Bears add another to the loss column via Colorado: Is there any defensive identity being built?

Statistically it's not evident.

Captain’s log. Stardate 0113421.

The end is not in sight. We’ve lost our ace pilot after a furious battle two weeks ago. He is recovering in medbay and not lost to us, but we’re unsure about his return to our forces. We’ve returned to the land of the loss after a pit-stop win over invading Husky forces from Washington. We’re looking to recover and maintain our course to see out this mission, but we don’t know how much our crew can handle the losses. We’re rounding the halfway point and at this point, just ready to see our family and come home. Oski out.

*screen cuts to black.

The Bears fell right back into the loss column after an 89-60 loss against Colorado. The end result was somewhat expected. KenPom gave Cal a 9% chance of winning against its 14th ranked team, and for reference, the Bears are ranked 153th. Despite the expectation, it was still a deflating loss, albeit against a very good Colorado team, and even more so because of the method in which the Bears lost.

Coming into the game the Bears led the conference in 3PT attempts in regards to overall field goals. In conference play, 44.8% of their shots were from beyond the arc, and making them at a decent clip of 34.4%. The only negative to that was Colorado is shooting 36.5% from beyond the arc with 39% of their shots coming in from distance as well. And the stats played out pretty much as you expected. Both teams shot the ball decently well, particularly from beyond the arc. Cal shot 36.8% from 3 in the game but gave up 57.1% from 3 to the Buffs. The Buffs also shot 2 more from beyond the arc with 21 attempts.

Turnovers and shot attempts also destroyed the Bears, especially playing a team that is in the top 3 of the conference in offensive efficiency. Turning the ball over 16 times resulted in 11 more shots for the Buffs and 23 points off of those turnovers ballooned the deficit beyond the control of the Bears.

So let’s take a tally in what resulted in this loss.

36 total points given up from 3. 36 points given up in the paint. 13 fast breakpoints. 16 turnovers.

Perimeter Defense. Interior Defense. Ball Security.

The offense has its issues, but we’re still trying to play to our strengths and our most effective scorer has been missing for 3.5 games. They deserve the benefit of the doubt, but it’s clear we don’t have the players that are stepping up to the challenge of scoring without the gravity well of Matt Bradley on the court. Andre Kelly has stepped up as a post scorer and looks to be our biggest interior threat the last 2 weeks, but beyond him, no one has grown the last 2 weeks and stepped into the available shots left by Matt Bradley. Enough about the offense though, because the issue stems from the defensive side of things.

“We have to establish a defensive mentality. That makes us hard to play against, we have some work to do there, but we’re excited about the potential that exists, but we certainly have to become great on the defensive end.”

Those were Mark Fox’s words at his introductory press conference, but it’s actually gone the opposite way. 1.5 seasons in after those words, the Bears are currently worse defensively with regards to conference play, than any point in the last 3 years, which includes the two years under Wyking Jones. Jones’ worst defensive efficiency in the conference was in 2019 at 111.3 which was 11th in the conference. In comparison, Fox’s team currently sits at 114.9 that’s 12th. All except one of Cal’s conference losses were double-digit losses. Cal’s only win came against the worst team in the conference and was a 5-point game for the majority of the game until Cal went on a 15-2 run with 10 minutes left in the game. (Basically what I’m trying to say is the offense and Washington’s poor offense carried us to that win.) Back to the defense.

The Bears do not rank in the top half in the conference in any defensive category for KenPom’s analytics. The Bears have no scheme or identity on the defensive side that is clear. We give up the highest 3PT% to opposing teams, second highest in 2PT%, second last in block rate, last in steal rate, and the highest effective FG%. There doesn't seem to be an identity formulating around this group and this staff on at least one thing that they want to be on the scouting report for their opponents. A 10 point drop in defensive efficiency is significant, and who would’ve thought the loss of Paris Austin and Kareem South would be this statistically impactful despite the youth, depth, and transfers. There hasn’t been any improvement for the last 3 weeks and it seems all sense of what Coach Fox had wanted to build as a foundation has not been built despite a roster that is a majority of players his staff had brought in.

So where does that leave us?

We’ve just passed the halfway point in the season, and are trending downward as a team in every facet of the game with a brutal stretch of 5 games with a 20% or less chance of winning in them. It’s not great being a Cal Basketball fan, and honestly who can blame you? It hasn’t brought anyone any joy to watch any of these games and i think every Cal fan can agree on that. After watching Ted Lasso this past week I remember why I love this team and program and this sport so much.

It’s the hope and promise that any game could be the turn around point.

It’s the hope that kills you but what else can we do?

We back the players and we back the staff until their time here comes to an end.

California Rising.