Midway through the second half of California’s 14–point win over Syracuse (#25 in the RTC preseason poll) at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, both Dick Vitale and John Saunders expressed surprise that the Golden Bears were picked seventh in the Pac-12 — astonished that there could be six teams in the conference better than them. And if you watched the game, you probably understood that surprise, because Cal looked great. They shot a 54.5 percent eFG against the vaunted Syracuse zone, kept the Orange’s athletes out of transition (for the most part), and really had a handle on the game from the closing moments of the first half (a late 12-0 run in that half featured four Cal threes in five possessions). Sophomore Jabari Bird had his national coming-out party with 16 points on four threes, and his more under-the-radar classmate Jordan Mathews wound up with 22 relatively quiet points. Up and down the rest of the roster, Cuonzo Martin’s players made the type of plays that they’ll be expected to make all season long. So, all that optimism that Golden Bears fans had to be feeling throughout that not-all-that-stressful second half is completely warranted and Cal should start looking into a nice brand of scissors for all that net-cutting they’re going to be doing at the end of the year, right? Well, slow your roll for just one minute.
First, note that we’re not about to discount what the Golden Bears did last night at all. They beat Syracuse on a floor that was anything but neutral, and they did it in convincing fashion. They’ve got a star or two on the wing in Bird and Mathews. Tyrone Wallace is settling in at the point and has looked good enough there. And if he needs a hand, Martin’s best bench player at this junction is sophomore point Sam Singer who, by the way, handed out eight assists in a solid night of action. There’s senior center David Kravish, who contributed 12 points, 10 boards, three blocks, five assists and even a three against that Syracuse front line which, even if you don’t recognize any of the names off the top of your head, is an intimidating opponent. They looked really good, validating the initial opinion that most people who watched any of the Golden Bears’ first couple games of the season came away with.