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Preview: Let’s win one over Stanford

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May as well be now, right?

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Stating a reality that became clear some time ago: The 2018-19 season is largely a lost cause. Right now, Cal’s game-to-game reality is about finding little pockets of nice play that gives some glimmer of hope for the future, and winning one game to avoid the ignominy of a 0-18 conference run.

Well, one of the teams in the conversation for worst in the Pac-12 after Cal and Wazzu is coming to Haas Pavilion, which means that this is Cal’s 2nd best shot at a win left on the schedule. That team also happens to be Stanford. If 1-17 had to happen, I’d very much want that 1 to be against Stanford. Let’s make it happen.

Within the context of the 2018-19 Pac-12 season, Stanford is decidedly mediocre. In previous years when the conference was stronger top to bottom, they would be considered downright bad. In short, they are beatable. That’s a pretty obvious statement against a team that’s 10-10 on the season. But it’s worth noting that Stanford simultaneously struggled to put away an awful San Jose State team at home 17 days after taking Kansas to overtime on the road. In conference play they have a smashing home win over ASU, but also lost by 22 to UCLA just days after Steve Alford was fired.

Roster

Starters

PG Daejon Davis – High usage, high reward, high risk point guard. Has nine games with 5+ assists and six games with 5+ turnovers. Average shooter/slasher.
G Bryce Wills – High 3 star true freshman combo guard has only attempted 53 shots in 19 games despite plenty of playing time, and also has a turnover rate twice as high as his assist rate. I’m kinda assuming he’s a great defender?
F KZ Okpala – Do everything wing is Stanford’s best player by a pretty wide margin. Comfortable and efficient inside and out, excellent shooter, draws plenty of fouls and contributes on the boards.
F Oscar Da Silva – Has the shot pattern of a stretch 4 except without actually making the 3 pointers (27%). Let him shoot jumpers.
C Josh Sharma – Senior big very good at big things. Relentless offensive rebounder and shot blocker who is shooting 68% on a solid volume of shots at the rim.

Bench

F Jaiden Delaire – 4 star big just can’t put the ball in the basket and hasn’t been able to contribute on the boards considering his size.
G Marcus Sheffield – Combo guard has been passed up by Davis and has seen a big decline in his minutes. Turnover rate twice his assist rate.
G Isaac White – wing who has actually hit shots in very limited minutes. Makes me think he’s a defensive liability, because Stanford is begging for reliable shooters.

Stanford leans heavily on their starters for production, if not specifically minutes. Stanford’s bench players and a couple of other guys not worth describing in detail (Lukas Kisunas, Trevor Stanback, Kodye Pugh) get a smattering of minutes here or there without making any real impact on offense. With erstwhile starter Cormac Ryan out injured, Davis, Okpala, Da Silva and Sharma combine for 67% of Stanford’s field goal attempts, and nobody else averages more than 4 attempts a game. Jared Hasse really only has four guys that he trusts offensively.

Of those four guys, only Okpala is a plus jump shooter, but all of them are average to above average interior scorers for their position, which means that Stanford spends lots of time working to get interior shots, whether through drives or offensive rebounding.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning Cormac Ryan, a 4 star shooting guard ranked 68th in the 247 composite. He’s been in and out of the lineup with an ankle injury, and has essentially played the role of three-and-D shooter in his limited action. His status is unknown.

Keys to the Game

Turn them over – Stanford’s offensive turnover rate is 21.4%, worst in the Pac-12. Forcing turnovers is Cal’s only passingly acceptable defensive skill. To the extent that this team can ever have a favorable matchup when playing defense, this is it. Flood the court with speedy players, try to disrupt everything, collapse on everything inside, and pray that you can hold your own whenever Stanford can get Okpala, Da Silva, and Sharma the ball inside.

Get out in transition – A corollary to turning Stanford over is using those turnovers to play transition basketball. Stanford’s relative strength is their defense, particularly their field goal defense. They’re also the very best team in the country at preventing 3 point shot attempts. Being forced to try to score in the half-court set is probably not a winning outcome. Run, run, then run some more, before Sharma and Da Silva can set up on the block and Stanford’s guards take away the 3 point line.

Get some hot shooting – Stanford’s biggest strength on offense is creating and hitting shots in the paint. This is Cal’s biggest defensive weakness. Stanford is very likely to get a bunch of strong inside looks, and sink them. And even if Cal does force a bunch of turnovers, it still might be hard to keep up. Which is why we’re sending up our prayer to the Gods of Basketball in our time of greatest need. Cal hasn’t had a shooting game above their season average since they played USC tough in the very first conference game of the year. This is the game to get a hot shooting performance to carry us to the one win I want more than any other.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Stanford 77, Cal 71, 29% chance of a Cal win.

If you believe in Kenpom’s numbers, Cal was a bit more likely to win a game in this three game home stand than emerge with a 0-3 record. Welp, the Bears lost the first two games of the homestand, raising the odds of a winless conference regular season to 15.5%. Losing this game would probably put the odds closer to 25%, which is scary.

Now is the time.