Cal vs. North Carolina
Saturday, 12:30 pm, PT
Cal vs. Baylor
Monday, 6:00 pm, PT
Well, the WBB selection committee’s slavish adherence to geographic ‘proximity’ has once again resulted in an entirely predictable trip to Waco Texas to play on the home floor of the Baylor Bears. You can’t say you weren’t warned!
No, the real piece of news (other than a rather embarrassing bracket leak around lunchtime on Monday before a bizarre last minute reschedule of the selection show) is that we know who Cal’s first round opponent is: the North Carolina Tar Heels!
In many ways, North Carolina is Cal’s ACC mirror image. The Heels got off to a rough start in ACC play, rebounded with some impressive upset wins to ensure that they were always going to be on the right side of the bubble, but never really managed to move past the average-team-in-a-power-conference level, finishing 8-8 in ACC play. They’re also a squad that leans on a good offense to offset a questionable defense.
Conversely, they’re more guard oriented, and much less reliant on the production of one player than Cal is. But then again, how many other teams have the unicorn that is Kristine Anigwe?
My first blush analysis is that UNC doesn’t look like they have either the personnel or the statistical profile of a team that can keep Kristine off the glass or from getting solid looks inside. On the other hand, what UNC does have is a trio of guards with a diverse offensive skill set that will be a challenge for our perimeter defenders.
What are your initial thoughts on drawing UNC?
Whelp, I’m loathe to engage in any complex analysis without watching a team play, and although there’s a little bit of UNC video available, I haven’t had time to watch it. So I’m going to throw some thoughts around about this matchup based on an hour of quick research, while I watch their win over NC State on another screen. Take this with a grain of salt.
- As 9 seed opponents go, I’m not in love with this one. Of the four possible teams, two have derpish offenses (K State, Clemson) and the other one (Michigan State) doesn’t have quite the Cal killer profile that UNC has. What’s the profile? A team with guards that can penetrate and/or shoot. That’s basically UNC’s whole deal. I watched a few Paris Kea highlights, got a little ill trying to figure out who’s going to keep her out of the lane, and gave up.
- Yes, UNC’s rebounding stands out as a weakness we can exploit, but I worry about what the heightened level of physicality in the tournament will do to cut into our advantage. You know they are going to surround Kristine, and bump/jostle her, and probably get away with it. How will she respond?
- Taking a look at UNC’s two huge wins, over Notre Dame and NC State, they both look kind of fluky. Notre Dame played what appeared to be a routine game for them statistically, except they somehow turned the ball over 20 times against a team that isn’t particularly adept at creating turnovers. Fluke? NC State shot the ball miserably against a team that isn’t that adept at making their opponent take tough shots. Fluke? Again, I haven’t been able to watch either game, but both seem somewhat anomalous.
- So let’s set those games aside and just go with the obvious. It’s unlikely Cal will be able to stop UNC from scoring. I suppose it’s possible we’ll see the same defensive effort we showed vs stanford last week, but I’m still inclined to go with the weight of the data until we build more counterexamples. It’s unlikely UNC will be able to keep Cal off the boards or from scoring inside, although they will probably throw some junk at Kristine that will make it harder than we anticipate. At the end of the day, it will probably come down to whether we can outscore them, and that will come down to our perimeter contribution. This sounds like a recording, doesn’t it?
- I’ve seen folks calling us a 2-1 favorite, but I’m not buying that. I see it as close to a coin flip. Can the Bears do anything to control the Tar Heel guards? Can the Tar Heels do anything to slow down the Bears’ inside advantage? How much help is Kristine going to get from our perimeter? Will shots fall? The usual. I’m going to go with Cal 79 - UNC 77, because I’m sure as heck not predicting a Cal loss.
So should we talk about Baylor, or is that tempting fate?
I don’t think we have much choice in the matter, though I recall spending more time than I would care to admit working to preview a South Carolina team that Cal never got the chance to face. Such is the reality of the NCAA tournament.
Spoiler alert: Baylor is really good at everything! 1st in the nation at 2 point percentage defense. 1st in the nation in rebound rate. 14th in offensive turnover rate. Great at denying teams looks from 3 point land. Add it all up and you get a team that’s 10th in points/possession and 3rd in points/possession allowed, unadjusted for schedule strength. Baylor is one of a handful of teams that expects to contend for the national title, and has a resume that supports that expectation.
