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Cal vs. Washington: Preview

NCAA Basketball: Oregon State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Some day, Lorenzo Romar will not be the head coach at Washington. I don’t know if that means that he’ll be coaching somewhere else, or adding to the stable of ex-coaches on the payroll of the Pac-12 network, but he’ll leave.

And I’ll be sad when that day comes. Since 2009 (when Cal hired Mike Montgomery), Cal is 9-5 against Romar and the Huskies*, despite the fact that Washington has been the more talented team maybe the entire time. Hell, even Ben Braun went 6-6 against Lorenzo Romar, facing the same talent gap.

You get the idea. Lorenzo Romar is very good at getting talented basketball players to come to Seattle. He has been only intermittently successful at turning that talent into team success.

This year is maybe the most extreme season of Romar-ball ever. Washington has the consensus #1 pick in the draft in Markelle Fultz surrounded by a bunch reasonably highly touted role players. The result? Washington has a wretched defense and their best win is over Long Beach St. (Kenpom #213). This has Washington fans seriously wondering if they need a new coach even though UW has a consensus top 5 recruiting class set for next fall. Hey, a six year tournament drought would make any fan base twitchy.

*Four of those losses directly involved Isaiah Thomas, damn him

Roster

Starters

PG Markelle Fultz - Spectacular all-around talent with NBA ready athleticism is the reason that Washington has a strong offense despite typical lack of structure. Capable of setting his teammates up just as much as scoring solo.
G David Crisp - Excellent shooter, not nearly the same passer/penetrator as Fultz, but who is?
G Matisse Thybulle - Somewhat turnover prone wing, but still a solid shooter/slasher.
F Noah Dickerson - Excellent two-way rebounder who draws plenty of fouls inside.
F Malik Dime - raw offensive player is great at blocking shots, bad at turning those blocks into actual defensive stops. Dime is out with a broken finger. Not sure if UW will play small or give more minutes to Timmins and little-used Matthew Atewe

Bench

G Dominic Green - back up wing/stretch 4 is a solid rebounder for his size but weaker passer/finisher/shooter than Thybulle and Crisp.
F Sam Timmins - Generic raw back-up big with iffy hands.
G Carlos Johnson - Energy wing off the bench something of a wildcard. Could drop 15 or be virtually invisible.

If you look at them individually, you would THINK that Washington should be a great team. You’ve got one gifted player surrounded by a bunch of good shooters and enough size that there should be rebounding and rim protection. Every INDIVIDUAL stat says that Washington has a bunch of good individual players. But, if you’ll allow me to go AM radio on you for a second: These guys don’t know how to win as a team.

For whatever reason (cough cough) Washington hasn’t translated recruited talent into wins. UW does have a pretty good offense, but not so good that it comes even close to transcending their awful defense.

The UW defense does exactly one thing well. They block a ton of shots - 15% of opponent’s shot attempts, to be specific. This does them almost no good. Because so many UW defenders sell out to block shots, they CONSTANTLY get in bad position to defend and rebound, and they convert very few blocks into possession of the ball. They foul too much, they don’t force turnovers (which was historically the one thing Romar defenses did well), and they don’t rebound well despite plenty of size and athleticism. I almost feel like you’d have to TRY to have a defense that bad with the sheer talent available.

Keys to the Game

1) Destroy their defense

See above. I want to see Grant Mullins and Jabari Bird constantly wide open because UW has collapsed in the paint on Ivan. I want Ivan to get 6 assists because Romar can’t coach a double team. I want 8 slam dunks because three UW defenders sniffing a blocked shot leave their man so that Charlie can dump off an easy assist.

Seriously though, Cal is 100% healthy and started clicking on offense over the last few games. Keep that going and challenge for the most efficient offensive game of the season.

2) Let Washington continue to not shoot 3 pointers

Washington is one of the best 3 point shooting teams in the nation. As a team, they are collectively shooting 41.8%. They also bizarrely don’t shoot 3s often - just 29% of their shots, good for 310th in the nation. Let’s hope that by choice and because of Cal’s defense UW continues to avoid deploying their most efficient offensive skill.

3) The battle for offensive boards

UW is unusual in that they do a good job crashing the offensive glass but struggle giving up 2nd chances. But Cal can grab a few O boards of their own, without giving up much on the other end. UW probably needs this to be a heavy advantage to win on the road, but with Kam one week less rusty I have a hard time seeing it.

4) Balance defending Fultz with UW’s other threats

On one hand, when a dude comes into a game averaging 22 points, you want to come up with a plan to slow him down. But Fultz is very likely going to get his points, and UW has multiple players capable of hitting shots and going off. I don’t think Cal needs to do anything particularly special in terms of defensive game planning.

I will say that I don’t think it’s a great idea to ask Charlie to try to defend his point guard counterpart in this one. Sam or Jabari (or perhaps a little Don Coleman?) would probably be the best bets, although as always it will be the secondary defense of Ivan, Kam, and King that will likely decide exactly how close Fultz gets to his season averages.

5) Do we really need to invoke Kodiak for a game like this?

Well, when one team is a heavy underdog but shooting over 40% from 3 as a team, I do tend to get a little nervous. As always, let’s hope that we shoot better than they do.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Kenpom sez: Cal 81, Washington 71, 83% chance of a Cal win

This is Cal’s 3rd easiest game the rest of the way, so needless to say this isn’t a time to slip up.

In the past, Washington has been something of a chaos team - enough talent that they can beat anybody, enough complete lack of structure to lose to anybody. That tends to be much more of a concern in Seattle, and more of a concern when they at least played some semblance of defense. If Cal can just stop Fultz from going nuts they should emerge with a routine win. Should.