On Saturday Oregon wrapped up a perfect home schedule. In nine Pac-12 games at home, Oregon won all nine, by a rather frightening 20 points/game. When Cal lost by 23 in Eugene it felt like an early referendum on the season, but as it turned out it was a pretty typical - USC, Utah, and Arizona all lost in Eugene in similar fashion.
Meanwhile, Oregon is ‘merely’ 4-2 on the road, with an average point differential of +7.7. That’s a massive 12.5 points less than Oregon’s home conference average margin.
Am I here to suggest that Oregon is 12.5 points worse on the road vs. at home, rather than the usual 6 points or so? No, that’s silly. We’re still just talking about a 15 game sample, and the small sample size gremlins certainly apply.
The point? Oregon can be had when they’re on the road. That’s kind of an obvious thing, right? Cal is good enough that they have at least a puncher’s chance against any team in the country at Haas Pavilion. Oregon is certainly an excellent team, but they’re not meaningfully different from Arizona or Virginia, two other teams that Cal took down to the wire at home this year.
We just really, really need to finish on the right side of the ledger on this one.
PG Dylan Ennis - Nominally a point guard, but really a shooter/slasher who keeps the defense honest with Brooks as the ball dominant wing.
G Payton Pritchard - Freshman has responded to improved point-of-attack defense in conference play by shooting better from deep.
G Tyler Dorsey - Again, a solid shooter/slasher that keeps the defense honest around Brooks’ gravity.
G Dillon Brooks - The rare extreme high-usage player that doesn’t lose efficiency, probably in part because his teammates all demand attention.
F Jordan Bell - All-conference, defensive player of the year candidate - if he takes a shot it’s probably going in.
F Chris Boucher - Hasn’t quite recaptured 2015-16 form, but still an elite shot blocker.
G Casey Benson - Let’s not leave open the dude shooting 55% from 3 in Pac-12 play.
Keys to the Game
Ivan must bring his best
In Cal’s nine Pac-12 wins, Ivan Rabb has ranged from good to unplayable. In those nine games, he’s been a sure-fire first team all conference performer.
In Cal’s five Pac-12 losses, Ivan Rabb has ranged from meh (vs. Arizona, @ Stanford) to somewhere between bad and invisible (@ UCLA, @ Oregon, @ Arizona).
You get the idea. More than any other player in the conference, Cal goes as their best player goes. If Ivan is in foul trouble, or not playing his best, or getting stymied by a legit excellent interior defense, Cal doesn’t have many other places to turn. Young Ivee has to outplay Bell and Boucher, perhaps decisively.
It’s the same key that we had last week against Stanford. Oregon plays one of the more disruptive, turnover-forcing defenses in the Pac-12. Turnovers are an issue for Cal’s offense. Cal isn’t going to turn in a game where they take great care of the ball, but limiting the number of turnovers to 12 or 13 rather than the 20 they had in Eugene or Maples will likely be necessary to get the W.
Time to deploy the zone part 2?
Cal’s zone defense is in part a strategy to use against teams that play small, and Oregon certainly qualifies. While it’s true that playing zone against a team that a) shoots lots of 3s and b) shoots they at a high percentage nominally seems like a bad idea, Cal’s zone has generally done a solid job at cutting off the type of easy looks that sink lesser zones. And it’s not like Oregon didn’t T off from deep in Eugene when Cal’s defenders were busy helping down on drivers.
Oregon has won a few games this season by simply shooting the net off the rim. This isn’t meant to dismiss Oregon’s equally as good defense, but a few Duck games have been over at halftime because they wouldn’t miss a damned shot. As 3 after 3 rained home, opposing defenses lost discipline and started chasing shadows, opening up opportunities for easy buckets at the basket.
Coincidentally or not, those games have tended to come at home, where Oregon really, really must like their sight lines. We have to hope that Cal’s defense . . . or random chance . . . prevents Oregon from going off.
Hey, if we keep asking for Cal to make more shots than usual, they’ll actually do it eventually . . . right? We didn’t somehow use up all of our extra karma magic on a home win over ASU in January, did we?
Our Computer Overlords Predict
Kenpom sez: Oregon 65, Cal 62, 41% chance of a Cal victory
If you had been told before the season that Cal could virtually clinch a ticket to the dance by winning a near coin flip game at home in late February, would you have taken the offer? Maybe, maybe not. A mediocre-at-best non-con schedule and the Pac-12’s general RPI malaise (Thanks, Pacific northwest schools other than Oregon!) made it much tougher than usual to assemble a strong profile. But Cal’s basketball history isn’t exactly full of teams that could play basketball in February confident in a positive post-season fate.
More generally: This isn’t senior night . . . but this is senior night, dammit. On Saturday, Cal will welcome a team that has a legit argument for being the worst basketball team in modern conference history. The game is scheduled for a Friday night and will probably have the worst atmosphere at Haas since Cal Poly visited a week prior to Christmas.
But this game . . . against a team that will earn a top 4 NCAA seed, against a team that took away what could have been a conference title last year, against a team full of experienced players and NBA talent. THIS is a game that legacies are built on. Ivan, Jabari, Sam, Grant, Stephen, Roger . . . THIS is the game to make a final statement at home, so that they have a chance to make a final statement in March.