Cal Men's and Women's Basketball fall in simultaneous season openers

The Cal men fall to OSU in Corvallis while the shorthanded women lose against San Jose St. in Berkeley

Considering the Herculean efforts surely made by any and every administrative staffer within the Cal athletic department, I suppose it would be ungrateful and whiney to complain about the Cal men’s and women’s basketball teams both tipping their 2020-21 seasons at exactly the same time on exactly the same day. Just having games, period, should trump my selfish desire to be able to watch both of them.

Still, it was with some surprise that I discovered that the Cal women were playing while live streaming the men’s game with Rob, Alex and Avi. And while the precise path both teams took in their individual games differed, the final result was similar - an early, demoralizing defeat.

We’ll start with the men, since I saw more of that game. With only three returning players who received more than 50% of available minutes back, and with two grad transfers on the roster, there were plenty of questions about what Mark Fox’s new look Bears would do on the court. And initially, Mark Fox kept us all guessing by playing 11 of 12 available scholarship players in the first half, including at one point subbing out 5 players for a new 5 players in one huge line shift. Were we going to see a huge rotation?

Probably not. The rotation was much tighter as Cal fell further and further behind in the 2nd half, and down the stretch it was basically six guys who saw the floor: Matt Bradley, Ryan Betley, Grant Anticevich, Joel Brown, Makale Foreman, and Andre Kelly.

But no matter the players on the floor, Cal struggled to stay with Oregon State. The Beavers led for the vast majority of the game, and built their lead all the way out to 14 points. A late Cal rally cut the deficit all the way down to 5, but it was too much to overcome in the end.

What can we say after one game, hastily scheduled, after a disrupted pre-season?

  • It looks like this team is going to take more 3 pointers. 43% of Cal’s shots were from deep, compared to 28% last year. This makes sense - you don’t bring in Ryan Betley and Makale Foreman to not shoot 3s. But after begging for Cal to take more 3s last year, I almost feel personally responsible after Cal lost this game in large part because they went 6-25 from deep. Interestingly, the culprits were Bradley (1-7) and Anticevich (0-4) moreso than the transfers. If Bradley and Anticevich hit closer to their career averages then this game at least goes down to the wire. It’s also worth noting that while not every attempted 3 is automatically a good shot, in this particular game I struggled to identify obviously questionable attempts from the Bears - it’s just that this time around they didn’t fall.

  • No sophomore leaps, yet. Joel Brown, Lars Thiemann, DJ Thorpe, Kuany Kuany, and Dimitrios Klonaras combined to play 54 minutes, and collectively scored 8 points, 6 points, 4 assists, and 6 turnovers. Brown did occasionally flash as a more impactful defender by collecting 4 steals, but otherwise nobody looked vastly difference from the end of last season. Perhaps this class more than any other were hurt by a pandemic-disrupted off-season?

  • The Bears will largely go as Matt Bradley goes. Cal’s best player struggled badly from deep, but looked good attacking the bucket and drew a bunch of fouls, willing his way to 21 points in spite of his own jump shooting troubles. If Bradley can go for 20+ points on off nights, he’s going to have gaudy numbers all season long.

  • Cal’s defense just wasn’t good enough. If the Bears are going to exceed expectations this year, the foundation has to be an above average defense. Allowing the Beavers to score 71 points in 69 possessions isn’t a great start. Mark Fox is probably most frustrated with 13 Oregon State offensive rebounds that led to 13 2nd chance points. It was a defensive effort that wasn’t awful, but wasn’t good enough to give Cal a chance to win on an off-shooting night, which is the standard of defense Cal brought more than a few times last year and will need to bring consistently this year.

The Bears will be back on the court tomorrow, though I doubt we’ll learn much of anything in an exhibition game against NAIA Northwest University.

Meanwhile, determining what to make of Cal WBB losing to San Jose State must start with the available roster during the game:

What happens when you take a team with only five scholarship guards, and then remove three before the first game of the year? The answer is 23 turnovers compared to just 10 assists.

For those unaware (which is largely my fault since I haven’t done any preview work), guard Cailyn Crocker is out injured for an undetermined time. Meanwhile, as noted above, Jazlen Green and Alma Elsnitz were both out unexpectedly on Wednesday as well. That left the following players to play guard for the Bears:

  • Leilani McIntosh (38 minutes, fouled out)

  • Ornela Muca (true freshman, 32 minutes)

  • Archer Olson (walk-on, 27 minutes)

  • Dalayah Daniels (listed as a guard/forward, true freshman, 35 minutes)

Having four players to rotate between three spots on the floor is really tough. Placing ball-handling responsibility to players who probably weren’t anticipating that role is really tough. This is a borderline worst-case scenario for a game that, you know, actually gets played.

The result was a ghastly 0.69 points/possession offensive nightmare. And it was almost enough to win the game anyway, because Cal held San Jose State to a nearly as poor night with their defense. The Bears trailed by just a point and had the ball with 2:30 left, but Dalayah Daniels had a three go in and out, and SJSU ended the game on a free-throw fueled 8-1 run to hold on.

I have precisely two things to say about this game, having missed the majority of the contest:

  1. Dalayah Daniels is going to be very, very good. 10 points and 12 rebounds while being asked to shoulder more ball handling responsibility than a true freshman G/F should have.

  2. If Cal doesn’t get Green and Elsnitz back healthy quickly, and keep them and the rest of their thin guard rotation healthy, then wins will be very, very rare this year. Such is the reality in a season when 92% of the schedule is against teams from the best conference in the country.

Cal’s next game is Sunday (time TBD) against CSU Bakersfield, and will surely again be available via free stream.