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Hot Shooting Second Half Carries Cal to Victory over SJSU

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Cal 88 - SJSU 80

If you are settling in with your morning coffee to read what is usually a careful, detailed, long-form recap from me about our epic win over San Jose State -- sorry. Might I suggest you peruse some of this week’s recruiting updates, or maybe read about Cheez-Its, along with your morning muffin.

Two things are keeping this from being a thorough recap. First, the Spartans were the Cal Men’s Basketball Team’s worst opponent of the year, and the numbers dictated that even a bottom level Pac-12 team should beat them by 10. So the inevitable, and largely uneventful, 88-80 victory by the Golden Bears on Friday night was hardly the stuff of pulitzer prize winning material. Second, and more importantly, in 15 hours the undefeated Cal Women’s Basketball Team is hosting UConn. Although I have only the faintest hope of an upset tomorrow, all of my energy is focused on showing up in the front row of the student section two hours before gametime, and yelling continuously until the final buzzer.

Like much of our fan base, I’m just not 100% into MBB right now. But I do have some thoughts.

  • Cal has the ingredients for what could be a reliably good offense. There are two potential cornerstones of efficiency: (1) Cal has shot >38% from three point range this season, and have three players, Darius McNeill, Matt Bradley, and (probably) Justice Sueing, who are above average shooters. Jacobi Gordon and Connor Vanover may also be competent from out there. (2) Andre Kelly looks like he may develop into a beast inside. In early returns, as a true freshman, he is sporting an eFG% of over 70%, with an array of moves that are quite advanced for someone in his third month of college basketball.
  • Tonight, Cal trailed at the half by 2, largely because outside shots were not falling. Although Andre had 12 points on 7 shots, a poor 5-18 shooting line from deep meant the Bears were only able to put up 30 points on 33 possessions. Former Cal Coach Mike Montgomery was complaining the Bears were “settling” for threes, and I was worried that, rather than letting his team settle back up to its true shooting level, Wyking Jones would pull the plug on three point attempts. Instead, Cal continued to fire. They shot 7-13 in the 2nd Half, on their way to a 39% shooting night from downtown. Darius ended up with 22 points, including 5-13 shooting from deep. Combined with Andre Kelly’s 19 points on just 10 shots, the Bears were able to put up 1.29 points per possession and effectively drown the Spartans.
  • The defense, however, remains atrocious. SJSU came in averaging an unadjusted .93 points per possession. They put up .99 at Maples on Tuesday night. Tonight they managed 1.18, on a combination of easy interior passes for buckets, and wide open threes. Here’s some analysis: That’s bad. If not for a 15-5 turnover advantage that limited SJSU’s attempts, the Bears could very well have lost this game despite good shooting. Cal’s deterioration into the worst Power 5 defense in the nation, through a combination of bad fundamentals, lack of size, and general cluelessness, puts a hard cap on any real hope of competing consistently against good competition. It also raises real, ongoing questions about the progress of this program.
  • It’s hard to find concrete ways to measure progress in a program that’s in deep rebuilding mode, and that isn’t really playing for the postseason. But how about this: Next Saturday Seattle comes to Haas to close out the non-conference schedule. They’re roughly the equivalent of a last place Pac-12 team in an average year. Last year we beat them handily up in Seattle. This year’s game projects as a coin flip. If Cal can defend their home court, continue their offensive development, play some semblance of defense, and enter Pac-12 play at .500 -- there’s at least some reason to believe we are headed in the right direction. The 2017-18 squad was, after all, 6-6 at an identical point last season. At the very least this team should be able to match that next week. If not, well, buckle in for a long year in the Pac-12.
  • See you all at Haas Pavilion at Noon on Saturday to root on the Cal basketball team that does have postseason aspirations. Go Bears.