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Cal MBB vs. Stanford: Previewing the most boring team in the Pac-12

Cal opens Pac-12 play against a young, scuffling Bay Area team with turnover problems.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Stanford Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

When: 7:00 pm Saturday
TV: Fox Sports 1

Typically when Cal takes on rivals and I’m on preview duty, my goal is to entertain you with insults towards the opposition. But this year’s Stanford team is remarkably difficult to insult because they’re so thoroughly unremarkable.

I mean, they aren’t a good team. But they aren’t remarkably bad either - there are seven other power schools in worse shape. They aren’t remarkably young, with four upperclassmen in their rotation and another two that will play major roles as soon as they get healthy.

Stylistically, Stanford is blah. Their tempo is average. Their defense is meh. The one thing they’re good at is drawing a ton of fouls and shooting free throws. Exciting.

(Which, to be fair, is in many ways similar to Cal’s statistical profile. But we’ve got Don Coleman so you know we’re not gonna be boring.)

At least Washington State shoots a ton of 3s. At least Washington plays an interesting zone. At least Oregon State has a bunch of Tinkles.

Unless you can drum up some feelings about Reid Travis, Stanford’s token good player, there’s probably not anybody on the roster who would give you an emotional reaction when you see them play or hear their name.

The most interesting thing about Stanford is that they have been beset by player absences. Dorian Pickens and Marcus Sheffield have missed all but two games combined with foot injuries, and 4 star freshman Kezie Okpala just recently became eligible after missing the end of the fall quarter due to academic issues. It’s not entirely clear which Stanford players will suit up on Saturday

Roster

Starters

PG Robert Cartwright - low usage, pass first point guard shooting marginally better this year, but turnover rate is a problem.
G Daejon Davis - high volume combo guard with a turnover rate that’s the 3rd highest in the entire nation among eligible players. Seriously, 40% of his used possessions end in turnovers. Wow.
F Oscar Da Silva - true freshman small forward is a threat from behind the arc and a solid shot blocker, hasn’t figured out how to finish inside yet.
F Reid Travis - Basically the same player he was last year. Crafty power forward who draws a ton of fouls. Would be a great 2nd banana but struggles to carry load on a bad team.
F Michael Humphrey - Solid all around big. Won’t wow you but he’s the least of Stanford’s problems. Actually hitting 3s this year in a small sample size.

Bench

F Kezie Okpala - Probably pretty good, but our entire sample is a mediocre debut on the road against Kansas, so who knows?
G Isaac White - Pretty much just a guy who sits in the corner and shoots 3s if he’s open, at a rate of 36%.
C Josh Sharma - Elite shot blocker, good rebounder, but not getting many minutes because he’s just too raw on offense.
G/F Marcus Sheffield - Probably won’t play. Struggled badly to hit shots last year.
G/F Dorian Pickens - Might play. Would immediately be Stanford’s best wing and shooter if he’s not rusty and ready to play major minutes.

Travis is the guy who will have the ball in his hands when things are going well for Stanford. Everybody else ranges from low-usage, average efficiency players to medium usage, low-efficiency players. Beyond that, it’s hard to predict much without actually knowing who’s going to be dressed and what Stanford’s rotation will look like

Cal Offense vs. Stanford Defense

Hooray a defense that sucks at forcing turnovers! Stanford isn’t the worst turnover forcing defense Cal has played this year (CSUN, St. Mary’s, and Seattle are worse) but Stanford is in the ballpark. The challenge is that Stanford has been doing everything else reasonable well, though they might be buoyed by some 3 point defensive luck.

Stanford played both zone and man defenses last year, but I haven’t had the chance to watch them yet to say for sure what Jerod Haase would prefer to run. Again, this is also something subject to change pending having their full, healthy rotation.

Cal Defense vs. Stanford Offense

If Cal were playing their preferred defense from pre-season effectively, Stanford might be the team to torture with full court press and an active, aggressive zone. Alas, that never quite came to pass and I doubt it gets rolled out tomorrow. Still, Stanford is a team prone to throwing the ball away with minimal input from the defense, so if there’s ever a game to bring pressure and intensity, this is it.

Stanford’s main strength is drawing fouls, which may or may not be negated by Cal’s zone and general propensity to avoid foul trouble, Marcus Lee excepted.

Keys to the Game

1. How does Cal plan on dealing with Reid Travis?

Stanford’s best player could easily get Marcus Lee into foul trouble, which might mean a decent diet of Kingsley Okoroh handling the middle of the zone. Stanford’s lack of shooters might allow a bit more collapsing/helping inside than you would usually be comfortable with, which might also allow Cal to better protect their interior duo from foul trouble

2. Which offense won’t cough up tons of possessions?

I don’t need to remind you that Cal’s offense is very turnover prone, but Stanford’s is even more so. Even better, Cal’s defense has occasionally found success disrupting passing lanes, whereas the Cardinal barely try to force turnovers. As weird as it might sound, this could be a game where the Bears actually win the turnover battle.

3. Does Stanford get the home court whistle?

Both teams have iffy offenses that rely on getting to the line to produce points. Both teams don’t do a ton of fouling on defense. That’s something that makes me nervous, because Cal is on the road, and lately the home team in this game has gotten very generous reffing. Must be the hundreds of ravenous, deafening fans on both sides of the bay influencing the officials.

4. Will any of Stanford’s various absent players return to make an impact?

Kezie Okpala will play, and it’s fair to speculate that he might be much more effective against a team like Cal than a team like Stanford, especially with a game under his belt. Meanwhile, the return of Stanford’s wings could turn a wildly turnover prone offense into a merely average ball handling team.

5. #Kod5

Against Stanford most of all do we pray for a game in which the team of righteous moral turpitude hits shots while the team of crass, degenerate evil see their shots clang heavily off of the rim.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Kenpom sez: Stanford 77, Cal 70 - 24% chance of a Cal win

If Pickens and Sheffield are still out (or not playing well due to rust/lack of integration into the rotation) then I actually like Cal’s chances a bit better than Kenpom does. NOt enough to say that Cal is a favorite or anything, but enough to give me optimism relative to expectation.

Much in the way that Cal doesn’t match up well with a team like Portland State, I think Cal does match up reasonably well with what Stanford can and cannot do. Whether or not that actually translates into a win is anybody’s guess, but it’s nice to play a team not built to exploit our weaknesses.