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Cal MBB vs. Wazzu Preview

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NCAA Basketball: California at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s still hard to look at Ernie Kent without automatically associating him with the feathered mercenaries at Nike U. And yet, here he is in Year Number Three at the helm of the visiting Washington State Cougars. (9-7) Year Two was less than ideal. The Cougars were legitimately awful in every metric that mattered en route to a 9-22 campaign and a dead-last finish in the Pac-12. Just to make you all laugh, I take glee in pointing out that their sole conference win was against UC Los Angeles.

For this season, Coach Kent vowed a return to his trademark uptempo ways. As an added wrinkle, he also stated that they would prevent transition baskets by completely abandoning the offensive glass in favor of retreating their entire lineup back on defense. In some ways, he has been quite successful; the Cougs are dead last in the league in offensive rebounding. However, they’re actually playing at a slightly slower tempo than last year, so apparently Ernie has determined that his personnel still isn’t quite ready for ludicrous speed. Although most of their schedule was bolstered with easy wins against less-than-stellar competition, they did garner some conference attention by going on the road to Seattle and upsetting the UW Huskies.

Wazzu’s offense is decidedly middle of the pack averaging .994 points per possession. This, of course, is in contrast to our finely-tuned offensive juggernaut. (.995 ppp. Yeah! Take that, Cougs.) They don’t take a lot of three-pointers, opting instead to dump the ball inside for more than half of their shot attempts. It’s a good option considering that both of their starting bigs are effective low-post scorers. And yes, it doesn’t make sense to state a desire to run uptempo while actually running the twin towers. Take a bow, Ernie.

Defensively, Washington State ranks somewhere between a sieve and soggy tissue paper as they allow 1.015 points per possession. By contrast, Cal has kenpom’s #9 ranked defense at .873 points per possession. The Cougs rely on a lot of zone, but do more flailing at than stealing with regards to the ball.

Having Kam back makes an already favorable match-up nearly a case of playing to our strengths. We like to funnel everything to our rim protectors, and Wazzu’s favored offense involves pounding it inside. Although we’re still not the most effective offensive squad, there should be ample opportunities to break down their zone.

Starters:

G - Ike Iroegbu, 6-2, 195, Sr. | 10.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.9 apg - Quick guard loves to attack the basket. Has cut down his turnovers while increasing his 3P% this year. Still a bit turnover prone.

G - Malachi Flynn, 6-1, 170, Fr. | 11.7 ppg, 3.2 apg, 48.0 3P% - Precocious frosh out-dueled lottery-bound Markelle Fultz. Takes and makes more 3’s than anyone else on the team.

G - Charles Callison, 6-0, 185, Sr. | 9.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.7 apg - Was brought in last year as a JC transfer to bolster the point guard position. Has been described as “basically Iroegbu, but shorter.”

F - Josh Hawkinson, 6-10, 230, Sr. | 16.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.2 apg - Dangerous low-post scorer can also step out and hit the mid-range jumper. He’s a tough cover who is also adept at drawing fouls. Even with his groin.

C - Conor Clifford, 7-0, 260, Sr. | 10.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 60.4 FG% - Came in last year as a JC transfer. Highly effective around the basket, yet surprisingly ineffective on the glass.

Bench:

F Derrien King, 6’6, 185, Jr. | 6.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg - A hit or miss shooter. Mostly miss.

F Robert Franks 6’7, 240, So. |. 5.8 ppg, 2.67 rpg - Another reserve good at missing jumpers.

Keys to the Game:

  1. Rabb vs. Hawkinson: Ivan absolutely needs to remember to stay vertical and to avoid cheap fouls. This is one of the craftier low-post scorers that we’ll face and worry #1 would be Rabb spending extended time on the bench with foul trouble.
  2. Be good enough at the point of attack: We may not be great at checking quick penetrators, but we need to at least slow them enough to allow our rim protectors to get themselves into position.
  3. Moore vs. Flynn: This should be a fun duel between two of the better frosh point guards in the league. Both are deadly from deep and have struggled at times with their decision-making. I am perhaps biased, but I like our guy.
  4. Don’t settle: I’ll charitably describe our three-point shooting as inconsistent. The Cougar zone is nothing like trying to attack Virginia or Zona; there should opportunities to attack the rim.
  5. Make shots. Because to heck with variance anyway.

Go Bears!

Gametime: Saturday, Jan 14th, 1pm

TV: Pac-12 Networks