When: 6:00, Thursday night
Three weeks into the season, and three Pac-12 teams are dominating the rest of the conference. Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA have not lost a game to anybody but each other. In 12 of their 14 games against conference opponents they have won by at least 9 points.
Cal’s 5 point loss to Arizona at home didn’t feel great at the time, but Cal was actually able to compete with one of the top 3 teams, something almost nobody else has been able to say. But close losses are the coldest of comforts. Finally, the Bears get another chance to test themselves against the best the west coast has to offer.
Oregon struggled with injury issues in November but have been barely tested since then. Their offense and defense are both excellent. They went punch for punch, beating the best offenses this conference has seen in years when they shocked UCLA. This is gonna be tough.
PG Dylan Ennis - Villanova transfer finally healthy. Pretty much a bit above average at everything.
G Payton Pritchard - 4 star freshman has quickly settled into a solid role player role as a combo guard with solid shooting.
G Tyler Dorsey - Oregon’s best and most frequent threat from deep can put it on the floor as well.
G Dillon Brooks - Either unavailable or limited in both of Oregon’s 2 early-season losses. Otherwise by far Oregon’s #1 threat. Has maintained his efficiency despite a big increase in offensive burden this year.
F Jordan Bell - Disruptive defender shooting 63% on 2s, is prone to turnovers if you can bother him before he shoots.
F Chris Boucher - Fought injuries earlier in the year, and relatedly only plays about half of Oregon’s minutes. He’s a wildly efficient stretch 5 who rebounds and blocks everything. All-conference candidate if he gets enough playing time.
G Casey Benson - Doesn’t do much other than take wide open jumpers if you ignore him, but that’s enough with the talent around him.
F Kavell Bigby-Williams - Generic back up big will be used to buy rest for Bell and Boucher. Solid defensively, rough offensively.
When they are actually given a game, Oregon pretty much plays a 7 player rotation, with Brooks’ versatility the key to making lineups both big and small work.
Keys to the Game
- Is Oregon ready for Cal’s defense? The Ducks have faced exactly two defenses in the same ballpark as our Bears. One was an early season, short-handed loss to Baylor. The other was an ugly win over Alabama at home. Baylor’s defense is probably the best comp and the Ducks were thoroughly smothered. Cal may well need a similar performance to escape Eugene with the upset.
- Can Cal hold down Dillon Brooks again? Last year, Dillon Brooks had two mediocre games against the Bears, scoring just 4 points at home and turning the ball over 4 times in Berkeley. If Oregon goes small, Brooks would have to score over Ivan’s length and athleticism, and if Brooks is playing at the 3 then he’s still going to be dealing with Cal’s standard defense - Jabari on the wing with Ivan and Kam/King protecting the rim.
- Keeping Oregon off the offensive glass. Cal won the rebounding battle in both games against the Ducks last year, mostly because Ivan. Oregon (but really just Boucher and Bell) is a team that is active on the glass, but if Cal keeps them in check like they did last year it deprives Oregon of a key source of offense.
- Can Cal avoid turnovers? Cal’s number one problem on offense is simply not making shots. But against the Ducks, who pride themselves on disrupting an offense with their length and athleticism, turnovers can make the difference. 18 in Eugene last year cost Cal a Pac-12 title. When they lowered that number down to 11 they won in a blow out.
- Is there any way Cal makes enough shots to win this game? I’m actually optimistic about all of the points above. I think Cal’s defense is well equipped to hold Oregon in check. I think Cal will win the rebounding battle. I think there’s a good chance Cal doesn’t turn it over a ton on offense.
All of those things could very easily come true, and Cal could still win because they just aren’t hitting enough shots.
If there’s a formula against Oregon, it’s SOMEBODY (presumably Jabari, but why not Grant and Charlie too) getting hot from 3, as the Ducks aren’t great at preventing 3 point attempts. Regardless, Cal needs to find their shooting touch and quick.
Our Computer Overlords Predict
Oregon 67, Cal 58, 20% chance of a Cal win
To a certain extent, this is kind of a free opportunity. Nobody particularly expects Cal to win this game, and if they don’t no meaningful damage will be done to Cal’s post-season chances.
What will be lost is the opportunity. If the Bears do win they notch a resume defining win that vaults them onto the edges of the conversation for the regular season title.
Winning road games against the best the conference has to offer is what defines conference title winners. If Cal beats Oregon in Eugene last year, the Bears are the #1 seed in Las Vegas. Instead, it was Oregon’s wins at Utah and at Arizona that carried them to the crown.
I’m not optimistic, but I relish the chance. Go Bears.