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Cal Basketball

What to Watch: Cal vs Cal Baptist

November 14, 2019
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Cal enters the first of four games for the 2K Empire Classic tomorrow (Friday, November 15) when the Cal Baptist Lancers visit Haas Pavilion. The first two games are campus games against Cal Baptist and Prairie View A&M. And the final two will be in New York City against Duke and then either Texas or Georgetown. 

If you don’t know much about Cal Baptist (from Riverside and the Western Athletic Conference), it’s not surprising. This is the Lancers second season in D1. A decade ago, Cal Baptist was an NAIA team. But this is hardly a gimme game for Cal. 

The Bears can’t afford to have a letdown and expect to come out of this game with a win. The Lancers are tough, well-coached, and have a backcourt that is probably as good as any Cal has seen so far this season.

California Baptist

Last season: 16-15 (7-9), KenPom: 197

2020 KenPom Projection (after three games): 21-9 (10-6), No. 141

2020 Torvik Projection (after three games): 19-11 (9-7), No. 188

Here are the keys to tomorrow’s game.

1) Controlling tempo

This is becoming a bit of a theme, but controlling tempo means controlling the style of game being played. And more than any team Cal has faced so far this season, the Lancers like to run and can roll nine or 10 deep on their roster. They’re currently playing at a clip of nearly 74 possessions per game (California played at 67 possessions per game against UNLV), and rank 63rd in KenPom’s adjusted tempo (Cal is 331st). 

2) Guard the perimeter

Cal Baptist is shooting from long-range at a clip of 40.5% through three games (one of those games isn’t listed on KenPom because it was against Cal Lutheran, a D3 school). They currently rank 57th in KenPom’s three-point shooting category. While the Lancers are impressive at the three-point line, they’re quite bad at making two-point shots (270th in KenPom), making free throws (also 270th), getting blocked (293rd), and getting the ball stolen (327th). So far they are a pretty one-dimensional team and if the three-point shot isn’t falling, like against Texas (34.8%), the Lancers don’t have production otherwise.

3) Make your own three-point shots

As good as Cal Baptist is at making three-point shots, they’re pretty much equally good at guarding the three-point shot. So far this year, opponents have only shot 25.7% from deep against the Lancers. Matt Bradley has been pretty impressive from three-point range so far this season. And Joel Brown certainly looked good against UNLV. But Cal should focus on attacking and driving down-hill like the second half of the UNLV game. Cal Baptist isn’t good at stealing or blocking the ball, so Cal’s guards should focus early on driving and attacking. 

4) Contain Cal Baptist’s perimeter players

It’s probably not surprising based on the three above categories that the Lancers’ strength is on the perimeter and in the backcourt. The Lancers have a very experienced and deft trio of guards. Milan Acquaah is a junior and led the team last year in shot and usage percentage. He hasn’t dropped off much this year and is leading the team with18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.7 assists a game. 

Acquaah is joined by two transfers. First is graduate transfer Brandon Boyd who is 11 points a game. The other is Ferron Flavors who is the other major scoring threat and is averaging 17.7 points per game so far this year. 

During the first half and a bit into the second half, UNLV’s guards were driving past Cal defenders with ease. Mark Fox went to the zone to slow them down and it worked. It could be another good strategy except Cal Baptist isn’t as much of an attack the rim kind of team. They feast on three-point shooting, which can easily open up against a zone. This could be a strong game for someone like Juhwan Harris-Dyson to get the LAncers out of their perimeter comfort.

5. Keep getting buckets

This is obvious, but more of an opportunity to point out Cal is currently ranked seventh in KenPom’s EffectiveFG% measure, with a field goal rate of 62.2%. It’s early, but last season Cal finished 272nd at 48.6%. That’s some significant improvement.

KenPom Projection: 73-70, Cal 61%

Torvik Projection: 77-69, Cal 78%

Below is a bit more detail on what we published in September about Cal Baptist.

Head Coach: Rick Croy

Rick Croy is a Bay Area native and played collegiately at San Francisco State University. He’s coached under Randy Bennett at Saint Mary’s and was tapped to coach the Lancers when they officially began competing for DII NCAA Tourneys. Overall, he’s 148-43 at Cal Baptist and hasn’t had a losing season. 

Since it was Cal Baptist’s first season in D1, there’s not a ton of data out there on them. Last season, they had a slightly above-average offense and a slightly below-average defense and averaged 67.9 possessions per game, which was also … average. They had a top-ten free throw percentage as a team at 77.9% and they were solid at avoiding steals and blocks, but besides that everything else was fairly average.

On defense, they were pretty bad at turning other teams over, getting steals, and blocking shots. They did clog up the lane and were solid at keeping teams from getting easy shots. Opponents averaged 46.9% for two-point shots, which put Cal Baptist in the top-50 for opponent two-point field goal percentage. That’s fairly impressive considering the Lancers very low block percentage. But opponents were also able to shoot better than 35% from three-point range, which was 238th in the country at guarding three-pointers.

Key Returners:

Milan Acquaah, 6-3, JR., 19 pts, 5 rbds, 3.4 assts, 1.6 stls

De’Jon Davis, 6-7, SR., 10.3 pts, 9.2 rbds, 2.6 assts

Ty Rowell, 6-3, JR., 7.7 pts, 1.7 rbds

Milan Acquaah is the name to know here. He was a top-50 player in the nation in shot and usage percentage. When Acquaah was on the court — and that was often — about a third of the Lancers possessions ended with Acquaah. Considering he shot 37.4% from three and 85% from the free-throw line while averaging over three assists a game, that wasn’t a bad thing.

Cal Baptist’s only productive returning forward is De’Jon Davis who will be a senior this year. Last season, he averaged nearly a double-double. At 6-7, Davis played the majority of his time towards the end of the at the five position but also played some four. He’ll be sharing the starting post position with Mike Henn, who 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds a game.

Lastly, Ty Rowell is one of the Lancers top returning three-point threats as he averaged about 40% from behind the arc while averaging 23 minutes per game. Him and Jeremy Smith, who averaged nearly 43% from three are the two to watch on the perimeter.

Key Losses:

Jordan Heading, 6-2, 15.2 pts, 3.9 rbds, 2.6 assts

Jordan Heading was the lone senior last season and pretty much everyone else is returning. Besides averaging more than 15 points per game, Heading was also second in assists on a team that had one of the lowest assist-to-turnover ratios in the country. He definitely leaves a whole, but Croy has done a solid job of restocking the cubbard with some incoming transfers.

Key Incoming Players:

Brandon Boyd, 6-1, SR., 14.2 pts, 3.6 assts, 2.5 rbds

Ferron Flavors, 6-4, JR., 12.3 pts, 3.6 rbds, 1.1 assts

Snagging Brandon Boyd as a grad transfer was a solid get for Croy this off-season. Boyd was the leading scorer at Idaho State last season while also having the most assists and steals. He was a top-15 scorer in program history at Idaho State and visited Arkansas and Wazzu before deciding on the Lancers. He will be an immediate contributor and likely starter at the point guard position.

Croy also landed Ferron Flavors two years ago and Flavors is now eligible after sitting out per NCAA transfer rules. During his only season of college ball at Fairfield, Flavors averaged more than 31 points a game while pouring in an average of 12.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. 

The Lancers have a very experienced team that will feature seven juniors and seniors getting significant minutes. It will be interesting to see how Croy balances a roster made up of guys used to getting 25+ or 30+ minutes a game. Either way, the Bears are projected to win this game in the Torvik projections. It won’t be as easy as it could be with one of the newest D1 teams in the country, but the Bears should get it done at the Haas.

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