When: Today, 2:30 pm
TV: Pac-12 Networks
If you believe Kenpom’s numbers, Cal’s chances of winning are 1 in 3,333. Bart Torvik’s numbers round up to .1, which means 1 in 1,000. The point is obvious: A Cal victory in the Pac-12 tournament would be a once-in-a-lifetime style upset.
Thus, events in Las Vegas will be more about continuing Cal’s solid late-season conference play, whether that means a win or two or simply going down fighting. And alas, Cal could play one of their best games of the season and still head home after one game.
That’s because Colorado is one of the hotter teams in the Pac-12. They’ve won 8 of 10, losing only road games to Washington and Washington State. They, along with Washington, are the only schools with multiple all-conference first team members (Tyler Bey and McKinley Wright). And they’ve already beaten Cal in Berkeley without too much trouble.
PG McKinley Wright - high-risk, high-reward point guard racks up assists and turnovers.
G Shane Gatling - To the extent that Colorado stretches the court with shooting, he’s just about it. Not efficient inside the arc.
G/F D’Shawn Schwartz - Lower usage wing with solid driving skills and a very iffy shot.
G/F Tyler Bey - Versatile, athletic wing isn’t a shooter but gets to the rim a ton, blocks shots, and dominates the defensive glass.
F Evan Battey - A menace on the offensive glass and an efficient interior scorer
F Lucas Siewert - Stretch four is Colorado’s best shooter by percentage, but doesn’t take a ton of shots from outside. A drop off as a rebounder.
G Daylen Kountz - back up shooting guard has numbers very similar to Gatling except at a lower volume, and with more turnovers.
A season ending injury to back up point guard Eli Parquet has essentially cut Colorado’s rotation to these seven players, though forward Alexander Strating might get minutes just to buy time if Colorado’s bigs get into significant foul trouble.
Colorado has been impressively successful considering the almost complete lack of shooting on the roster. The Buffs are 11th in the conference in 3 point attempts, and 11th in the conference in 3 point percentage. Basically, their offensive is about giving the ball to Wright and Bey, and letting their athleticism and distribution skills create chances at getting shots off inside. That Colorado is able to finish well inside despite floor spacing a shooting threats speaks to athleticism and finishing skills from guards and wings.
But Colorado’s offense is still only average, and defense is a bit more of their calling card. Bey isn’t exactly huge (6’7’’/218) but he’s an elite defensive rebounder and teams generally don’t get 2nd chances. Combine that with solid positional defense that does a good job of limiting easy shots and you get a defense that’s pretty good at forcing teams to go one-and-done.
Keys to the Game
- Can Cal’s improved zone make life difficult for Colorado’s wings?
When Cal played the Buffs back in late January the Bears still hadn’t yet figured out how to play any semblance of interior defense, and Colorado hit 64% of their 2 point shots en route to a mostly routine win. Of course, that’s what Colorado’s offense wants to do anyway.
But Cal’s improved defense that limits interior space and allows open 3 point looks actually seems pretty well suited for a bad shooting Colorado squad. This game could actually prove to be a pretty interesting data point to get a sense of how much Cal’s interior defense has or hasn’t improved late in the year.
2. Don’t foul
For as bad as Colorado’s 3 point shooting has been, their free throw shooting hasn’t suffered. Colorado is both above average at getting to the line and above average (74%) at converting when they get there. Cal was actually reasonably successful at not fouling the first time around, and they will need to be again in Vegas.
3. Stay hot Connor Vanover
If you’re looking for something else that might have changed since Cal last played the Buffs, look in the direction of Cal’s 7’3’’ shooter. Vanover only played 6 minutes in the first matchup, taking just one shot.
Our Computer Overlords Predict
Colorado 77, Cal 65, 14% chance of a Cal win.
I don’t know that I particularly expect Cal to grab the win, but my sense is that Colorado just doesn’t have enough shooting to pull away from the Bears if Cal can play the type of defense that’s been relatively successful at clogging the middle and forcing turnovers. Don’t be surprised if Cal is in the game with a chance to steal it against a team that, on paper, seems like a decent enough match-up as these things go.
If Cal does pull it off we’ll be back tomorrow with another look at the Oregon State Beavers. Go Bears!