Cal MBB, WBB pick up guards through the transfer portal

Getting to know combo guards Jordan Shepherd and Karisma Ortiz

While the rest of the college basketball world has descended into post-COVID transfer-extravaganza chaos, both the Cal men’s and women’s programs have been reasonably stable.

Both programs lost seniors (Ryan Betley and Archer Olson) who elected to not use their extra year of eligibility. Beyond that, there has only been one departure, though it’s obviously a pretty significant one. Matt Bradley isn’t an easy guy to replace, though his decision to move closer to home and play for a very strong San Diego State program can hardly be considered surprising.

The Cal women ran with a roster below the scholarship limit last year, while the men had a slot open with Bradley’s transfer out. We’re now into May, so while there’s always the possibility of late breaking news I think it’s reasonable to expect that everybody else on both rosters will be coming back for the 2021-22 season.

That is no small feat. To understate things, both teams endured tumultuous seasons. Keeping up morale and convincing everybody to stay the course isn’t the easiest thing to do. But with almost everybody back, now it’s time to look at the latest Bears to arrive.

Both teams have added veteran combo-guards. Mark Fox secured the commitment of Jordan Shepherd from Charlotte, while Charmin Smith grabbed Karisma Ortiz from Texas.

Jordan Shepherd

Rob covered the basics on Sunday, so let’s dive into the stats from Shepherd’s college career. Here’s Shepherd’s Kenpom page:

The good news: Over the last two years at Charlotte, Shepherd emerged as a solid slasher, shooting above 50% on his 2 point shots with a good free throw rate. He’s also a capable passer, as you would expect from a player who was listed as a point guard out of high school.

On the concerning side, the bulk of the evidence suggests that Shepherd isn’t really a shooter. Charlotte is one of the slowest teams in the country, and I get the sense from Charlotte’s overall profile that Shepherd had the ball in his hands with the shot clock running down and few options around him frequently, so I’d speculate that some of his bad shooting over the last two years is maybe because somebody had to take a shot.

Two other concerns: Shepherd has been turnover prone throughout his college career, and he struggled to finish his first two years with Oklahoma against Big-12 defenses. It’s entirely possible that Shepherd’s improvement as a finisher has more to do with physical maturity and on-court improvement, and less to do with the lower level of basketball in Conference USA. But it’s also possible that Shepherd’s biggest strength as a 49er won’t translate as well to high major basketball.

It was never likely that Mark Fox was going to be able to recruit somebody capable of replacing Matt Bradley’s production. Matt Bradley was the 2nd highest scorer available in the transfer portal, and ESPN listed him as the 16th best player available by transfer.

Still, it’s impossible to talk about Cal basketball without talking about Mark Fox’s inability to recruit high end talent to Berkeley. I don’t want this to appear as a slight against Cal’s latest commit - Shepherd will comfortably fit into Cal’s rotation, and if coached properly he has some skills that Cal needs. Still, he wasn’t among the 132 names on that ESPN list of impact transfers I linked to above. He’s not Matt Bradley, and so it’s hard not to see the 2021-22 roster as weakened compared to 2020-21.

Next year, all but two players on the roster will be Mark Fox recruits. Most of them have made the rotation and contributed minutes. Others are too new to say definitively where they might end up. But so far none of them strike me as players likely to get consideration for places on an all conference team. Unless and until that changes, it’s hard to see how Mark Fox’s coaching tenure at Cal ends with any kind of on-court success.

Karisma Ortiz

Cal WBB’s transfer pickup, Karisma Ortiz, primarily played off the bench for the Longhorns, playing 18 minutes/game as a low usage ball handler and passer. The fact that she played so many minutes despite iffy shooting would indicate that Texas very much appreciated her ball handling and defense, and sure enough she put up twice as many assists as turnovers on a Texas team that hung their hat on defense (12th in the nation in points allowed/possession):

Ortiz doesn’t appear to be a shooter, though there’s some indication that she might be a reasonably decent finisher inside on occasion. For now my assumption is that Cal picked up a capable ball handler and defender, and if she develops into an occasional scorer or shooter, then all the better.

After last year’s injury apocalypse, Cal’s guard rotation is completely up in the air beyond iron woman PG Leilani Macintosh. Still, I’m wagering that Charmin Smith doesn’t want to have Macintosh play 38 minutes/game again, so if nothing else Ortiz offers a solid option at backup point guard. Ortiz’s addition gives Cal at least seven scholarship guards next year, which is a nice healthy number that should allow Cal to absorb any injuries with comparative ease. Of course, if there’s any justice in the world nobody on the roster will miss a game with as much as a cold after what happened last year.