California Golden Bears
Good wins: at UNLV, at Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, at Washington
Bad losses: Oregon State
1. Shooting. The Golden Bears can flat-out shoot, no matter where they are on the court. They lead the nation in three-point percentage at 44%, they’re second to UCLA in the Pac-10 in overall FG%, and rank 13th nationally at 76% from the line. Translation: they can hold a lead late in the game, and can come back with a three-point barrage if necessary.
2. Chemistry. You see a lot of smiles on Cal players’ faces. Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson, Jamal Boykin–it’s clear that this team LOVES playing together, and loves playing for Mike Montgomery. They share the ball well, averaging nearly 16 assists per game as a team, and all four of the aforementioned players score in double figures. This quartet has played together for nearly three full seasons now–the difference now is that their chemistry is now being fueled rather than obstructed by one of college basketball’s greatest minds on the bench.
1. Sloppiness. For starters, Cal only ranks sixth in the Pac-10 in turnover margin, but beyond taking care of the ball, you sometimes see the Golden Bears fail to value each possession. Typically there is a nice freedom and flow to Cal’s offense, but at times wings Christopher and Robertson will settle for fallaway jumpers early in the shot clock, when moving the ball and getting a higher-percentage shot is clearly the better decision.
2. Size / Athleticism at Key Positions. The 5’7 Randle has played well against other undersized backcourts like Washington’s, but has struggled to run Cal’s offense against larger defenders like Oregon State’s 6’2 Rickey Claitt and USC’s 6’5 Daniel Hackett. In the paint, Jordan Wilkes and Harper Kamp are not as fleet afoot as big men UCLA’s Alfred Aboya or Arizona’s Jordan Hill.
Bench: Though I wouldn’t necessarily consider depth to be an advantage relative to other teams, Cal’s got some serviceable backups playing key roles. G Jorge Gutierrez might be the best defender on the team, and C Harper Kamp actually gets more minutes than starter Jordan Wilkes. Kamp has made enormous strides under his new coach, and positions himself well underneath the basket at both ends of the floor. Freshman D.J. Seeley offers Mike Montgomery a nice athletic spark on the wing.
The Departing: Jordan Wilkes will be the only Golden Bear to graduate, and while Patrick Christopher is destined for the next level, it’s not likely he’ll leave Berkeley early. Cal’s nucleus will remain intact in 2009-2010 and expectations will be much, much higher.
After losing Ryan Anderson and DeVon Hardin to the NBA, little was expected of Cal this season. The more important example of addition by subtraction, though, was the removal of Ben Braun as coach and his replacement with the cerebral Mike Montgomery. Cal’s going to play loose, and with their dangerous outside shooting, it’s unlikely the Golden Bears will be upset in the first round. They’ve got two go-to players down the stretch with Randle and Christopher, and could make a surprise run to the Sweet 16 or beyond. But a deeper Tournament run will come in 2010, and one-win-and-done is more likely this year.