Are they actually the best team in the country? Notre Dame and Mississippi St. have better offenses, but they might not be able to shut teams down the way Baylor’s defense can. As a long time WBB fan, it’s refreshing to enter a tournament with the feeling that at least 6-8 teams might have a real shot at cutting down the nets after six wins. The relevant point for Cal is that Baylor is one of them, bar none.
In terms of the actual players, Baylor is very balanced, with four players averaging double figures. But you probably need to start by talking about the interior duo of Kalani Brown (Sr.) and Lauren Cox (Jr.). The 6’7’’ Brown is probably the most efficient interior scorer in the nation (62.5% from 2, 82% from the line), while Cox might be the best interior defender in the nation. They combine for 28 points, 16 rebounds, and 4 blocks per game.
Now, you might say that all that production isn’t so dissimilar from one Kristine Anigwe, no? And this one of those cool-but-cruel reminders that Kristine’s production is a measurement both of her absurd talents and also of how reliant Cal is on one player to provide the production of an entire rotation of post players. Brown and Cox only average 26 and 29 minutes/game respectively!
Senior Chloe Jackson is the point guard and disruptive perimeter defender, while Juicy Landrum and Moon Ursin are the shooters to stop the defense from constantly sending extra defenders at Brown and Cox.
If you’re looking for a weakness in Baylor’s game, it’s 3 point shooting, kinda. Not in the sense of percentage (17th in the nation at 37%) but in terms of volume. Baylor is last in the entire nation in 3 point shot attempts, throwing up behind-the-arc looks just 11% of the time. This is probably because they only have a limited number of shooters, and because most teams have no prayer of stopping their interior scorers anyway. But when Baylor is challenged (as done by a few teams, including Stanford) it’s from teams that find a way to slow down Baylor’s interior scorers.
Does Cal have the personnel to do that? I dunno. The burden that would fall on Kristine to hold down Brown/Cox would make her usually game-by-game burden look even more comical. But what other choice is there?
I think you’ve covered the challenge of the matchup, so I don’t see any need to tread that ground again. Let’s talk upset theory.
Baylor to me is the clear best team in the country. They’ll be playing on their home court. Cal is roughly the 30th to 40th best team in the country. In WBB, that chasm is wide and deep and generally insurmountable. Even if the Bears play the best game they’ve played all year, they’re probably still a statistical underdog. So in order to pull off a monumental upset, not only do the Bears have to play really well, they also need the benefit of some sort of extreme statistical outlier. Is it going to be a a horrible Baylor shooting game? With a stacked front line and a thin Golden Bear front court, not bloody likely. Is it going to be a rash of Baylor turnovers? With the Golden Bear defensive style -- no, absolutely not.
So what’s the path to victory--what’s the once in a lifetime statistical unicorn? You know where I’m going with this. The staple of NCAA tournament miracles. #Kod5. The likeliest (and maybe only) path to a miracle upset is a ridiculous shooting day from our players. Maybe all our players. But if there’s a reason to be optimistic -- this is a Cal team that has at least a small chance of delivering. We are loaded on the perimeter with players capable of strong shooting games. Down the stretch of the season, we were one of the best 3p shooting teams in the country. We put up better than 40% 3p shooting in 7 of our last 13 contests. We’ve had 52% and 78% 3p shooting days (albeit on lower volume than we will need in Waco).
Yep, in order for the miracle to occur, not only will we need Kristine to do Kristine things. Not only will we have to play out of our minds defensively (to likely just hold Baylor to their average). But we are probably also going to have to get shots to drop like they’ve never dropped before. Frequently and in volume.
Is this going to happen? I’m an odds guy, so I have to say no. If Baylor were favored by 20, I still probably wouldn’t bet on Cal. But if there has been a Cal roster that at least has a chance to cash the lottery ticket, it’s this one.
I’m not counting on it. I’m fully anticipating that this time next week we will be lamenting how this senior class never made it to a 2nd weekend. We will probably be writing senior tributes. There’s a light there, though. A faint, shimmering, flicker in the distance, that might actually be the way out. This is the most dangerous Cal offense since I’ve been following the program. Let’s find a way to burn it all down in Waco.