We got together with old friend of the pod and real friend in real life, Jamie, to chat during Utah’s home (shocker) win over Cal. Having noted that fact, be warned that there are asides to discuss Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Sam Singer, Brandon Taylor as well as the game’s score. No spoilers, the contest is over. We also dove into the impending reality of the Washington Huskies, which unblemished home team will stumble first, Spencer’s heated take on court storming, an aside to the national scope of CBB, and a tangent on court appearances.
Spencer and I took to Maples and Haas last week. Live sports are great. We actually don’t delve deep into those experiences but rather turn our attention to how the Utes responded this weekend after being called soft by Titus; we explore 1-seed scenarios for the Wildcats; we postulate on any seeding options for the Beavers; and go on zero tangents about first-floor restrooms.
WANE (and on SoundCloud):
I’m always pretty honest here. I don’t love ASU and, despite being 6’5″, I’ve only dunked a handful of times. Fastballs don’t translate into verticals. And so to get my mind around, and my heart into, re-examining this season – if not that game – I needed some time. A passage of moments to absorb everything that was our (my) last five months. Because my team didn’t win and because they were supposed to. Because I watched a season, five months, rest confidently in the hands of Nick Johnson. And then the season didn’t quite make it out of his hands. To tell you that I didn’t hurt sitting in section 407, row B, seat 4, alongside my brother, would be a Badger faced lie. I hurt, alongside a fan base starving to be in North Texas, watching the most exciting iteration of their team – our Wildcats – fall one point short. Pain.
And in this afternoon there will be departures and returns. Perhaps some coaching changes down the line. New developments that might further dictate our feelings about those five months.
But for now, take a walk with me. Certainly not a run because a run might not let us appreciate things, the actual path. By running, we might get stuck with a singular memory of a ball, in hand, with a backlit backboard, and the wrong score. A run would neglect to recall how we got to Anaheim. So let’s walk. Walk to appreciate how we got there and because sometimes it helps to slow things down, make sure that this blog post doesn’t become one big :(. Also, my middle name is Walker. Fun fact.
Like any walk, I suppose we’d have to begin by getting off the couch. Of course that’s where it all began for me. I was amongst the more than 18,000 streaming a basketball scrimmage on a Saturday afternoon in October. On that day, TJ McConnell played defense. Yes, I was ecstatic to watch a 6’1” Pittsburgher play practice defense. A skill he’d assert 39 more times for my viewing pleasure.
But that was just a practice. We needed, craved, the real thing. And soon thereafter, by a convergence of love, convenience, and coincidence, I celebrated the first two games of the season and my dear friend’s wedding. In Tucson. God bless Sunday weddings in November.
Of course the Cal Poly game left something to be desired. The Mustangs (who would eventually win one NCAA tournament game) made eleven three-pointers and raised questions about whether or not the 2012-13 three-point defense was an anomaly or a trend. The Wildcats would go on to allow the 12th lowest percentage of threes in the nation. Opponents would make just 32% of whatever they got.
But Gabe York started, Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed zero rebounds, Jordin Mayes played 4 minutes to turn the ball over 3 times, and the team shot 56% from the line. Was this game foretelling? No, the next game was. An assertion of strength, execution, and we-are-better-than-you up and down the McKale floor.
The tone was set. Arizona would be the most exciting, defense oriented, pace conscious team there could be. At least that’s what we wanted. But their mettle was yet to be tested. Not even a win in San Diego meant enough. A stage, The World’s Most Famous Arena, was the only place to do it. So they went to Madison Square Garden, forced Jabari Parker into what would be the second worst offensive performance of his collegiate career (by ORtg), and left their scent all over the right coast. Early the following week, Carolina would win in East Lansing.
Four days later, Arizona was the number one team in the country. Back.
What do you think of our walk so far? Months of speculation about whether these Wildcats could shoot, lead, or get over their youthful hump had manifested into the nation’s top team. And it was fun. Validation of the previous tribulations that had seemingly set the program back. Number one again.
