Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Bear Territory Tuesday: We learned nothing from Cal's loss to Wisconsin
Cal had its biggest game of the season on Monday night when the #6 ranked Wisconsin Badgers came to Haas Pavilion. I arrived at Haas Pavilion 5 minutes into the game partly due to getting held up at the Bart Station. My ticket did not have enough money on it to allow me through the turnstiles and so I had to make the necessary payments to get through. After running back and forth across the downtown Berkeley Bart station to get a new ticket, which I later threw away thinking it was the other ticket, I eventually left the station and arrived at Haas Pavilion.
When I finally got to my seat, I found myself in an environment that I hadn't experienced at Haas Pavilion since the game against #1 ranked Arizona last year. The building was absolutely electric and buzzing. Without even knowing who Cal was playing, you could sense that it was a game with something much more on the line than the other games played this season.
Cal started off really slow and struggled to find their groove early on in the game. Only Tyrone Wallace appeared to be comfortable under the bright lights from the very beginning. Wisconsin simply outplayed Cal in the first half. They dominated in the paint, they got good looks from beyond the arc, etc. The play that capped it all off was a play at the very end of the first half in which Wisconsin executed a beautiful backdoor play, with one Wisconsin player hitting a cutting teammate for an And-1 opportunity. It was at that moment that I realized we were not in Kansas anymore. Wisconsin was at a whole other level, taking Cal completely by surprise while in the process taking a 32-20 lead into the half.
The second half was much better for Cal. Jordan Mathews finally woke up and gave Tyrone Wallace some much needed help, hitting some jump shots and getting to the lane for some baskets inside. Unfortunately for Cal, the hole they dug themselves into during the first half was too much for them to overcome, but to their credit they didn't go down without a fight. Rather than letting Wisconsin win by 20 or 30 points, Cal played Wisconsin to a 36-36 tie in the second half, losing only by 12 points by the final score of 68-56. Tyrone Wallace finished the game with 17 points and 7 rebounds and Nigel Hayes led Wisconsin with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
If you are a Cal fan reading this, you probably have your own conclusions about what this loss means for Cal and what we should take away from this loss. I will share with you what my main conclusion is and you are free to agree or disagree. My conclusion is that we really didn't learn anything about Cal. You are probably asking yourself upon reading this "Why am I reading a blog post that says we didn't learn anything? That's why I'm reading this blog post!" This is a fair question to ask, so let me explain what I mean by this.
Going into this game there were a ton of questions about where Cal fits in the big picture of college basketball. Are they a Top 25 team? Are they an NCAA tournament caliber team? Are they as good as their record or is their record inflated due to a string of easy opponents? None of those questions were answered after Monday night's loss. I repeat none of them!
In terms of whether or not Cal is a Top 25 team, we still don't know. A lot of teams in the Top 25 would go down to Wisconsin by 12-16 points and we would still consider those teams worthy to be in the Top 25. Wisconsin is more than a Top 25 team. They are a serious threat to win the National Championship. They backed up their #6 ranking as I think most of us thought they would. Losing to a team that is ranked as high as Wisconsin is nothing to be ashamed of. Especially when you play them as close as Cal did.
In addition, Cal was without their sophomore starting shooting guard Jabari Bird, who is currently dealing with a stress fracture in his left foot. With him being out, it really wasn't realistic to expect Cal to win the game. Would Cal have defeated Wisconsin with Jabari Bird healthy? Probably not, but it is certainly conceivable given the fact that Cal only lost by 12 points. Therefore, it really isn't fair to judge this loss too harshly.
Are they a legitimate NCAA tournament caliber team? I think they have what it takes to get to the tournament, but let's keep in mind that Cal knocked off #1 ranked Arizona last year and still failed to reach the NCAA tournament. That fact alone teaches us that one game against a national title contender win or lose doesn't determine your NCAA tournament status.
I suppose had they gotten crushed by 40 points that would have been a bad thing, but nobody expected that. The betting line on the game was Wisconsin by 10 points and the game more or less went just as the guys down in Vegas thought it would go. The win over Syracuse told us that Cal has a very good team that should be able to compete in the PAC-12 and make a push for the NCAA tournament. Nothing from the loss to Wisconsin should change that belief.
In terms of are they as good as their record indicates (10-2), once again we don't know. They've played a lot of close games against some mid-major schools like Montana, Princeton, and Wyoming, but to their credit Cal won those games. We can't knock them for almost losing when they exhibited a lot of toughness and determination to get those wins. There's a lot more good to take away from those close wins then there is bad.
In conclusion, we learned nothing from Cal's loss to Wisconsin. One could say we learned that Tyrone Wallace can step up his game against big time competition, but that really shouldn't have come as a surprise judging by how he played against Princeton, Syracuse, and Nevada. One could also say we learned that David Kravish is in a funk and that Cal needs him to be successful, but this we already knew going into the game. He hasn't played particularly well all year and this game was just another data point on that map.
Lastly, one could also say we learned that Cal needs Jabari Bird healthy, but this is stating the obvious. Every team needs their McDonald's All-American healthy to compete against top ten teams except for maybe Kentucky since they are stacked beyond belief. What will really teach us about Cal is how they play during PAC-12 play and how they play once Jabari Bird returns.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord