Feast Week Mission Briefing: California in the Maui InvitationalPosted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 25th, 2013
With Feast Week tipping off over the weekend, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Pac-12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.
What They’ve Done So Far: There hasn’t been a whole lot of flash on the California schedule so far, with Denver and Oakland (no, not the Broncos and the Raiders) headlining the early slate. As a result, the Bears are out to a 4-0 record, with only Oakland having thrown a challenge their way. But for a team breaking in five freshmen and replacing Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe, that recipe has been just fine. The mostly highly regarded freshman of the bunch, Jabari Bird, is the primary guy replacing Crabbe and he’s been great out of the gate, averaging 13.5 points per game while stroking 50 percent of his shots from three. Meanwhile, versatile sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace looks like he’s working on a breakout season, having made great strides with a previously broken jump shot. Finally, the veteran frontcourt tandem of Richard Solomon and David Kravish has also combined to account for about 20 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks per night, and it is all held together by senior point guard Justin Cobbs, who hasn’t yet had to take on a big scoring burden but is capable if needed.
First Round Preview: Arkansas is first up for the Golden Bears to tip off the Maui Invitational this morning and this game will be a clash of tempos. While Cal is more than willing to slow things down and grind it out in the half-court with set plays and lock-down defense, the Razorbacks want to get up and down the court with alacrity. Junior wing Alandise Harris leads the way for the Hawgs, averaging 18 points per game, earned mostly on the attack, whether making tough shots from penetration or getting to the line to take advantage of his excellent free throw shooting. Bird and/or Wallace will be primarily responsible for checking Harris and they’ll need to make sure to keep out of foul trouble, as he is one of the best players in the nation at drawing fouls. Luckily, Cal teams under Mike Montgomery are not known to foul recklessly. The one spot where the Bears can take advantage of Arkansas is on the offensive glass, where Solomon and Kravish have done a good job this season; Arkansas, meanwhile, is not great at cleaning their defensive glass. Still, while the Bears are the slightly more talented team here, if they’re not on top of things early on the island, this is a game they could lose.
Potential Later Round Match-up: Let’s look no further than the juiciest potential match-up for Cal tomorrow: against Syracuse in the semifinals round, provided the Orange gets by a good Minnesota team. Given that Jim Boeheim’s team hasn’t played anyone of note to this point (seriously, Cal’s schedule looks like a murderer’s row by comparison), they’re something of a blank slate. But we know this much: They’re going to be very good, because, well, Syracuse is always very good. They’ve got a ton of beef along their front line that will give the Cal big men fits. And after battling with Harris from Arkansas on Monday, the Cal wings will certainly have their hands full with C.J. Fair on Tuesday. But the key for Syracuse may be freshman point guard Tyler Ennis in his first close-up. If he’s up to the challenge, the Orange will be tough to beat; if Cobbs get the better of his lead guard counterpart, the Bears could surprise.
Outlook: We’ll know a lot more about the Golden Bears by Thanksgiving Day than we know now. Even if the Bears lose to Arkansas today, they’re going to get a good RPI-boosting match-up on Tuesday one way or the other (Syracuse or Minnesota). And if everything breaks right, it is not out of the realm of possibility that come Wednesday night, the Golden Bears will be playing for the Maui Invitational championship against somebody like Baylor or Gonzaga.