But this was December. Who cares about rankings – let alone college basketball – in December? The Wildcats had yet to take their toughest trip of the season, a frigid journey to Ann Arbor. I would join them. It become the upset dujour that weekend and perhaps deservedly so. Michigan was a talented squad playing at home. They’d go on to win the B1G and finish a dagger away from their second straight Final Four. Against Arizona, they led for more than 32 minutes. But Arizona won, Brandon Ashley was the best player on the floor during a game featuring countless NBA bound talent, and shit got real. Jim Nantz told me he’d see me in Dallas. I’m serious. The questions weren’t about whether the roster could do this or that, tt became, “Are they the best Arizona team, ever?” Jim fucking Nantz, you guys! And oh was it fun.
There were these:
There was a game that Washington State scored 7 points in an entire half. They scored just 0.46 points on each of their 54 possessions; twenty-five collective points from a high-major, Division-1 basketball team. That’s what Arizona was going to do to you.
And then these guys came up to see me. My team! Their first trip to the Bay Area in two years and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. My brother was going to be in town! The Wildcats! What a weekend.
But then it all changed.
The prohibitive favorites, winners of 21 straight and the top team in the land for eight straight weeks (a school record), lost in Berkeley. Sure the score read 58-60 and the court was preemptively rushed. How can an Arizona fan get pissed about that? Irrelevant. It all changed on February 1st when Brandon Ashley broke his foot. At the time, we couldn’t really speak of it. The foot failed but the team would not. Adjustments had to be made because there was still season to be played and we had to see Jim in Dallas. We’re on a walk here, right? Brandon couldn’t walk. It all changed.
And I buried that change, still absorbed by the narrative of January 31st, not February 2nd. Prohibitive favorites and now who knows what? Somberly, we left Haas that night with what felt like a season in flux. A proverbial tipping point. But the season couldn’t be buried in one podiatric misfortune. Onward the Wildcats would go. The feeling was buried. The season endured.
Exhibit A was a two-point home win over Oregon. Exhibit B was a hohum dismissal of the Beavers. The next two games would see the Wildcats in three overtimes, escaping with just one win. They lost in Tempe.
It all changed on 2/1 and whatever we buried was soon to bubble up. The aforementioned post-Ashley exhibits were less than encouraging and Colorado’s Keg was looming. Arizona had never won in Boulder as members of the Pac-12. Regardless, my buried feelings and tempered expectations flew to Boulder. With a busy mind, it wasn’t clear to me what would happen. I should have known better:Colorado didn’t record a field goal for the game’s first ten minutes and Arizona won by 27. And then they won by 28 and then 13 and again we could believe. We could slip back into Goliath’s slippers and feel good in them.
There was a forgettable trip to Oregon before a defensive tour d’force through the MGM Grand Arena. Utah was throttled and Xavier Johnson – who once noted that the Wildcats “weren’t that good” – would make just 5 of 21 shots against the Wildcats after that January remark. And this:
Then the Pac-12 championship game – Arizona and UCLA – was every bit the heavy weight battle it was supposed to be. The Pac-12 deserved and needed it. The Bruins punched first, taking it to Arizona’s top rated defense like no other team all season. The Wildcats, however, shot back. Raining from beyond the arc before settling into their more typical defensive effort. But when push came to shove – and it did – Jordan Adams hit the biggest shot. UCLA was your 2014 Pac-12 Tournament Champions. He didn’t touch the ball.
To this point I haven’t mentioned the walk we were on. It had a title, or at least I had one for it, “The Road to Dallas.” But this is the hardest part of the walk. The path narrows and the way more treacherous. Sudden death is a possibility. Sudden death is a reality. This is the NCAA tournament. You know all of this and when Arizona’s name was called on Sunday, you contemplated how you’d get to San Diego, Anaheim, and Dallas. I did. We toed the waters but never hesitated to jump in. Bring on the challenge.
And a challenge it is. Littered with hyperbolic prose surrounding its uncertainty and glass slippers. Goliaths enter and one exits. But you – we of the red shirts – were behind Goliath. The Wildcats were going to win this whole fucking thing.
And then they didn’t.
I had charged down Interstate-5 with my buddy, Jamie – a lifelong Badger, brilliant hoops mind, sports enthusiast, and beer drinker – for Thursday’s games. My brother was flying into LA to join. Jamie and I crashed at a friend’s Wednesday night, worked from Westwood the morning of, and then invaded the Honda Center. For Jamie, the early game was a breeze. Wisconsin was on to Saturday’s game faster than you could say ‘On Wisconsin.’
