This game reminded me of our football team in the sense that we didn’t have much of an offense.
This game also did not remind me of our football team in the sense that we didn’t have much of a defense.
Cal’s opening game of the basketball season against Yale in Shanghai, China resulted in our Bears getting dominated in pretty much every area. However, this isn’t a completely unexpected result. This is a young Cal team that does not have a single senior, and started two freshmen (Andre Kelly and Matt Bradley), two sophomores (Darius McNeill and Justice Sueing), and a transferred junior in Paris Austin.
This youthful squad lost more talent from last season’s bottom-feeding team than it gained, and that resulted in low expectations coming into the game. To make matters even worse, we were without both arguably our top perimeter defender (Juhwan Harris-Dyson) and true big man (Roman Davis). Before the game, ESPN gave us a 19% chance of winning. To put that into perspective, we had a 16% chance of beating Washington in football a few weeks ago. The difference between the two is that Washington is a powerhouse football school whereas Yale, despite being an Ivy League contender, is far from a school known for their basketball team.
Unlike our football team, the basketball Bears were unable to overcome long odds in order to pick up an upset victory. To be honest, this isn’t going to be a team that is favored to win many games, and we definitely shouldn’t be expecting wins unless we see some sort of crazy transformation in the coming weeks.
This is a team who’s success is going to be based on the individual aspects and progress made in each game. Wins will act as an extra bonus, but we really should be realistic and focus on things that mark good signs for the future of this program. After all, we should hypothetically return all of our players from this year to the following season, so getting these guys a year of valuable experience and making strides towards becoming a better team as a whole will be crucial in determining not only the success of next year’s team but the future of the team and program as a whole (not to mention Wyking Jones’ job).
Anyway, yeah, let’s try and find some positives.
It didn’t take long for us to realize we were going to be in for a long game. Despite keeping it close early, our Bears couldn’t make a shot to save their lives and although it was possible that our defense could have been playing well, Yale was turning the ball over and missing their own shots at an uncharacteristic and unsustainable rate. To put things into perspective as to how poor the start of this game was for both teams, after nine minutes had elapsed, there were more total turnovers (13) than total points (11) between the two teams.
After that, Yale began to pick things up and Cal... didn’t. The lead changed hands a few times in those first nine minutes, and Cal held a 9-8 lead with 10:24 remaining in the first half after a Paris Austin jumper. Yale then proceeded to go on a 15-0 run and never looked back.
Cal, on the other hand, had a very poor start and didn’t exactly recover. They started off 3-18 from the field and 3-9 from the free throw line. They forced a lot of early turnovers from Yale that allowed them to stay in the game for the time being, but once Yale adjusted things quickly got out of hand.
After the 15-0 run, Cal actually was able to run with Yale, as a 23-9 Yale lead ended up being 33-21 by half, but the damage was already done. Yale had begun to hit their shots, and Cal couldn’t get anything to fall.
The second half actually wasn’t so bad, or at least not when compared to the first half. Both teams continued the improved play that they showed prior to halftime into the second half, simply playing superior basketball.
Honestly, there isn’t much to report on in the second half. Paris Austin played pretty well, leading the Cal’s offense and scoring the majority of its points. Cal began to hit their free throws but still struggled to make their shots. Justice Sueing, our star freshman from last year, finally scored his first points but continued to struggle immensely.
One thing I will note is that we got to see 7’3” center Connor Vanover for the first time in the second half, and I think he could be a pretty good player for us. The height is huge, especially because we are a team that lacks height in the first place, but during his time in the game, he both attempted a three (that he missed) and hit a mid range jumper. It looks like the kid has a pretty good knack for shooting, and although he may not be very athletic and lacks strength at just 225 pounds, but if he can combine his height with any shooting ability, it could be pretty fun to watch.
Other than that, nothing interesting happened. Yale seemed to take their foot off the gas a bit, as they played a variety of players in the second half. Yale ended up outscoring Cal 43-38 in the half, taking home a 76-59 lead.
We can still find plenty of positives, even in a blowout loss.
- Other than that 15-0 run, Cal actually kept up with Yale for pretty much the whole game. A 15-0 run is a 15-0 run, but only losing by 17 shows that the box score could be a tad bit misleading.
- Paris Austin struggled in the first half, but bounced back with a great second half and finished with a solid overall statline. He shot 6-10 from the field and 6-8 from the line, scoring 18 points with two assists.
- THAT BIG DUDE CAN SHOOT!
- Matt Bradley had a pretty decent debut, shooting 3-7 from the field and 6-8 from the line. He also played some great defense that isn’t exactly represented with a single steal and block apiece from the box score. He also was the only player on the entire team without a turnover (other than David Serge and Jacob Orender who only entered in the games closing minutes).
- Our other freshman starter, Andre Kelley, had a team-leading 10 rebounds accompanied with 7 points. With an undersized team as a whole, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him emerge as our top rebounder.
- Cal drew a ridiculous 29 fouls, and although we can’t really evaluate that as a true team skill until we see a larger sample size, there were a couple of nice charges that were drawn and some other fouls that were a result of technically sound basketball.
- Lastly, this team never gave up. I mean, it wasn’t I was in complete awe with the teams effort down the stretch, but I definitely noticed that the effort level never seemed to dip, even with the game all but over. This was a nice change from some of the stuff we have seen in the past.
Yeah, we still do have to point out the obvious shortcomings.
- Sure we played pretty even with Yale other than the 15-0 run, but a 15-0 run is unacceptable.
- Despite us matching them in score at basically all points other than that huge run, Yale either beat us or simply dominated us in every statistic (other than personal fouls and, by a small margin, turnovers).
- We didn’t play the best game as a whole, but we definitely started extremely slow and improved from there. We need to be able to make shots at the beginning of games. We were extremely lucky not to be put in a huge hole very early on.
- A 6/16 turnover rate is far from ideal. We need to see better ball movement on offense, and need to avoid throwing unnecessary passes on offense that throw away valuable possessions.
- Shooting, Shooting 18-51 (35.3%) from the field, 2-10 (20%)from three , and 21-32 (65.6%) are all numbers that are far from ideal. This needs to improve in order for us to have a chance at even being a competitive basketball team, let alone winning games.
- Speaking of shooting, I want to focus on the shot-making struggles of two players in particular. Justice Sueing, who is projected to be arguably our best player this season, shot 3-14 while our best score-in-bunches player, Darius McNeill, shot 0-8. These two players were two of the most promising and productive players on last year’s squad, and we need them to progress and become two of the best players on the team. Let’s hope games like these are few and far between for the two sophomores.
- Our defense was pretty solid at forcing turnovers, but there we many times in which we got far too overaggressive, leading to wide open shots.
This was never a game we were supposed to win. We saw some very bad things that could have been easily predicted, but also some nice surprises. Again, the success of this season will not be determined by wins or losses. It will be determined by both the individual positives and the improvements made by the team throughout the season. Going forward, we need to build on the positives that we saw tonight and do our best to correct some of our most glaring flaws. I think that most Cal fans, for this season at least, will be satisfied if we are able to put together a competitive basketball team that can grab a few upset wins and show promise for the future. This team certainly has the potential to do so, but we shall see if they can capitalize.
On to the Next One
Next, we turn our attention to Tuesday’s home opener against a Hampton team that could certainly give us a bit of trouble. Hampton killed MACU 110-58 in their opener and then lost a competitive game to VCU by a score of 69-57. This is a team who will attempt to play an up-tempo style of basketball, and if their shots are falling, it will be very hard for our Bears to keep up.