t end up with 16 and 10 if we have two 7 footers to throw at him rather than one.
- We now have a pretty good sense of Cuonzo’s rotation with a healthy lineup. Sam, Charlie and Grant splitting 80 minutes at the 1 and the 2. Jabari, with Roger backing him up at wing. And Ivan, Kam, and King splitting 80 minutes at the 4 and 5. Eight players, strongly defined roles. Works for me, I just want to see the whole thing at once.
Now it’s back home to California where Cal has a huge 5 game home stand spanning nearly a month.
Cal will be heavy, heavy favorites against their next two opponents, and they could safely rest players if necessary. I’d prefer to use those 80 minutes to build more chemistry and experience on both ends, but at this point it’s all about preparing for Virginia and the looming Pac-12 schedule. This one stings as a lost opportunity, but it’s a pretty understandable loss.
We’re closer than we’ve been all season (he told himself while wide awake in bed, worrying).