The Wildcats then took Thursday’s court and Nick Johnson scored 15 points in the games final 2:45. He made all of the free throws everyone thought the Wildcats would miss to send them packing from this tournament. The dismissal of SDSU evoked little sympathy. Self inflated with a brotastic following dripping with little brotherdom, I couldn’t have ushered them out any faster. And they were removed from the game’s hallowed event by the right team. The Aztecs gave the West coast a go and the big kids will take it from here. Kthanksbye.
Which of course brings us to Saturday and me next to my brother at the tops of our chairs and lungs. The game itself could be dissected; examined for the minutiae of +/- data, offensive and defensive efficiencies, and probability charts. Ultimately, on the grandest stage where only one advances by any means possible – survival – the Badgers bettered the Wildcats. By one point. It needn’t be pretty, you just need to have the extra point.
For Arizona, they didn’t have the extra point. That’s the hurt stuff.
The kind of stuff that doesn’t let you appreciate an Aaron Gordon overtime three-pointer. He of the comically broken shot stepped into a three in the biggest game of his life. Onions. All the game long nothing would fall for the superfrosh. So naturally he grabbed 18 rebounds – nearly a quarter of all available boards in the game – and stuck that three.
It hurts and you maybe don’t get to remember when all seemed wrong, when the Arizona offense was operating at a second grade level, why not Jordin Mayes? He was there for the offensive rebound and the lay-in with sixty seconds left. In the three years of data I can access (hoop-math), it’s Jordin’s only career putback.
That immediate pain might not allow the opportunity to appreciate a moment like TJ McConnell and Nick Johnson hugging at mid-court. I can’t finger the exact situation but into a timeout, deep in the contest with the outcome in the balances and punches being thrown back and forth, the Wildcat backcourt embraced in the middle of the Honda Center. It was the kind of scene you expect to see with a Luther Vandross backdrop. Shit, I thought it meant they weren’t going to lose.
SPOILER: They did.
I’m late on all of this but I needed to get away from the suddenness of zeros and no more games. As noted I’m honest on here and the flurry of “UCONN!?!?!?!?! REALLY!?!?!?!?” texts into and out of my phone was…abundant? Ubiquitous? Fiery? And all of that heat was promptly followed by an outpouring of everything we couldn’t discuss after 2/1. A date we won’t forget and can’t neglect in reviewing, even appreciating, this season. Goliath down a peg.
Which is the end of our walk. A saunter through five of the most exciting and unique months of fandom I can recall. We felt promising optimism and crippling defeat. I saw triumphant revenge, fierce confidence, and assertions force. We hoped, believed, and hurt. We did it together and that’s the overarching importance of sport. 2013-14 was section 407 with my brother; the living room with my best friends; a bar with countless strangers; every arena I entered. In taking this walk, it’s my hope that you remember where you were and who you were with for each of the shining moments that were this season.
Those illuminated flashes that define our favorite game are brief because they’re shared. If 68 enter and only one leaves, then we have to believe in those shining moments. We can share those and remember when.
The first games begin in November with the promise of a whole season with anticipation for the unexpected and hopeful before us. And then we get caught in a sprint. Running to March in search of the shining moments that just might not come. Everything changed on 2/1 and maybe that’s OK? Maybe it’s not. It’s OK to remember, just don’t get stuck in Haas.
I was given the opportunity with Pacific Takes to follow around a Pac-12 Networks production crew for last Wednesday’s UCLA-Cal meeting. UCLA rolled and I could barely tell you how they did it because I was buried in voices and screens and the insanity of a production truck.
That night I missed all of the Pac-12 action but didn’t. I absorbed it all from a totally different angle. Suddenly reading tweets about a guy’s head obstructing views of Camera 1 inside the Huntsman center wasn’t a laughable tweet so much as a producer’s nightmare.
But the experience was doubly unique in that I learned about both television production and being a real reporter. I had credentials and was asked not to report certain anecdotes and I even think some voices shied away from me. Interestingly enough, others gravitated towards me. The lanyard with my name and the notebook in my hand holds odd power. Or otherwise.
