Cal Men's and Women's Basketball in Limbo Midway through Pac-12 Schedule
The men are facing an injury concern for Andre Kelly, and the women have played just one game in three week
I sincerely hope that what I’m about to write is rendered irrelevant in 24 hours.
With just over 11 minutes left in the 2nd half, Andre Kelly came down awkwardly and couldn’t put weight on one leg. Stuck on the offensive end, Cal still forced a turnover with only 4 defenders, and Andre gamely got back on his feet and somehow threw down a monster dunk, then left the game hobbling on one leg. He didn’t return.
I hope that it’s a minor issue, and that Cal’s best player is able to go against Stanford tomorrow. Mark Fox wasn’t able to provide any kind of prognosis after the game, and Cal hasn’t announced anything since. I’d be very surprised if we hear anything until tip off tomorrow.
But if it’s a bad enough to keep Andre from playing, we’re going to see what Cal does without their go-to offensive player. And honestly, I’m not sure what it’s going to look like.
First, let’s give some overdue attention to what Andre Kelly has done this year. He’s shooting 61% on 2 point shots, which is always excellent but particularly so when you consider the sheer volume of attempts - 197 in total, just short of 10 shots a game. There aren’t many players in the country who combined that level of interior shooting volume and efficiency, and I don’t need to tell you that Andre does that despite every Pac-12 opponent knowing that he’s the guy Cal wants to get the ball to.
Heck, just look at the Pac-12 standings in two point shooting: Of the top 15, only a handful of players approach Andre’s interior efficiency, and nobody ahead of Andre shoots as frequently:
Making a ton of buckets is obviously a valuable skill, but that’s far from all Andre Kelly does. He manages this offensive responsibility without turning the ball over with any frequency, which can be rare for a big man. Meanwhile, Andre’s also a high end defensive rebounder - his defensive rebound rate is 2nd in the entire Pac-12, trailing only Colorado’s Jabari Walker.
In short, Andre brings a bunch of critical skillsets to the court that 1) Cal has built their game planning around and 2) Cal can’t easily replicate with other players on the roster.
For example, I’ve bemoaned all season long about how reliant Cal has been on jump shots. Cal is still sitting at 352nd in the nation (out of 358) in the frequency with which the Bears attempt ‘long 2s.’ And that’s WITH Andre on the floor. If you take away the only player on the roster who can regularly create and hit interior shots, Cal’s offensive profile looks even scarier.
Meanwhile, Cal’s ability to secure defensive rebounding, which appeared to be elite during non-conference play, has comparatively suffered against Pac-12 competition. Cal has allowed opponents to rebound 28% of their own misses; hardly disastrous, but Cal’s margin of error is so slim that those 2nd chances have been critical in a few losses.
Andre Kelly is the guy to help secure the defensive glass; Lars Thiemann has improved in number of areas this year but he’s just not the defensive rebounder than Andre Kelly is.
In short, any kind of injury to Andre Kelly would be a bummer. A bummer for obvious on-court reasons as described above. A bummer because Cal has finally cleared the tough portion of the schedule and will begin a run of winnable games. And most of all a bummer because the senior had clearly worked so hard to improve every season and was enjoying the rewards of that work with a break-out, all-Pac-12-level season.
At least the Cal men have been able to play. After playing the entirety of their non-conference schedule, Cal WBB started Pac-12 play with a short-handed loss to Washington State with multiple players (most prominently Jayda Curry) out. Cal’s game at Washington that same weekend was postponed due to COVID issues in the Washington program.
The Bears then played a home game against Oregon, but had their game against Oregon State postponed due to COVID issues within the OSU program.
Since then, Cal has had five of their last six games postponed, all due to COVID issues within Cal’s program. The Bears were only able to sneak in one road game against Stanford in that run.
At this point, 7 of 9 Pac-12 games have been “postponed,” and I use quotes here intentionally. None of these seven games have yet to be rescheduled. As of TODAY, there are 30 days until the Pac-12 tournament starts, meaning Cal would have to play 15 games in 30 days to play the full Pac-12 schedule. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to presume that isn’t happening.
(It is darkly hilarious to see conference standings with Cal one game behind ASU with each having played 3 games . . . sandwiching USC at 2-6)
And at this point, I’d wager that it’s more likely that more games get postponed than it is for any make-up games to happen. Cal’s next opponent, USC, played without Lindsay Gottlieb this weekend, so it would hardly be a shock if one or both programs had issues leading to another ‘postponement.’
I don’t know if there were realistic NCAA tournament hopes for the Bears in ideal circumstances this year, but missing so many chances to build a resume means that the best we can hope is a chance to play games for the sake of the experience.
My fear? That for the 2nd straight year, Cal’s younger players will have their basketball development stunted by a lack of games. I would presume that Cal’s COVID issues would also mean significant disruption to practice time, which is a negative consequence all its own.
For the sake of the players, and for the sake of my own entertainment, I’m really hoping that the Bears can at least play the rest of the regular season. Like the men, Cal’s schedule was more front-loaded and there are winnable games on the back stretch. Whether or not Cal has had the practice time to capably play is an open question, but better to have the opportunity than not.