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Monday Thoughts: Surveying the wreckage from a lost weekend

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Is there ANYTHING else to talk about this week? No? Are we sure?

NCAA Basketball: California at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

You want to know what puts me in a sour mood? Cal losing to Stanford three times in the span of four days.

To be fair, there were other reasons I was in a bad mood:

And so if you glanced at my twitter timeline during the men’s game on Friday night, you saw an unhinged individual increasingly resorting to cursing and incredulous sarcasm as Cal managed to somehow turn an early 12 point lead into a decisive loss.

When the game finally ended, I thankfully recognized my state of mind for what it was and unplugged from Cal sports for a solid 48 hours:

Why am I telling you this?

Man, do I get it - the strong desire to rant and rave, to complain about Cuonzo-ball offense, to declare the season over. If you made a checklist of things that, from time to time, make watching basketball miserable, that game had it all:

  • Watching in horror as a big lead turns into a big deficit, with the feeling that your team is powerless to do anything about it
  • Turnover after turnover after turnover, each entirely different, and yet somehow the same.
  • Refs making shockingly awful calls, except you know that if they had gotten the call right your team would still lose, except you still get to fixate on those calls as a reminder that maybe being a fan of this sport is dumb.
  • Watching the fatal flaw(s) of your team get ruthlessly exposed in real time, all the while contemplating how those flaws have acted as an ever-present hard ceiling on what this year’s team could achieve.
  • All of this happening on a court where crap like this always seems to happen, often at the most inopportune of times.
  • Against a rival that isn’t even good, in front of rival fans who only marginally even care, knowing that they’re enjoying it out of schadenfreude rather than joy over their already-long-dead season.

This was a game custom designed in an evil scientist lab to drive you to make the hottest of hot takes about Cal basketball, which is why I logged off for a long time - to avoid putting out a take of my own, and to avoid reading the inevitably scorching takes from everybody else. Anybody who registered an opinion in the immediate aftermath of that awful, awful game deserves full and complete immunity.

So what exactly is worth taking away from that game?

  • Even great teams have stinkers, particularly on the road. Cal has only really had two stinkers (@Oregon, @ Stanford) since they’ve been healthy, which is annoying but hardly shocking.
  • Stanford is probably better placed to exploit Cal’s weaknesses - offensive turnovers and Ivan foul trouble - because of what they’re good at. Which, as a corollary . . .
  • Jerod Haase is significantly above Johnny Dawkins on the game planning/in-game adjustments competency scale. We’ll see if he can keep inexplicably bringing in 4 stars the way Dawkins did.
  • I’m not sure if the Stanford game was a game that you have to treat as a must win or not. Cal can certainly still make the NCAA tournament (potentially even comfortably) despite that loss. But if/when Cal faces a win-or-go-home game, Cuonzo will have to play Ivan even when he’s in foul trouble.
  • I’m saving longer discussions about Cal’s offense under Cuonzo for the off-season, cause that’s a complicated bag of worms that I’m at best marginally qualified to discuss.

For now it’s senior week, and it’s the last chance to see a bunch of great Bears play at Haas, and that’s what I’m going to try to think about this week, rather than what transpired on Friday.

WBB swept by Stanford

In theory I should be more upset about two losses to Stanford than one loss to Stanford . . . but Stanford WBB was and is the better team, and getting swept was more a confirmation of what we already knew.

Cal was competitive at home for the entire game, and competitive at Maples for a little more than half the game . . . and that sounds about right. There’s very little more interesting to say about either game unless we want to just dwell on various issues we’ve already talked about.

The Bears are now 5-11 in conference, with two road games left where they will be significant underdogs. If they lose both games it’s feasible that they could finish tied for last place in the conference. To state the obvious: the only way they can make the NCAA tournament is by winning four straight games in Seattle.

Thursday was technically senior day for Courtney Range and KC Waters. I say technically because Cal will presumably be given an invite to the NIT, and has a good chance of hosting more home games in March if so desired. But for now the focus is on the future.

With the departure of another class of players, it’s perhaps instructive to consider how Cal got into a situation where they are plausibly going to finish tied for last in the Pac-12:

2012-13 recruits: None
2013-14 freshmen recruits: Courtney Range, KC Waters, Mercedes Jefflo, Hind Ben Abdelkader

The intentionally empty 2012-13 class has been covered extensively and I won’t rehash it now. But suffice to say that the 2013-14 class was going to be absolutely critical even if Cal had added recruits the year prior, because it was the class that would come in to replace the scholarships vacated by a significant percentage of the final four squad.

And thanks to attrition, Cal only found one consistent, four year contributor in that class.

I won’t deny that Cal has all kinds of talent on the roster right now. But in WBB, where early entrants essentially don’t exist, experience matters a great deal. Getting one rotation player over two entire recruiting classes is going to be a kiss of death for any other program.

Experience isn’t the only issue that this team has to solve over the off-season. But with four experienced juniors and seniors, two solid sophomores with lots of minutes, and potentially gifted freshmen . . . well, the self-inflicted roster wounds will finally be healed. Which means next year pretty much HAS to be a successful year.