I wasn’t completely comfortable in the role, to be honest, because, to be further honest, I want to be the expert. I like people asking me the questions, inquiring about how awesome I am. After all, I started a blog, my little house of narcissism.
But if I’m to further explore those feelings, the desire to be the expert, how can I hold expertise on any matter without understanding others? How can I say I know X without ever inquiring about Y? I’m no seasoned reporter, but we’re all inquisitive minds. Questions feed that.
I was anxious about this. It was a different role for me but as I sat there and absorbed, questioned and learned, I realized I didn’t need to report anything. I was there for the experience, to hone my own craft (whatever that may be) by understanding the passions of another. I’d say it’s pretty clear that my passion resides somewhere within the pages of PacHoops – be it the world of college basketball or the universe of storytelling – but I’d taken this opportunity with Pacific Takes to further explore my passion.
So I anxiously sat in that truck, wanting to do the best I could at whatever I was trying to do.
About 5 minutes before things were shifting to live, the game’s director and I got to talking. “What’s your article about?” Scott Barke asked. I didn’t have a great answer but I was nearly three hours into the experience at this point and beginning to understand what I was seeing.
“I’m mostly writing about the experience. But I’m now seeing how your craft so closely parallels the game. Communication, quick decisions, mistakes, recovery. You’re playing right along with these guys.”I replied.
And then you should’ve seen the way Scott lit up when I asked him, “So I know all about how the players are getting ready in anticipation for their performance right now. How are you feeling?”
“Anxious,” he said.
And then we watched a basketball game.
From the get-go we’ve asked for patience as we work through not only a rough patch in Pac-12 hoops, but our lack of tech savvy. In this week’s WANE the ineptitude on the production side isn’t all that apparent but if you were a part of the mess, you’d understand. Listen for yourselves, however, because we did have our first guest – ever – on, and most certainly is an expert.
Ryan Gorcey – the editor of BearTerritory.net – joined Spencer and I to talk about the Cal Bears; a balanced team that’s endured a few different injury bouts and who jumped to a 5-0 conference record. They toe-stubbed in LA (which Ryan tells us about) and will host the desert duo this weekend in Berkeley.
We greatly appreciate Ryan joining us and are bummed we won’t be taking in Saturday’s Cal-Arizona game in his company (the people demand recruiting!).
1:23 – Adam interupts to admit he can’t say “technologically”
1:40 – THE BIG REVEAL! Who WANE’s first guest is
2:22 – Spencer uses the term “beneath dead”, and then pics out his favorite “beneath dead” google image result to illustrate his words.
3:01 – ATTACKED BY SOMETHING!
4:18 – A discussion of the Sun Devils? A discussion of the Sun Devils.
5:50 – Zack Clark show referenced…!
6:35 – BearTerritory.net referenced
7:00 – Spencer says, “damn it’s tasty!” with regards to the UCLA @ Oregon game. And then we talk about it for awhile. GotW and Something to Prove.
9:45 – Adam starts a transition into Utah @ Colorado but we get disrupted by narcism and talk about ourselves and how WANE is more important than Gameday in Boulder. We eventually get to discussing the Utah and Colorado basketball game by 10:46.
13:49 – Adam drops off and screws up BEARTERRITORY.NET. For shame.
14:41 – RYAN! RYAN! RYAN! RYAN! RYAN! RYAN! RYAN! RYAN! RYAN! RYAN! Twitter follow: @RGBearTerritory
14:47 – Ryan on what happened to Cal in getting swept out of Los Angeles. And how it’s all a big wear-and-tear on Justin Cobbs. Also how Richard Solomon never really got things going against the Wears. Yes, those guys.
17:16 – A Monty team not playing defense? Ryan agrees with Spencer’s observations that hard defense didn’t travel to LA. Also that Jabari Bird is getting his legs back, the Bears are a little thin and that takes a toll on tough D. And rolling pups out there to guard isn’t the most reliable.
19:53 – If you haven’t heard of Jahii Carson, you should. Cobbs will guard that shifty scorer.
24:32 – Cats talk ensues!
26:28 – Local boy, Spencer, pumps his original court, Haas. Ryan kind of poopoos it. But Haas will be loud Saturday.
