These two teams have so much in common, featuring incredible youth and athleticism and a subsequent rise in expectations. Unfortunately the Huskies and Bears are currently headed in opposite directions.
While the Huskies have lost three in a row to Arizona, Utah, and Colorado the Golden Bears have won tree straight, including a huge twenty-point win over the Oregon Ducks.
Washington desperately needs a win tonight to stay within the vicinity of the NCAA tournament bubble, while Cal would appear all the more tourney-bound with a good road win on Montlake.
As great as this past three games has been for Cal, all three wins came on an extended homestand. Coach Martin's squad has failed to win a single conference road game in five tries. Counting the non-conference slate, this team is 1-6 in true road games with a lone overtime win against Wyoming.
Projected Starting Five: G Sam Singer (Jr., 6-4, 205), G Jabari Bird (Jr., 6-6, 198), F Jaylen Brown (Fr., 6-7, 225), F Ivan Rabb (Fr., 6-11, 220), C Kingsley Okoroh (So., 7-1, 254).
Key Bench Players: G Tyrone Wallace (Sr., 6-5, 200), G Jordan Mathews (Jr., 6-3, 205), C Kameron Rooks (So., 7-0, 261).
Singer is to facilitate the offense on one end of the court and lock down his man on the other. When Wallace went out with a hand injury against Stanford on the 6th, Singer stepped up to dish 9 assists to only 2 turnovers in a winning effort, and with Wallace healthy but coming off the bench, Singer will continue to play often as a pure point.
Bird's career feels a little odd because he was also a star recruit that saw his hype simmer down and a whole new class of super recruits join him on the roster. Now a junior, he has settled in as an efficient complimentary scorer. He shoots 45% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc.
It will be tempting to cheat off of Bird given that there are 3-4 other quality scorers on this roster, but it's not a good idea. He can knock down shots.
Jaylen Brown has lived up to his own reputation so far, averaging a team-high 15.8 points on 45% shooting while grabbing 5.5 rebounds and dealing 2.0 assists. He isn't much of a shooter yet, but he still likes to attempt at least a couple threes on any given night. After some understandable inconsistency early in the year, he has settled in and scored 15+ in eight straight games.
Ivan Rabb has also made good on the five-star rating. He chips in 12 points on outrageous 62% shooting, averages a team-high 8.3 rebounds, and is tied for the team lead with 1.2 blocks. With this Washington team I worry about any tall, long player who can finish through contact.
Lately Coach Martin has been starting Kingsley Okoroh despite only giving him around 10 minutes. Cal's other seven-footer Kameron Rooks, actually plays more robust minutes despite always coming off the bench.
I wouldn't be surprised if both Okoroh and Rooks play slightly heavier minutes and outperform their typical stats given the chance to overpower an under-sized Washington front court. Rooks in particular has flashed lately, including a double-double against Stanford.
Wallace and Mathews coming off the bench is just ridiculous, and it's unclear whether or not Wallace will be reinserted into the starting five after missing a few weeks to a hand injury and working his way into the game off of the bench against Oregon and Oregon State.
Even if Wallace does come on as a sixth man, he will play 30 or so minutes and likely stuff the stat sheet. He is averaging over 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Mathews has been coming off the bench since a couple games before the Wallace injury. He is Cal's most dangerous shooter, hitting 45% from deep, including 8-14 three-point shooting during the three-game winning streak.
With two bench players playing starting minutes, Cal is able to mostly stick to an eight-man rotation unless foul trouble gets in the way. Even if neither Rooks nor Okoroh are on the court, Raab has a size advantage on the entire UW roster.
The Cal teams I've watched over the past two weeks would soundly beat the UW team I've seen over the same stretch. Luckily that isn't how basketball tends to play out. Cal have been a different team on the road, and even while losing and often playing ugly defense Washington has played opponents very close regardless of setting.
Cal has not been a bad defensive team this year, but I still figure this will be a high-tempo, high-scoring affair. Teams have had a lot of trouble stopping Washington from scoring at home and the Huskies have had trouble stopping anyone from scoring.
Ultimately my fears remain unchanged from the last several contests. I worry about the Huskies continuing to switch everything on defense and commit far too many fouls. I worry about their ability to handle size inside, especially Raab on the offensive glass.
I know Washington will score, but I don't know that they can survive a shoot-out with Brown, Raab, Wallace, and Mathews unless we see a superlative offensive performance from one of Andrews, Murray, or Chriss.
Don't enjoy my pessimism? Well take solace in the idea that Cal could come out completely flat. It wouldn't be the first time that team looked fundamentally different on the road. I'm just not comfortable banking on a big step back from a team that may have finally figured out how to consistently tap in to its massive potential.
Prediction: Cal 87, UW 80