Monday Grab Bag: Playoffs, recruiting, and women's basketball

A quick spin around the news as our fan focus shifts from football to basketball

Here we are, on the winter solstice, and the football ‘regular’ season has just ended. Somehow, this has simultaneously been the longest and the shortest college football season ever. But for four teams, it appears that almost everybody else is ready for the damned season to be over. A total of 22 teams have opted out of bowl games, and that’s probably not a full list of teams that would refuse to play in a bowl game were it offered. There’s still technically college football to play, but I don’t think I’ll be watching many more games this season:

This year, don’t watch the playoffs

Obviously, the four teams chosen to participate in the playoffs this year rankles. But ranking Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Florida ahead of Cincinnati (to say nothing of Coastal Carolina) just gets to the heart of everything wrong with what college football claims to be and what college football actually is.

I found myself very rarely watching games that didn’t involve the Pac-12 this year, because this season was so clearly compromised and I wasn’t going to be entertained unless I really cared about the teams I was watching. That’s certainly going to be the case this year with the playoffs. So while I would get some vicarious pleasure out of Notre Dame’s inevitable destruction at the hands of Alabama, and while Clemson/Alabama is always intriguing just for the sheer concentration of talent, vote with your remote and watch something else.

A quick word on the class of 2021

You’re likely well aware that I’m far from a recruitnik. If you want specific, intelligent takes about all of Cal’s 19 new recruits, may I as always suggest our friends at Cal Rivals?

(You could also check out the Write for California livestream going in far too much depth on our commits.)

But I do try to at least say something about the class as a whole. Here’s the quick summary:

For Cal to compete for a conference title, that means that the team has to be good enough to best Oregon, Washington, and Stanford. Those three teams have collectively won 9 out of 10 Pac-12 championship games and every Pac-12 North title since the conference expanded.

I took a quick glance at how Oregon, Washington, and Stanford have recruited over the last 11 years (2010-2020). Spoiler alert: really well. Oregon’s average recruiting class ranking within the Pac-12 has been 2.8 and they haven’t had a class ranked worse than 5th in the conference. Washington’s average recruiting class ranking has been 4.3, and they haven’t had a class ranked worse than 7th. Stanford’s average has been 4.5, and they have only had two classes ranked in the bottom half of the conference, largely because Stanford NEVER over-signs and almost never loses players to transfer and so they sign fewer recruits than their conference peers.

In short, for Cal to compete they have to recruit as well as the teams they have been looking up towards over the last decade. For the first time in a decade, Cal has done just that.

True, Cal’s class can’t really compete with Oregon’s absurd top 10 class. But for the first time in forever the Bears have a class that’s clearly better than both Washington and Stanford. One class by itself doesn’t a contender make, but it’s a necessary start. If Justin Wilcox can do this one or two more times, Cal will have the baseline talent such that we can finally expect his program to take a step forward.

Cal Women’s Basketball and the season from Hell

A few weeks ago I felt guilty about my inability to find time to write anything about the beginning of the women’s basketball season. Now, with a few weeks of the season in the books, I’m not sure if there’s a ton of value trying to say anything about what happens this season. Such is basketball without guards.

If you haven’t been following the team, you might think I’m being facetious, but I’m not really exaggerating much. Cal entered the season with seven guards on the roster:

Leilani McIntosh (So.)
Cailyn Crocker (So.)
Jazlen Green (So.)
Alma Elsnitz (Fr.)
Ornela Muca (Fr.)
Archer Olson (Sr., former walk-on)
Sierra Richey (Jr., walk-on)

After the first game of the season Charmin Smith announced that Crocker and Green were injured and would miss the entire season. Alma Elsnitz tore her ACL in the final minutes of that same season opener. With one game into the season Cal had lost half of their scholarship guards. Leilani McIntosh has since missed two games with a concussion.

And that’s how you get to the point where former walk-on Archer Olson is playing 40 minutes against USF and 34 minutes against Stanford. Most teams play three guards at a minimum and often play four at a time. Cal didn’t even have three healthy scholarship guards on the roster for two games.

I suppose I should note that freshman Dalayah Daniels is nominally listed as a F/G on the roster, and has been playing 37 minutes per game as guard. In an ideal world she would probably play as a stretch 4 and spend lots of time in the paint, but she has no choice but to handle the ball because there isn’t any other option.

See, Cal’s top 10 recruiting class is certainly talented, but they’re all a bunch of true post players, and they kind need guards to pass them the ball. This season was going to be a developmental season anyway, but it’s hard to say how valuable Cal’s development will be when the roster is as decimated as it is.

And so the Bears are 0-6, and if you had told me they would lose half their scholarship guards before the end of their first game I wouldn’t have been hugely surprised. The Pac-12 is still the best conference in the nation, and there is no cavalry coming to offer relief. The Bears will be hard pressed to win a single game this season, and there isn’t going to be much point in analyzing what happens on the court. Hell, this team is only a couple injuries away from having to forfeit games due to the rule that they must have 7 healthy scholarship player available.

Hopefully Cal’s staff and roster can find purpose in skill development and reps, because that’s all that this season will offer the Bears.