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Cal's Men's Basketball Season Ends with Pac-12 Tournament Loss to Washington State
Grant Anticevich, Makale Foreman, and Jordan Shepherd play their final games in blue and gold
Cal lost to Washington State 66-59 in a painful, disjointed game. Probably the best illustration of what we all saw was that both teams combined for 36 made free throws and 40 made field goals.
But I’d prefer not to focus on that as Cal’s season ends. I’d rather wish a fond farewell to Makale Foreman, Jordan Shepherd, and particularly Grant Anticevich.
Makale Foreman and Jordan Shepherd both came to Cal as transfers from small schools when Cal could hardly convince anybody to come and play. Foreman couldn’t find the time and space to get off 3s the way he did at Stony Brook, but he gamely played through a foot injury this season. Meanwhile, Shepherd was thrust into the challenging Don Coleman/Paris Austin “somebody has to handle the ball and make something happen late in the shot clock” role, and did it as well as could be reasonably expected.
Grant Anticevich came to Cal in 2018, stayed through year after year of turmoil and 20 loss seasons, and graduated having exhausted his eligibility as a collegiate.
Can you name the last California Golden Bear to come to Berkeley as a freshmen and stay for the entirety of his collegiate career? I’ll give you a second, because it’s been a while.
Did you come up with the answer? It’s Kingsley Okoroh, the very first recruit to commit to Cuonzo Martin. It’s been four years since Kingsley celebrated senior day, way back in Wyking Jones’ first year as head coach. It’s as good an illustration of what has happened to the Cal men’s basketball program as anything else.
It’s equal parts incredible and cruel that Grant Anticevich set the record for most games played at Cal during the lowest five year stretch in program history, through pandemic restrictions and teammates (and coaches) constantly coming and going around him. It’s a credit to his endurance and character that he stayed, and I badly wish that he had been rewarded with some kind of team success for the iron man effort he gave to this program in its darkest hours.
I often think about basketball as a game of shot quality and shot volume. Good teams excel at both. Mediocre teams might be OK in one category but struggle in the other. Bad teams struggle at both.
Cal is a team that you might imagine would struggle with shot volume. The Bears aren’t remarkably big or athletic. They don’t force many turnovers, and they don’t pull down many offensive rebounds.
But the Bears also locked down the defensive glass and had their lowest turnover percentage in three years under Mark Fox. The result? Cal finished Pac-12 play +6 in offensive rebounds and -46 in total turnovers, meaning that on average Cal’s opponents had two extra scoring opportunities per game.
That’s pretty marginal across 64 possessions, and not much different that a likely NIT team like Oregon and Colorado.
The problem is that Cal gets crushed on the shot quality side of the ledger. While Cal’s opponents are often able to create shots at the rim or open looks from three, Cal is left settling for 2 point jumper after 2 point jumper, with the occasional desperation late shot clock 3 mixed in.
Some of Cal’s shot quality deficit is down to missing Andre Kelly, some of it is a lack of ball handlers who can beat their defender one-on-one and create their own shot. But a lot of it is Cal’s snail-pace offense and how they are coached to find shots.
And if you’re looking for an alternative, just look at what Kyle Smith has done at Washington State, a team that relentlessly looks for shots inside, and shots from 3, and can find those shots even though they aren’t remarkably talented either.
With this loss, Cal’s season ends with a final record of 12-20 (5-15). The loss to Washington State means that Cal will have lost 20+ games for the 4th time in 5 seasons. Finally, it is time to move on from game-by-game analysis to take a broader look about this program and the direction Cal’s athletic department wants to take it.
Because there’s this rumor that Cal is looking to extend Mark Fox after three seasons with a combined record vs. Pac-12 opponents of 17-45, after three seasons with a peak Kenpom rating of 114th, after three seasons without a top 100 national recruit, after three seasons finishing 10th or worse in the conference.
If that rumor is true and Cal is even considering an extension, that’s a fascinating decision worth analyzing. We may not know for sure what Cal plans to do until the end of the month, when Mark Fox’s contract would roll over into his next year. For now, we sit and wait and wonder.