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Recap: Skewered by the Silver Swords

The grim reality of a deep rebuilding season becomes clear

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-California at Chaminade Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The question I am asking myself at the moment is whether or not we should have expected something like this.

I’m defining ‘something like this’ as a game in which Cal loses in a fashion that would have seemed inconceivable in previous years. Because losing to DII Chaminade by 24 points is not something that I ever anticipated having to type.

Argument for why we should have expected something like this:

We knew this season was going to be rough. The roughest in modern memory, presumably. This is what I wrote back in August:

You see, I’m worried that the 2016–17 athletic season will be one of the ugliest in the recent history of Cal revenue sports . . . which is saying something.

As it turns out, Cal football wasn’t ugly at all! But we knew that this basketball season would be the rebuild of all rebuilds, and so previous extremes of poor performance couldn’t be excluded from the realm of possibility.

Also, Chaminade isn’t 100% roadkill. They are now 8-80 all time at the Maui Invitational, which means that they grab a win about once every 4 years. If ever there was a formula for Chaminade to win a game it would be on Day 3, against a team that suffered an almost complete program tear down over the off-season.

Arguments for why we should not have expected something like this:

Come on man, it’s a DII team that lost 4 starters off of a team that finished 4th in their conference.

Obligatory nod to the pain of historical precedent

Again, I must link to my recap of Cal’s 2014 loss to Cal State Bakersfield, which I described as the worst Cal men’s basketball loss in modern history. Twice in two weeks I have had to reconsider that statement in light of new evidence. I will go ahead and say that this is the worst loss in the history of Cal men’s basketball. I sincerely hope that this dubious honor won’t be revisited until the year 2596, when beloved hoops blogger Zalgraphron Plobreg bemoans our shock road loss to Ganymede Tech*.

First things first: I did not watch the game, because it tipped at 11:30 a.m. when I was at work. Reef (DNP, coach’s decision) is currently sitting in an ice bath, resting his hands after an intense 72 hours of non-stop basketball #analysis, and the number of people chomping at the bit to watch and then write about Cal vs. Chaminade a day prior to Thanksgiving isn’t especially large. So you get me, who would lose to the blogging equivalent of Chaminade if this recap were a competition.

But honestly, what is there to say? It’s probably fluky that Chaminade won by 24, but based on the numbers it’s not fluky that they won in the first place. Consider the facts:

Cal, nominally a pressing, disruptive team, lost the turnover battle by 4.
Cal, with two power 5 quality centers, rebounded the ball only marginally better than a DII outfit.
Cal allowed Chaminade to shoot a preposterous 66.6 eFG%, including 14/25 from behind the arc, with 22 assists on 35 made baskets.

Chaminade - the same team that lost to Notre Dame by 27 and Michigan by 38 - was the better team in ways that DII teams are not supposed to be the better team.

Things that did not work against Chaminade

1. Running offense through the post

Kingsley Okoroh and Marcus Lee combined for 6 points on 2-9 shooting with 3 turnovers, 9 rebounds, and 6 personal fouls. The things they do unequivically well (rebound, block shots) are being overshadowed by their flaws (turnovers, uneven finishing, fouling too often).

2. Pressing

Forcing 11 turnovers in 73 possessions against a DII team would be bad for a Mike Montgomery team, let alone a team expressly trying to force turnovers.

3. Whatever Cal did on defense to allow 25 three point attempts

Self explanatory

4. Don Coleman as a guaranteed source of 25 points in every game

We knew that wasn’t going to happen in every game, but this illustrates how dependent we are on his volume scoring.

Are these things likely to work in the future? I mean, they kinda have to if Cal is going to be a competitive outfit. But the crazy thing is that we just saw many of these things work! Just two days ago we watched Don Coleman roast the Wichita defense while Cal’s press and zone disrupted the Shocker’s offensive rhythm. Cal didn’t just look like a competent, competitive team for those 25 minutes - they looked like an excellent team.

The problem is that Cal has such a thin margin to maintain competitiveness. They need at least one of Lee and Okoroh on the court for rim protection and rebounding. They need Don Coleman to score 20+. They need the press to disrupt in some fashion. When one or more of these things aren’t happening, the game can go south very fast, and apparently regardless of opposition.

So what now? I’ll start out with a mildly hot take: Nothing we have seen so far is particularly useful evidence with which to assess Wyking Jones’ coaching tenure, or whether or not he will be successful at Cal in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, we know something. It’s five games worth of data, and that’s not nothing. But we will start to find out whether or not he can be a successful head coach based on two main metrics:

  1. Is he going to respond to everything that went wrong in Maui and make positive changes?
  2. Can he continue to sell recruits on his program and his vision in the face of spectacularly sobering on-court results?

For his part, Jones didn’t mince words:

For me, in all the years that I’ve been coaching, I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life from the lack of effort from our guys. So for me, it’s about going back to the drawing board, myself and my staff, and figuring out what changes we need to make because there definitely needs to be some changes. So we just have to go back to the drawing board and figure that out, what changes we need to make. But there will definitely be some changes.

Words are one thing, implementation another. Now is when our new coach proves himself.

*Cal’s head coach was fired at the end of the season, but blamed the previous regime for the preposterous decision to schedule a true road game on the Moons of Jupiter: “Nobody bothers to remember that we beat Ceres Baptist Central!”