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Cal MBB vs. Utah: Preview

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Everything you need to know about the first in a series of pivotal games in the 2nd half of conference play

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Dammit, Utah. Jakob Poeltl and 5 other players from an 8 player rotation are gone. You weren’t supposed to be good this year.

Dammit Utah, you’re actually a good team this year, but thanks to an indefensibly bad non-conference schedule and one close upset loss to USF, your RPI (78) doesn’t match your actual skill level (Kenpom #43).

Dammit Utah, you stand between Cal and a Pac-12 bye, thus I must hate you even though you’re a pleasantly unremarkable, fundamentally sound basketball team.

Cal and Utah have plenty of similarities. Both teams sit at 6-3. Both are 0-3 against Arizona/UCLA/Oregon and undefeated against everybody else. Both are led by dynamic interior scorers. And both teams’ seasons may well swing on the outcome of two games against each other.

Roster

Starters

PG Lorenzo Bonham - Is shooting an absurd 80-110 on 2 pointers. Doesn’t take a ton of shots, but when he does it’s probably going in.
G JoJo Zamora - JC transfer took over as starter around Christmas, is the best shooter on a team of great shooters
G Devon Daniels - high 3 star combo guard is a good shooter but also an effective slasher/finisher.
F Tyler Rawson - Southern Utah transfer fancies himself a stretch 4 but hasn’t flashed great shooting. Solid if unspectacular rebounder/rim protector, good passer for his size.
F Kyle Kuzma - All-around interior talent is Utah’s go-to offensive option. Excellent rebounder, polished around the basket, excellent ball-handler for his size.

Bench

G Sedrick Barefield - SMU transfer is just another good shooter
F David Collette - Utah St. transfer plays bigger than his 6’8’’ frame suggests - solid finisher around the basket.
G Parker Van Dyke - 22 year old sophomore just got back from Mormon mission. Pretty much just a shooter for now.
C Jayce Johnson - 4 star freshman has impressive physical tools but fouls a ton and is useless away from the basket. Work in project will probably make our lives miserable in 2 years.

You’ll notice a theme. Utah’s offense is basically Kuzma surrounded by a bunch of players with similar skills - guys equally capable of shooting, passing, and finishing inside. Bonam is nominally the point guard but all of Utah’s guards and wings see a similar amount of the ball, and are capable of making the right pass to keep their offense moving.

Keys to the Game

Irresistible force meets immovable object

Larry Krystkowiak might be the best Xs and Os offensive coach in the Pac-12. He basically returns two pieces from last year’s excellent team and the offense has been close to identical in terms of actual production and efficiency. He’s doing it with two true freshman and four transfers from JC/small conference basketball.

Utah always finds ways to get guys good shots around the basket. They went 22-35 on 2 pointers against Oregon. They went 21-37 on 2 pointers against Arizona. Those are the two teams that are comparable to Cal’s excellent interior defense. Can the Bears do better than that number? They might need to if they want a win.

Can Cal single cover Kuzma?

The answer probably needs to be yes. As noted above, Utah is full of competent shooters and finishers, and Krystkowiak will punish a defense that gives him leverage. The assignment will probably go to Ivan (who, for what it’s worth, held Kuzma in check 2 out of 3 times last year) and Ivan will need to handle him without much help.

Can Ivan and company do more damage at the line?

Cal was able to beat Stanford comfortably in part because they earned a ton of free throw attempts (and actually hit most of them until right at the end when it didn’t matter any more). If Cal has one potential advantage over Utah, it’s that Cal’s offense draws significantly more fouls than Utah’s offense.

On the other hand, Kyle Kuzma is impressively good at avoiding foul trouble for a big man. I’d like to test him out and see if he can avoid fouls while also actually slowing down Ivan.

Can Cal earn 2nd chances?

The best feature of Utah’s defense is their ability to lock down the defensive glass - they’re the best in the Pac-12 at limiting 2nd chances. We talked earlier this week about how offensive rebounds have been a valuable source of offense for the Bears, but that route might be less fruitful than usual against the Utes.

#Kod5 - Let’s shoot the ball well please?

Hey, did you know that Cal has only had one Pac-12 game in which they have shot the ball meaningfully better than their season average (against ASU’s craptacular defense)? Don’t you think we’re due for one of those games where shots just happen to go in more often than usual? Don’t you suspect that, because we’ve been fruitlessly asking for it for weeks now it’s never going to happen? HEY SOMETIMES YOU JUST GOTTA BELIEVE IN SOMETHING MAN.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Cal 69, Utah 67, 57% chance of a Cal win (fixed from previous blogger error)

It doesn’t feel right to me that Utah is favored over Cal in Berkeley, when the teams have been so similar. But the computer overlords see a Cal team that struggles to put away bottom-of-the-Pac fodder and a Utah team with a handful of blowout wins. But the basic point is that this one is probably gonna be stressful, so start clenching ahead of time just to be safe.

Home Court rules everything around me