Before Saturday’s Pac-12 showdown between Oregon State and California on the hardwood, our good friend Nick Kranz from over at California Golden Blogs was kind enough to chat with us a bit about what to expect from the Golden Bears.
Let’s not beat around the bush to start off. After beating Stanford to kick-off their conference schedule, California has lost their last eight games straight. Simply put, what’s gone wrong for the Golden Bears?
Well, how long do you have? The most obvious problem is a near complete lack of roster continuity. Kingsley Okoroh and Don Coleman are the only players back who saw the court last year, and Coleman was an oft-used bench player. Cal lost 5 players to graduation, 2 to transfer, and 1 to the NBA. That turnover (plus an entirely new coaching staff) has led to a team that, statistically, has an almost unprecedented gap in the amount of shots they make (43.1 eFG% in conference play) vs. the amount of shots their opponents make (59.2% eFG % in conference play). The Bears are overmatched.
There’s a chance that California leading scorer Don Coleman (16.9 PPG) could be out for this one, as he serves a suspension for a violation of team rules. Who are some players to keep an eye on, who will try to pick up the slack in Coleman’s absence?
Coleman played against Oregon and thus will presumably suit up against OSU. Having said that, Coleman has been supplanted as Cal’s go-to guard by Justice Sueing - more on him below. Where Cal wants to go with the ball is to Marcus Lee, a Kentucky transfer and East Bay native who is certainly Cal’s most physically gifted and experience player. Lee is an excellent rebounder and solid finisher who is not infrequently betrayed by his inability to avoid foul trouble. Still, he’d be a solid option on most teams and it will be fun watching him go up against Drew Eubanks.
You recently did an in-depth profile of 6’ 7” freshman talent Justin Sueing, which really touched on just how crucial he’s been to the squad’s depth chart, despite a lack of overwhelming team success. Have young excitable players like Sueing (and Darius McNeill) helped to keep the fan base excited about the future of the program?
I can’t say that fan excitement is particularly high at the moment - I think the reaction of most Cal fans is to tune out of what has been a surprisingly painful season even knowing the state of the roster going in. But Justice is clearly the guy who can make a difference the next time Cal is competitive in this conference with his versatility and efficiency on both ends of the floor. Darius McNeill is an tougher player to figure out - he’s got talent and has flashed scoring ability, but his shooting has fallen apart in conference play. That’s perhaps largely because he’s playing out of position since Cal doesn’t really have a point guard. But for those Cal fans sticking it out, looking for development from the freshmen is our only recourse.
What do you see as the keys to this game? Will tempo play a huge rule in the outcome? Or is it more related to the position battles on the interior and perimeter?
When OSU has the ball, I think the biggest question is Cal’s ability to force turnovers vs. OSU’s propensity to cough the ball up. It’s Cal’s one clear team strength, and the Bears will need that skill to come through to create transition opportunities . . . because in all likelihood the Bears will struggle to score in the half court set. When Cal has the ball I’d guess that OSU’s major focus will be keeping Cal off the offensive glass, which is something the Beavers have done reasonably well so far this season. Honestly, I expect this game to be an ugly, low-scoring affair.
Finally, could we have your prediction for Saturday night’s game?
The numbers suggest that OSU is the favorite, but not by enough to feel comfortable. To the extent that Cal matches up well against anybody these days, I actually do think that the Beavers are a decent statistical match - they’re prone to turnovers, they don’t take or make many 3s (a major Cal defensive weakness) and their defense isn’t super high pressure. But I don’t really think I’m in position to predict a Cal win against anybody. Let’s go OSU 65, Cal 63