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Steps in the right direction: Cal MBB takes down Cal Poly

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Cal plays much improved offense and survives a 3 point barrage for their first win of the season.

NCAA Basketball: California at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

So. If the calling card for this season is progress, Cal’s first win gives you plenty of positive signs.

Let’s start with team stuff: Cal played vastly better offensively. Two days after scoring 66 points in 78 possessions against a mediocre Big West defense, Cal scored 85 points in 69 possessions against a mediocre Big West defense. Everybody looked collectively more comfortable and in control, finding spots within the offense as designed.

So let’s talk about the individual stuff:. Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh dominated smaller, less athletic big men. Justice Sueing looked even more self-assured in his 2nd D1 game. And Don Coleman brought all of the positives from his voluminous game 1 (Confidence, aggression, get-to-the-basket-ability) and none of the negatives.

And thank goodness that the Bears scored on a Big West team in the fashion you would expect from a Pac-12 team. Because California Polytechnic very much did not shoot the 3 ball like a Big West team stereotypically would.

The Mustangs hit 16-28 (57%!) from behind the arc. That’s 1) obviously a goofy high percentage made and 2) a really high volume of 3 point attempts. Not many teams can (or even want to) make half of their shots in a given game 3 pointers. But Cal Poly turned that in-game variance into a semi-competitive game.

It’s worth noting that Cal was in control throughout, and Cal Poly’s 3s mostly served to keep them within shouting distance until a late flurry made things look better cosmetically (or worse if you’re a gambling type):

WP graph
Kenpom.com

How much of Cal Poly’s success from 3 can be blamed on Cal’s defense? To state the obvious, we’re not exactly executing the zone like vintage Syracuse yet. Of course, the Syracuse zone is one of the few defenses that seems to have some sort of impact on opponent 3 point percentage, so it’s not a idle comparison. Early in the game Cal didn’t seem to be extending their defense much, perhaps a reaction to Friday’s nightmare first half. Later on, with a solid lead and Cal Poly bombing away, the zone extended out a bit more and at least made Cal Poly work a bit harder. But the Mustangs certainly also made their fair share of tough looks, a few from NBA distance. As is often the case, it’s a little bit from column A, a little bit from column B.

Other than those 3 pointers, Cal’s defense didn’t do a ton wrong. Cal didn’t foul, locked down the defensive glass, and actually found a bit of success disrupting Cal Poly’s flow, getting into passing lanes, and forcing a few turnovers. We’re not talking vintage Shaka Smart havoc or anything, but Cal Poly excels at exactly one thing: not turning the ball over. Forcing a 20% turnover rate is a decent win, even against a Big West team. Again - small signs of progress.

Interestingly, the rotation was not very deep - really, Wyking focused his playing time on five players, with limited minutes (30 total) and shots (5 total) for the other five players who got into the game. This is something to watch going forward.

Individual player thoughts:

  • Marcus Lee pretty well manhandled the Mustangs, grabbing nearly as many offensive rebounds (7) as the entire Cal Poly team (11) and then doing something with those rebounds. Cal was also much better about getting the ball to Marcus and Kingsley in better spots, and they worked the high-low game better. Ever since the prodigal son announced his decision to come to Berkeley from Kentucky, this was the type of performance we hoped for. Now it will be a question of replication against tougher opposition.
  • Justice Sueing followed up an encouraging game 1 with a slightly more encouraging game 2, and I have to keep reminding myself that the dude hadn’t practiced in weeks. His court sense and ability to finish impress. If you’re building to the future he’s the most obvious young building block.
  • Don Coleman going for 30 points on 13 shots, plus 3 assists? When Cal plays games like this, the tendency is to offer caveats. ‘This was a good performance, but it was a kenpom 250+ team. This was a good performance, but it was against a Big West team.’ Dropping 30 on 13 shots is a good performance, full stop. And again, replication will be necessary but 3-6 from deep and 11-14 from the line is exactly what he needed to add to his pre-existing ability to get to the hole.
  • Roman Davis fell awkwardly at one point, getting his leg caught underneath his body, and left the game. He looked to be walking under his own power, but gingerly, so hopefully it’s nothing major going forward.

So: one more game against a team you would hope Cal can beat (beware the Terriers) before getting on the plane to Maui. Game 2 was better (and more fun!) than game 1. I’m hoping for the same in Game 3, and perhaps with the added excitement of seeing Juhwan Harris-Dyson for the first time this season. It’s hard for me not to start dropping analytics cliches (#TrustTheProcess) but I’ll take every encouraging sign I can get and this game provided more than a few.