28:04 – The on-going prospects of Cal’s season and some end-o-year thoughts from Ryan.
The Golden Bears of Cal have jumped out to a 4-0 conference record. Three of those wins are on the road and I love road victories. I also love getting swept up in momentum and the promise of what could be despite a slight sample set. Hey, getting lost in the moment is part of being a fan. Beautiful, right?
But there might be something bigger than just a moment or momentum to what these Bears are doing. It might be worth thinking about it because:
— Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) January 16, 2014
Alas, we could have a full conversation about Gottlieb but that not the point although I think he did have a point with regards to their team.
I love Cal’s lineup and I said as much in October. Veterans, youth, big, small, shooters, bangers, these Bears have pieces that can do some of everything. The only question was would they show up? Namely, would Richard Solomon please stand up? He has.
Solomon has the eighth highest DR% in the nation – an increase of more than eight percentage points from last season. He’s improved his eFG% by more than 20% (48.1% to 58%). And he’s decreased the number of fouls he commits extrapolated across 40 minutes by 27% (5.2 down to 3.8). As I’ve said before, the immediacy of graduation can be a confidence stimulator.
And if tempo-free isn’t your thing, Solomon is averaging a double-double each night on the court (12/10) which naturally are both career-highs. And speaking of double-doubles, he’s recorded six of them this season. In 79 career games prior to this year’s 15 games, he recorded just two. To pile on, he’s doubled the number of basketballs he steals per game.
I also see it as no coincidence that amongst Cal’s four losses, Solomon didn’t play in two of them and in the other two he posted his worst and third worst ORtg games. Did I mention he’s improved his ORtg by 8%? Dick Solo is doing work.
Furthermore, if you’ve paid attention to the blog, you’d know I have something of a crush on hoop-math.com. It’s where I got to learn about things like:
- Does [player] really hit that many jumpers?
- What does “protecting the rim” really mean?
- Where do babies come from?
- How does [team] beat [team]? Or vice versa?
- How do I appear as cool as Bond, popular as Gosling, and get JLaw’s attention?
Very important site that allows me to create awesome charts that my friend Jamie hates and others seem to like (tangent). What I mostly love about hoop-math is that it allows us to understand the obvious. More succinctly, it confirms our hypotheses that things like “taking more shots at the rim will increase your offensive efficiency.” Which is indeed a theory of mine and one of the first things I check when examining a player or team’s improvement or otherwise.
Well to this point we’ve discussed the gross improvement of a certain Cal Golden Center to which I present Exhibit Solomon:
First, and to be honest, I’m still refining my Excel game so bear with me as our X-axis is devoid context (it’s last three seasons). Secondly, notice the correlation between Solomon’s shots at the rim (yellow) and that same season’s ORtg (navy). When he’s around the basket he’s more effective. Solomon is putting up the highest offensive rating of his career (apologies that hoop-math doesn’t go beyond the 2011-12 season) while putting up the most shots he’s ever taken at the rim.
Richard Solomon was going to be a big reason Cal did whatever they were going to do this season.
And thus far he’s been big.
Cal has made the most buzz in their off-season not necessarily surrounding anything they’ve done. To address what they’ve done is to tell you they’ve compiled a sound team with compelling pieces up and down the roster. They’re maybe not deep but they’re balanced. I like Cal’s roster. But that’s maybe not why you’ve heard about them. No, you might’ve heard that Dough Gottlieb of CBS-lore has picked Cal as his 10th best team in the nation. Rush the Court asked how and I’m curious, too. But ultimately, that’s Doug’s prerogative and I don’t care that much. He’s the paid contrarian and I’m not even about to mention his brother being on Cal’s staff – though I just did. So with that out of the way, we’ll focus on whether these Bears can replace Allen Crabbe, the reigning POY; if balanced is enough; whether Richard Solomon can make the jump.
