2015-16 California Basketball Preview: The great golden hype

If you’ve spent any time parousing the world wide web, you’ve likely come across a comments section, message board, or tweet surrounding the NCAA legality of Cal’s most recent recruiting class. A brief history lesson on California sports and its fiscal management before we return to even greater levels of reality:

Cal has always stunk at money. They announced the elimination of five sports due to budget constraints in 2010 (including their Rugby program and its 26 titles and the baseball program which would go on to the 2011 CWS and is arguably a better Bay Area budget underdog than Moneyball). Financing of their upgraded Cal Memorial Stadium has been widely criticized, an upgrade balked at while Jeff Tedford had Cal football on the cusp of Rose Bowls. Todd Bozeman was a coach at Cal.

Now please remove your foil hat and come in close for this: Cal did a great job recruiting. They secured the third ranked class in the country and they didn’t send a bagman with the heaviest satchel into anyone’s living room. Of course Yanni Hufnagel could be throwing Dre McGee-esque parties starring the Madame of Berkeley and none of us – especially Cuonzo – know anything about. But this is recruiting. Grow up Peter Pan, Count Chocula. These are kids making decisions with a ton of whispers and shouts in their ears. Nothing is given. Nothing should be expected. Yes a kid from Marietta, Georgia can play at Cal. It’s happened before. And yes a kid from Oakland can play at Cal. It’s happened before. Coach Cuonzo Martin has got one helluva basketball team and they’re going to play at Virginia. Tune in. Ultimately I don’t care if this team’s Scout.com page looks like the Milky Way – it’s time to compete and this is a team sport played across 30+ games. Nothing has been awarded these Bears. Most certainly nothing earned.

What I love about them

Bo Ryan won a lot of games and never went to a Final Four until he had two lottery picks. Kentucky earned an 8-seed and rolled to the 2014 title game. Everything that is Washington basketball deteriorated in parallel with the Sonics’ move and not until Jamal Crawford made significant efforts to revitalize Seattle basketball have the Dawgs made recruiting strides again. When you have talent, you have the best chance to win college basketball games. Cal has talent. NBA talent. Between Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, the Bears have enough talent to compete with anyone in the country. Toss in that Ty Wallace is a fringe NBA player in his fourth year of college with two years of continuity in the back court. The Bears are on to something and Jordan Mathews might be the best guard on the team – which is a really underrated component of this team. While Wallace, Brown and Rabb get all of the hype, Mathews quietly had the second highest True Shot Percentage in the conference. He made 44% of his threes last year and if that’s a reality not a fluke (he shot 38% as a freshmen so I imagine it’s more reality than otherwise) then image the open looks he’ll get as Wallace and Brown are slashing and Rabb is crashing? 

Why I hate them

There’s no depth, no evidence Cuonzo Martin can optimize a roster, no frontcourt, and Cal had the second worst in-conference scoring differential last season. Those “vaunted” returners, while they may seem great (Ty Wallace! Jordan Matthews! Jabari Bird!) didn’t do much in Cuonzo’s first year. Scoring differential is a monster component of predicted results. It’s why the admittedly flawed KenPom preseason ratings have Cal rated 47th. Take these blind in-conference resumes:

Ortg eFG% OR% DR% Blk% 2FG%
Player A 101 50 6.6 22.6 3.8 50.6
Player B 115.8 54.3 10.9 22.6 2.1 47

First, Player B has a nice offensive game but in this blind taste test, I think there are some pretty significant similarities? Player A = David Kravish. Player B = Kevon Looney. The latter had the support of both Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh as well as the benefit of playing zone defense. The point here is that even if Rabb performs at Looney (aka First Round) levels, is that leaps and bounds better than Kravish? In effect, this is Jaylen Brown’s team which really isn’t a bad proposition.

Stat you must know: -11.4

Difference in points per 100 possessions of Cal’s offense and defense. Which is to say that across 100 possessions of basketball, Cal was outscored (a component of losing) by 11.4 points. As noted above, this was second worst of in-conference numbers to only Washington State (-11.6). Cal returns 68% of the minutes (117th nationally) that led to that underwhelming stat.

What I learned at Media Day

This was a fascinating fact: not once in his ten-on-stage-minutes did Cuonzo Martin mention the names Jaylen Brown or Ivan Rabb. Fact.

Rock top (best case scenario)

Regular season conference champions. Pac-12 Tournament champions. Jaylen Brown is Pac-12 POY. Ivan Rabb is Pac-12 FOY. Ty Wallace wins dPOY. Jabari Bird is Pac-12 Most Improved. Cuonzo Martin is Pac-12 COY. NCAA #2 seed. Bounced in the first weekend.

Rock bottom (worst case scenario)

Regular season Fourth Place finishers. Pac-12 Tournament semifinalists. Bryce Alford is Pac-12 POY. Tyler Dorsey is Pac-12 FOY. Reid Travis is Pac-12 dPOY. Rosco Allen is Pac-12 Most Improved. Johnny Dawkins is Pac-12 COY. NCAA #10 seed. Elite Eight.

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