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Cal MBB vs. Central Arkansas: Preview

It’s Golden Bears vs....Bears?

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary's at California
Can Nick Hamilton have another big game?
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of weeks ago, The Bearcast mentioned that the Cal men’s basketball team would have a few “tomato can” opponents in non-conference play with which to pad their record. Given that the Golden Bears are now 3-5, I can’t imagine that Wyking Jones is taking anyone lightly. With that said, the 4-5 Central Arkansas Bears rank #284 in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy. Perhaps their biggest accomplishment so far was taking UCLA to overtime before falling 106-101. They lost a narrow 78-76 matchup with the USF Dons on Monday night in San Francisco. Central Arkansas was just 8-24 last year, still giving them their best finish under head coach Russ Pennell. Pennell, a former assistant at Arizona, is in his fourth season in Conway, Arkansas. UCA will take on Cal on Wednesday night at Haas Pavilion.

Central Arkansas

Projected lineup

#10 G Mathieu Kamba - 6’5” Sr.

The Canadian Kamba, who calls Calgary his hometown, has been a major contributor for all four of his years at Central Arkansas. His field-goal percentage is down to 49% from last season’s 53%, but Kamba’s 20 points made the difference in a recent victory over Morehead State. He’s a good shot blocker for a guard.

#25 G Thatch Unruh - 6’5” Jr.

Unruh isn’t the team’s star, but he has improved compared to last season. He’s something of playmaker as evidenced by his average of 3 assists and is also impressing on the defensive end (10 steals for the season). Unruh played high school ball at Quakerdale Prep in Missouri, and learning that fact has put me in the mood for some hot oatmeal.

#1 G Jordan Howard - 5’11” Sr.

Goodness knows where Central Arkansas would be without Howard, whose 23 points per game more than double those of Kamba, the second highest scorer on the squad. He has been a consistently good scorer from long range over his collegiate career and stands at 42% on three-pointers this campaign. He had a whopping 35 points at Pauley Pavilion, so Jones should be focusing on stifling his production.

#2 F Ethan Lee - 6’6” Sr.

Lee doesn’t classify as a major scorer, but his 54% from the field is a testament to good shot selection. Lee demonstrates a willingness to hit the glass but only played 17 minutes in Monday’s game across the bay.

#15 C Hayden Koval - 7’0” Fr.

Koval is off to a good start considering his freshman status. He’s from Prosper, Texas, and the town’s website declares it “A Place Where Everyone Matters.” Koval averages nearly 10 points and 2 blocks per game, but somehow Kamba is the team’s leading rebounder.

Key reserves

#55 G DeAndre Jones - 5’11” Fr.

Jones is a full foot shorter than the most famous DeAndre in hoops today (that would be DeAndre Jordan of the LA Clippers) but has a pretty well-rounded game for a first-year player. As a result, he has become essentially the team’s sixth man. Jones went 5-7 from behind the arc on November 27 to beat Morehead State but rarely scores in double digits.

#22 F/C Tanner Schmit - 6’8” Jr.

Schmit has been reasonably productive when he plays, but has seen his minutes reduced to 14 per game compared to an average of 19 in 2016-17. He’s most useful for his rebounding but did score in double digits during a November 25 loss to Tulsa.

#12 G Darraja Parnell - 6’4” So.

Also recruited out of high school as a wide receiver, Parnell chose hoops instead in part because he hated the “eating weights” component of football. Parnell’s athleticism leads to some highlight reel dunks, but so far he’s looking for consistency with his shot.

Winning strategies

A bunch of songs by The Police have been popping up on my favorite satellite radio stations lately, so I’m using a few of their tracks as my thematic inspiration.

1. Murder By Numbers

It's murder by numbers, one, two, three

It's as easy to learn as your ABCs

Before the season, Jones made it a point to say that Nick Hamilton would be an integral part of the offense. Even considering the exodus of talent from last season, I was a little skeptical. Hamilton started to answer my doubts on Saturday night. The numbers were very pretty: a perfect 7-7 from the field, good for 16 points. If Hamilton can continue to provide scoring on a regular basis, that will go a long way against a team like UCA.

2. Every Breath You Take

Every breath you take

Every move you make

Every bond you break

Every step you take

I'll be watching you

The Bears need to guard Howard tightly if they want to avoid a nervous overtime session like UCLA--or an even worse outcome. After all, he ranks among the top 10 qualified players in Division I for scoring average. Howard is basically the only reason that his team is well above-average for Division I teams in three-point percentage at 39.5%.

3. Canary in a Coalmine

You live your life like a canary in a coalmine

You get so dizzy even walking in a straight line

Central Arkansas has played some awful defense in their first eight games. They rank 331st overall in defensive efficiency and are very near the bottom of Division I in three-point percentage allowed. UCA is a bit better against two-point shots, but it will be a bad sign for Cal if they can’t play decent offense against the (non-Golden) Bears.

4. So Lonely

In this theater that I call my soul

I always play the starring role

So lonely

It’s a lonesome feeling when you’re having a bad night from the field, and Don Coleman going 3-16 against the Gaels certainly qualified as one of those. However, it’s the only contest so far in which he has failed to score in double digits. Bank on Coleman getting back on the right track against a porous defensive unit.

5. King of Pain

I guess I'm always hoping that you'll end this reign

But it's my destiny to be the king of pain

Central Arkansas only has their shots blocked about 7% of the time, but Cal is 11th best nationally in rim protection in swatting nearly 18% of opposing opportunities. If Kingsley Okoroh can get his season average of about 3 blocks, UCA will regret the missed opportunities. Marcus Lee isn’t far behind with an average of 2.4 rejections.

Meaningless Prediction: Cal 71, Central Arkansas 65

KenPom believes that Cal has an 88% chance of victory. I’m not sure my confidence level is that high. ESPN is 77% sure of a Golden Bear win. I will say that Saturday’s loss to Saint Mary’s, who places #31 nationally according to Pomeroy, did nothing to change my belief that Cal should win this one.

Date and Time: Wednesday, December 6 at 7 PM Pacific

TV: Pac-12 Bay Area

Online: Pac-12.com

Device: Pac-12 Now App

Radio: TuneIn or KGO 810 AM

Go Bears!