Why I love them: That balance I’ve been talking about? I’m really high on it and what’s more is they’ve got veterans in the right places and particularly in the two most important. You know about Mike Montgomery so allow me to get to the point: Justin Cobbs (see what I did there?!). He’s hit big shots and played in big games. He’s a senior at the most critical position in college basketball and one cannot begrudge the Bears that. It is their most endearing quality. But one senior does not a team make. No, filling out their back court is the highly touted Jabari Bird for whom Monty has been trying to taper expectations, “I don’t want to put expectations on Jabari. I want him to develop, I want him to learn as a freshman. Certainly coming in with the ability he has is going to give him a great opportunity, but the expectations is that he has a great freshman year and he helps us win basketball games.” Sure, Monty’s got a fine freshmen, but one freshman does not a team make (with apologies to ‘Melo). I’m not about to carry on with the different components that alone do not make up a team, but I will tell you that I’m a big Ty Wallace fan. He had a good freshman campaign and – if my calculations from a year ago stand true – he projects to have a much improved sophomore effort. The one additional thing that’s also got me high on this team is who Richard Solomon might become. He’s athletic and lengthy and we find him in his final season at Berkeley. How is he going to handle that urgency? If he manages to channel it into continued rebounding success (high OR and DR rates) and improved offensive output (just 55th in the conference in ORtg) then the Bears would seem to have further filled out an already nice lineup.
Why I hate them: OK so I like Richard Solomon. I want to believe that he’s going to have a big senior year – a fact I plan to expand upon in a later post. But if we’re looking at this team and its front court, we’re indeed left with Solomon and David Kravish. Sound players but with the body of work we’ve previously been presented with, I’m not about to consider this a Pac-12 contending front court. They’ve lost the Thurmanator who gave them big minutes when Solomon was in foul trouble (ranked 3rd to last in fouls committed/40 minutes) and I don’t foresee Kameron Rooks or Roger Moute a Bidias soon jumping into significant roles. Cobbs, Bird, Kreklow, and Wallace are going to win this team plenty of ball games, but it’s Solomon and Kravish who could help differentiate them.
Stat you need to know:
Percentage and number of three pointers that Ty Wallace hit last season for the Pac-12’s worst three point shooting team. I love Ty Wallace’s game but he needs to learn that his game isn’t to be firing from deep. In fact, see Exhibit Quotable…
Outlook: Maybe I don’t love this Bears team but there’s plenty here to like. I’ve discussed balance. That can cause problems for people; as does a Mike Montgomery defense. The Bears have had a top 50 defense in each of the last three seasons under Monty and project to have the 29th best this year per KenPom. Speaking of which, it might be worth noting that Ken rates Cal as the fourth best Pac-12 team and 36th in the nation. A season ago they wrapped the year rated 56th OR, twenty spots lower than they currently project. By my amateur math, this would suggest that the Bears are improved despite the loss of Crabbe. But enough quantitative predictions. I think Cobbs is senior enough to Dance with help from Bird and a much improved Ty Wallace (might be my favorite player in the league). And yes, in my final sentences, I’ll acknowledge that Cobbs suffered a foot injury. I don’t think this will prove a major set back. He ain’t missin much. Look at how cool new Haas is:
The Cal Bears lost their heart and soul and the theme of 2012-13 could be trying to find a replacement for Jorge’s heart. But Allen Crabbe’s really good so…
- Crabbe Cakes – This is the year. It’s his team and he’s really good at basketball and I want to see Allen Crabbe do insanely awesome things on the court. He can.
- Cobbs Salad– He’s better than Jorge. Boom, I said it and the numbers have my back.
Cobbs Jorge ORtg 112.9 103.6 eFG% 50.8 47.9 Arate 29.5 25.2
- Skipper – Mike Montgomery is the winningest coach in the Pac-12 because he’s a really good coach. He’s reason for optimism every time a Cal team takes the floor.
- Grades – Richard Solomon’s got good ones! Or at least passing ones and Monty thinks the experience has matured him. So you’re telling me Cal has a mature, athletic, 6’10” big man to play in front of Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs?
- Bak Bak – The name.
- Robert Thurman – The Thurmanator. This nickname was confirmed to me by Allen Crabbe.
- My Broken Record – If you follow this blog, you’re going to quickly find out just how much I love college seniors. There’s so much romanticism to their play, their mortality revealed, everything left on the floor. Look, I’m going to get hyperbolic with it. Every time. Brandon Smith has a shot to be that guy for these Bears. He’s played in a multitude of roles from starter to scrub and now is his time to be the glue that makes this team come together.