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California Golden Bears Game Preview and Open Thread

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The Huskies finally get their conference home opener after 3 straight on the road

NCAA Basketball: Southern California at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Essentials

Date: Thursday, 1/11/18

Tip-Off Time: 8:00pm PST

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: KOMO 1000

Location: Seattle, Washington

Betting Line: Washington -9

California 2017-18 Statistics:

Record: 7-9 (1-2)

Points For per Game: 75.9 ppg (112th)

Points Against per Game: 80.4 ppg (307th)

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 102.6 (196th)

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 105.1 (201st)

Strength of Schedule: 134th

California Key Players:

C- Kingsley Okoroh, Sr. 7’1, 267: 6.3ppg, 5.6rpg, 2.4bpg, 42.7% FG, 60% FT

The English big man is the lone returning starter for the Bears. Think Aziz N’Diaye as he’s an elite shot blocker but he somehow shoots just 43% from the field despite practically being able to dunk without jumping.

F- Marcus Lee, Sr. 6’11, 225: 12.9ppg, 8.3rpg, 2.2bpg, 59% FG, 64.6% FT

Lee is a former 5-star recruit who transferred in from Kentucky. He gives Cal a legitimate front line and allows them to have a premier rim protector on the court at all times.

F- Justice Sueing, Fr. 6’7, 209: 12.8ppg, 5.4rpg, 1.4apg, 47.3% FG, 72.5% FT, 35.4% 3pt

The 4-star freshman wing has been rock solid so far but is more comfortable in a secondary role. He looks a lot like Matisse in his first year only he’s a slightly better rebounder.

G- Don Coleman, Jr. 6’3, 193: 18.9ppg, 3.3rpg, 2.3apg, 36.7% FG, 75.9% FT, 29.7% 3pt

Coleman is having an all-time bad team good stats season. He leads the conference in shot attempts per game despite shooting less than 40% from the field and less than 30% from three-point range. His offensive game is entirely predicated on driving to the hoop and getting fouled which is why he also leads the conference in free throw attempts per game. Think Andrew Andrews his senior year only if Andrews also couldn’t shoot.

G- Darius McNeill, Fr. 6’3, 175: 12.8ppg, 3.0rpg, 2.6apg, 48.3% FG, 71.9% FT, 46.2% 3pt

McNeill is nominally the point guard in the same way that David Crisp is the point guard for Washington. He’s a little out of position. His role in the offense has been as a 3-point specialist and he’s the one legitimate outside threat the Bears have.

The Outlook

This California team is what Washington would have looked like if Matisse and David Crisp transferred after Romar left and Nowell had signed elsewhere. Kenpom has them at just 344/351 in minutes continuity from last season. They’ve got a solid pair of big men in Okoroh and Lee but the perimeter talent and bench depth is well below average for the Pac-12. They have home losses by 8 points to #255 UC Riverside and by 30 to #209 Central Arkansas as well as a road loss by 24 to D-II Chaminade in Maui.

However, there have been brief glimpses of competency. Washington can’t completely overlook this game. Cal rose up to defeat rival Stanford on the road as well as won a road game at San Diego State who have been great outside of their two inexplicable losses to Cal and Wazzu.

Cal employs a similar offensive strategy to Washington. They can’t shoot the ball and they know it so they don’t really try. The Golden Bears are in the bottom-10 nationally both in % of their shots from 3-point range and % of points off of 3-pointers. Instead they rely on Coleman driving to the rim and getting fouled. And if they don’t get fouled, and miss, then they’re one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country. That’s a strategy that is much harder to pull off on the road when the friendly whistle may not be there. Expect the Huskies to adjust the zone they’ve employed the last few games and instead pack the paint like a more traditional zone and force Cal to take jump shots.

On defense the only thing that they’re good at is blocking shots at the rim. Opponents still shoot better than 50% on 2-pointers which suggests that there might be some stats cushioning going on where Lee and Okoroh will gamble for blocks but leave themselves vulnerable to an extra pass. Dickerson and Timmins aren’t known for their interior passing so this will be a big challenge for them.

If I can be blunt for a moment, Washington has to win this game. The season won’t be over or anything if they don’t but on paper this is the easiest game left on the Huskies’ schedule. A good team with dreams of making the NCAA tournament (or even the NIT) wins this game at home comfortably. After the Bay Area home stand the Huskies will have 6 of their next 7 either on the road or at home against a ranked team. They need to win this one and keep marching.

Prediction

Washington Huskies- 84, California Golden Bears- 73

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