Life Without Matt Bradley

How might Cal go about replacing their go-to guard?

When news broke that Matt Bradley had entered his name into the transfer portal, Cal fans held out some hope that he might elect to return to Cal. But on Friday night Matt made his departure firm and clear:

Transfers away from Cal MBB haven’t exactly been rare of late. Since Cuonzo Martin departed for Missouri, 12* total scholarship players have transferred away from Cal prior to exhausting their college eligibility. But this one hurts.

*I’m pretty sure I counted every transfer, but honestly there have been so many that I’m not super confident that I didn’t miss one. God I’m depressed.

Of those 12 departures, Matt Bradley is probably the best basketball player. He was also the guy who most visibly cared, the one who lived and died with every win and loss, who was the most visible cheerleader when he couldn’t play. Plenty of players have put out a statement like the one above when they transfer. In Matt’s case, I believe every word of it.

But the reality is that his basketball career is better served elsewhere, and I don’t think any Cal fans have any illusions about that reality. So what does this mean for Cal next year and beyond?

How much does this hurt Cal in 2021-22?

Depending on who Cal can bring in to fill Bradley’s vacant scholarship, a lot. Here’s one projection:

After the Pac-12 excelled in the tournament Cal rose up to 114th in the nation in Torvik’s ratings, the same as Kenpom. Torvik’s system is relevant because it has a cool tool that allows you to project the impact of roster changes. For example, if Cal was bringing everybody back, plus their incoming recruiting class, Torvik’s system sees Cal as the 63rd best team in the country next year. But if you only add Grant and Makale back onto the roster as super seniors with no other additions, Cal is projected to be roughly as good as last year, 112th in the nation.

Honestly, both of those numbers strike me as a little high. the 63rd best team in the country is a team that is thinking about tournament contention if the season breaks right. But when you’re bringing lots of younger contributors back I presume the system builds in for the possibility of further development. What’s ultimately relevant is the difference between Cal WITH Bradley and Cal without. Losing a high usage player with above average offensive efficiency hurts.

To be fair, we do have some evidence of how Cal would play without Matt Bradley, since he missed seven games with two different ankle injuries. Those games ranged from great (nine point win at Utah) to encouraging (four point loss at home to Final 4 UCLA) to concerning (five point win at home vs. bad Seattle team, 11 point home loss to Washington St.) to disastrous (29 point loss at Colorado). On the whole Cal’s performances in seven games without Bradley aren’t meaningfully distinct from the 21 games with him . . . but seven games just isn’t enough to say anything with real confidence.

The main problem Cal faces: who’s going to take all of Bradley’s shots? Cal’s go-to-player led the team in minutes and shot the ball 32% of the time when he was out on the court. When a possession stalled and Cal needed somebody to create a shot, Bradley was by far the best option. As of right now the assumption is that there’s no choice but to spread the wealth around the rest of the rotation. Of course, Cal now has one* extra scholarship to play with. What might they do with it?

*Note that while Ryan Betley is leaving Cal, his scholarship is already accounted for by one of Cal’s incoming freshmen recruits, as he’s a senior who would not have counted against Cal’s scholarship limit had he elected to stay to use his free extra year thanks to COVID-19.

Transfer portal options

Of course, there are too many players in the transfer portal to even begin guessing as to who might come to Cal. Thanks to COVID and the opportunity to change schools without having to sit out a year, more players than ever are looking for a new team. But there are four players in which Cal is confirmed to have some level of interest:

To quickly summarize:

  • DJ Horne, 6’1’’ combo guard, Illinois St.

  • Tanner Groves, 6’9’’ forward, Eastern Washington

  • David Collins, 6’4’’ shooting guard, USF

It’s worth noting that Cal reportedly contacted the following players who have already chosen not to come to Berkeley:

What can we say from the above? Well, unlike last year, when Cal was desperately offering any available point guard so that they didn’t have a situation where Joel Brown was the only passing guard on the roster, this year Cal appears to be looking for the best available player they can attract, regardless of position.

I think it’s also safe to say that Cal has probably reached out to other players beyond the five that have reported some kind of interest, but there are too many players in the portal for every bit of interest to get reported.

How about a quickie scouting report on the three players above who haven’t been ruled out as possibilities yet?

DJ Horne: An unranked recruit out of North Carolina, Horne has played two years for Illinois State but has three years of eligibility left due to the pandemic. Biggest pro: He’s a career 41% three point shooter on a high volume, and he’s a decent passer as a combo guard. Biggest con: A high turnover rate and iffy finishing at the rim means that he’s probably going to be highly dependent on his outside shooting at the power conference level.

Tanner Groves: You might know him from his 35 point explosion vs. Kansas in the NCAA tournament? He’s a wildly efficient stretch 4 who does everything on the offensive end and who knows how to secure a defensive rebound. Biggest pro: He’s by far the best player who has been connected to Cal, and he still has two years of eligibility left. Con: Cal is one of 19 schools he lists, many of which are heavy hitter programs. Also, his brother Jacob is in the portal too after Shantay Legans left EWU, and if they consider themselves a package deal Cal doesn’t currently have another scholarship to offer.

David Collins: A super senior after four years of heavy playing time for USF, David Collins has had an up and down career for the Bulls. His shooting has been inconsistent from year-to-year, but he’s also a pass-first point guard who gets to the line a lot and has played for some pretty good defensive teams. Biggest pro: Defense - Collins has had high steal percentages every year while playing heavy minutes for strong defensive teams. Biggest con: consistency/efficiency concerns. Collins has had turnover issues, and hasn’t flashed enough shooting (45/32/67 shooting splits) to be confident in his offense. Also Cal is going up against a host of other major conference competition.

It’s possible that by next week we’ll know what Cal’s 2021-22 roster will look like. With just one spot to fill, if somebody commits soon there might be an early end to off-season changes. But it’s also possible that there will be more roster attrition, and Cal didn’t complete their 2020-21 roster until Makale Foreman committed late last May, so it could take some time. We’ll do our best to track the comings and goings in the transfer portal until then.