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Previewing Cal MBB vs. Seattle

The Bears head to the Pacific Northwest.

NCAA Basketball: California at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t always pretty, but Cal escaped with a 95-89 overtime win over Fullerton on Saturday afternoon. Now the 5-6 Bears hit the road for a Tuesday night matchup with the 8-5 Seattle Redhawks. Seattle is coached by Jim Hayford, who is in his first season with the program after several years with Eastern Washington. This article is a neat behind-the-scenes look at his life and impact on the team. Hayford seems to favor man-to-man defense so far this season. Seattle ranks #227 nationally according to Ken Pomeroy. Their wins have largely come against bottom feeders and they lost by 24 at Saint Mary’s. However, the Redhawks have a couple of thriving starters and are giving themselves a chance at avoiding another sub-.500 season like the ones they suffered the past two years. Seattle is expected to finish in the middle of the WAC in this campaign. There’s no television for this one, but I included a webstream link below.

Seattle

Projected lineup

#5 G Matej Kavas - 6’8” So.

The Slovenian has taken on a major role compared to his freshman season and his shooting has improved in the process. Kavas is shooting 45% on threes and scoring in double digits basically every night. His size also makes him a contributor on the boards as he is averaging 6 rebounds.

#10 G Richaud Gittens - 6’4” Sr.

The graduate transfer from Weber State has seen his shooting slip a bit, but he’s an active defender averaging 1.5 steals. Gittens can also be a facilitator: he made 4 assists in his last appearance against Portland.

#2 G Jordan Hill - 6’4” Sr.

Another grad transfer, Hill never saw this much playing time at Wisconsin. He has taken advantage by scoring over 20 points in his last two contests and averaging 14 for the season. He’s another guy to keep an eye on when he’s behind the arc, but he’s willing to make a quality pass instead of shooting.

#13 F Josh Hearlihy - 6’8” Sr.

Hearlihy has already played in the Big Easy (at Tulane) and New England (for Vermont). That’s right, the Redhawks have a trio of grad transfers in their starting lineup. Hearlihy is not the team’s star but can fill the stat sheet in a number of ways: playmaking, rebounding, the occasional three-pointer. Yet another guy who was basically buried on the bench before arriving in Seattle.

#41 C Aaron Menzies - 7’3” Jr.

Seattle’s answer to Kingsley Okoroh, Menzies is another big man from England. He’s a real problem for the opposition when he doesn’t end up in foul trouble, but that does happen fairly often. Menzies has blocked close to two shots per game and is capable of double-doubles on any given night. However, he was very quiet against higher order opponents such as Saint Mary’s and Washington State.

Key reserves

#1 G Morgan Means - 6’3” So.

Straight out of Compton, Means would be the most likely guy to crack the starting rotation should the need arise. Means is off to a poor start shooting from distance, but he’s trusted on defense and had a whopping 13 assists against Pacific Lutheran on December 4.

#23 G Aaron Nettles - 5’11” Fr.

A Seattle native, Nettles didn’t have to travel far to play for the Redhawks. However, he has already forced his way into some playing time thanks to a nice shooting stroke.

#11 F Scott Ulaneo - 6’10” So.

Hayford doesn’t employ a deep rotation, but the big man from Italy is the obvious backup to Menzies. Ulaneo’s high school teammate Mattia Da Campo also plays for the Redhawks.

Winning Strategies

1. Feed the fabulous freshmen.

As wild as this season has been so far, Cal fans have at least come to realize that Darius McNeill will be a key figure for the program. That’s true not just because of his excellent shooting from deep but also his willingness to penetrate when the opportunities are there. While he has gotten fewer chances to shine, Justice Sueing also has a skill set that is ready to contribute now. Getting them involved, and hopefully carving out a role for Juhwan Harris-Dyson, should be a point of emphasis from now on.

2. Test Seattle’s depth.

Only 25% of Seattle’s minutes come from their bench, which is far lower than the DI average of 32%. Yes, Cal is only four places higher than Seattle in that department, but it still feels like Wyking Jones has comparatively more options in reserve. With Cole Welle healthy again, Jones could rotate him in to keep guys like Marcus Lee fresh. Meanwhile, getting Menzies to take a silly foul or two couldn’t hurt.

3. Lock down the perimeter.

This might sound easier said than done, because Cal has allowed opponents to hit 38.7% of their threes this season. However, Seattle only gets 17% of their points at the free-throw line even though they rank among the top ten in terms of making those free throws. Meanwhile, they hit over 39% of threes attempted. At least attempting to play tight defense around the arc is paramount.

4. Get inside.

On the flip side, did you know that Cal is 8th in the country in percentage of points from free throws? The Fullerton game only helped that ranking because the Titans fouled so much in overtime, but that’s impressive. Don Coleman has made 79 all by himself, while Lee and Sueing have 32 apiece. Aggressive offensive play often gets rewarded with trips to the charity stripe.

5. Keep up the effort on the glass.

Seattle’s main defensive strength is rebounding at 59th in Division I. The good news is that Cal is 52nd in terms of offensive boards. With the right mindset, hopefully Cal can negate any advantage the Redhawks have in that department.

Meaningless Prediction: Seattle 74, Cal 70

KenPom gives the Bears a 47% chance to win at KeyArena, but ESPN is gloomier about their chances at 23%. However, there is no question that San Diego State is a better team on paper than the Redhawks, and we know what happened at Viejas Arena.

Date and Time: Tuesday, December 19 at 7 PM Pacific

Webstream: WAC Digital Network

Radio: TuneIn or KGO 810 AM

Go Bears!