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Cal falls against Arizona in expected fashion

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Another game with a massive gap in shot-making leads to another ugly home defeat

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

For the briefest of moments, it felt like Cal had a chance to make a game of it. The Bears jumped out to an 8-2 lead. Arizona was sloppy on offense and a step slow on defense. It seemed like they were looking past the Bears.

But by the under 12 timeout Arizona was in the lead. A flurry of 3 pointers followed. Arizona kept adding. The Wildcats led by 20 points for much of the 2nd half, cruising to a 79-58 win. It was more or less exactly what everybody expected.

We try to pick over the minutia, the wrinkles and hidden numbers, but sometimes the obvious smacks you upside the head:

Arizona eFG%: 73%
Cal eFG%: 36%

One team made a whole ton of shots, the other team missed a whole ton of shots. Fini.

Am I enjoying the fact that Cal’s defense is becoming more and more adept at forcing turnovers? Is it encouraging that Justice Sueing is diversifying his offense while drawing more fouls? Yes! But right now none of that matters much because Cal cannot hit baskets or stop the other team from hitting baskets.

If the game were closer, we could have a nuanced discussion of how close Arizona and Cal’s actually shooting percentages were to the quality of shots they took. On most nights Arizona probably doesn’t make 58% of their threes, and on most nights Cal won’t go 1-13 . . . but even if you normalized those percentages a bit, the general outcome wasn’t going to change any. This was still going to be a home blowout.

We’re seeing some extreme, record setting stuff. Cal’s current eFG% in conference play is 43.7%. If that somehow remains unchanged through the rest of the season, it would represent the 3rd worst* mark in conference history from 2002 to the present (i.e., as far back as Kenpom stats go).

*worst? 2012 USC, who went 1-17. 2nd worst? 2008 Oregon State, who went 0-18.

Meanwhile, Cal’s eFG% defense in conference play sits at 62.2%, which would stand as the worst in conference history since at least 2002 . . . by a tremendously wide margin over the 2nd worst by roughly 4%.

In other words, 13 of the way through the conference season, Cal has a mind-boggling, unprecedentedly bad gap between the amount of shots they make and the amount of shots they allow. What’s more likely: That this Cal team is an order of magnitude worse than any other team in modern conference history, or that they’re both bad and the victims of random variance? When Reef and I talk about how the numbers are a mix of bad luck and Cal’s obviously poor play, this is what we mean.

Also, it would be very Cal to have the worst AND unluckiest team in the conference.

Also also, Cal had a miraculous 17 point comeback at Maples that is bizarrely the only thing preventing Stanford from being undefeated in conference play.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t really know what can be done to change those numbers for the better (beyond hoping for some extreme regression to the mean). Cal could switch full time to man-to-man on defense (and sacrifice all of the practice and game time spent working on their zone) and it would probably result in slightly lower opponent shooting percentages, while perhaps giving up more fouls and forcing fewer turnovers in a wash.

On offense? I got nothing. Run every play for Justice Sueing and hope for an O board if he misses? Until this team finds a true point guard so they can move Darius to off guard they’ll have issues. Simply hitting shots would help, but it’s obvious at this point that Cal has issues both creating open looks and hitting the open looks they do manage to create.

I don’t really know what to say, honestly. Among Cal fans, this season has devolved into a conversation of whether or not this is as bad as some expected, or even worse than others expected . . . if they’re even paying attention at all.

And it’s a shame, because it’s not lack of effort on the part of the players, or lack of trying to change things up on the part of the coaches. I don’t like saying negative things when I talk about any Cal sport . . . but here we are.