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Cal Basketball

The BearInsider Scout: Cal vs Santa Clara

December 6, 2019

After a frustrating loss at San Francisco on Wednesday, the Bears are on the “road” again, this time to the South Bay with a matchup against the Santa Clara Broncos. According to the computer models, this one should be more evenly matched. Santa Clara is currently ranked No. 143 and San Francisco was No. 109 at the time it played Cal. Meanwhile, the Bears are No. 172.

It’s the Bears’ third game against a West Coast Conference team this year. So far the Bears are 1-1 with a win in the season opener against Pepperdine and the Wednesday lass to the Dons of San Francisco. Cal has one more game against a WCC opponent when Saint Mary’s travels over the hills from Moraga to take on Cal at Haas Pavilion next Saturday (December 14).

Santa Clara is also 1-1 against Pac-12 opponents. The Broncos beat Wazzu by eight at home in the third game of the season and then got pummeled by 18 points by a better-than-expected Stanford team in Palo Alto four days after beating Wazzu. It’s tough to get a read on the Broncos. They’re currently 8-2 and have won all but the Wazzu game by double-digits playing some pretty horrible teams. But the only top-100 teams they’ve played against (Stanford and Nevada) absolutely throttled the Broncos (Nevada won 98-67 two days ago).

As a team, the Broncos are very evenly balanced. Five players average between 9.5 and 11.1 points per game. No one averages over 30 minutes a game and nine players average at least 14 minutes a game. It makes sense as the Broncos are currently playing at a clip of 74.5 adjusted tempo, according to KenPom, which is the 25th fastest team in the country. Santa Clara relies on rotating a lot of bodies to keep up with the pace.

So far, the player getting the most playing time is junior forward Josip Vrankic, who leads the team in rebounds, steals, and almost assists. Sophomore guard Trey Wertz is leading the team with 11.1 points per game. Fellow guard Tahj Eaddy, 6-11 big man Guglielmo Caruso, and DJ Mitchell — a forward transfer from Wake Forest — are also averaging in double-digit scoring. 

No doubt the Broncos are tall. Mitchell, Vrankic, and Caruso are all over 6-8. Wertz is a big lead guard at 6-4 and 185 pounds. The bench is also fairly big with Jalen Williams at 6-6, Keshawn Justice at 6-7, and Jaden Bediako at 6-10.

You can see how evenly matched these teams are by just looking at KenPom’s adjusted efficiencies. Of offense, Cal’s adjusted is 99.0, compared to Santa Clara’s defensive efficiency at 98.9. Three-point shooting has been covered almost too much for this Cal team, but if there was a time to find its three-point shooting on the road, this is it. Santa Clara hasn’t been good at guarding the three. Against Nevada, the Broncos game up 14 threes on 28 attempts. If you thought Cal got beat badly at three on Wednesday, it was a lot worse for the Broncos. It’s very likely Cal’s guards will get some open looks at three on Saturday. Can they connect?

As tall as the Broncos are, they are very bad at offensive rebounding. This is good for a Cal team that has been giving up a lot of offensive rebounds. Santa Clara is also pretty bad at shooting the three (277th in the country) but very good at making shots inside the three-point arc (eighth in the country at two-point shots). This makes it a bit of an easier scout for Cal. Pack the paint on defense and dare the Broncos to shoot over you. Do whatever you can to take away easy buckets near the basket.

Three Keys to the Game

Pace, Pace, Pace (and transition defense)

In the first half against San Francisco, the Bears were able to control the pace of the game. It was slow and the scoring was low. But in the second half, the Dons were able to speed the game up and get into transition more. This was bad for Cal for at least two reasons: Cal doesn’t have the depth right not to rotate guys in and out in a fast-paced game and Cal’s transition defense has been fairly horrible this year. Cal needs to make this a half-court game. 

Three-point shooting

Yeah, I know. This is brought up all the time with Cal. But as long as Cal continues to be a top three-point shooting team with little-to-no frontcourt production, three-point shooting will be a key. San Francisco is literally one of the worst teams in the country at guarding threes (allowing opponents to shoot 40.4% after the Cal game, which is 340th in the country) and Cal still struggled. This is a game in which Bradley and Anticevich need to go off from long-range as they have at Haas Pavilion. Winning the game might depend on it.


Both teams are coming into the game averaging a 36.4% FTA to FGA rate, which is in the top-100. The difference is Cal has been really good at not putting other teams on the line (23.3% defensive FTA/FGA rate) while Santa Clara has been really bad at keeping teams off the free-throw line (40.6% defensive FTA/FGA rate). If the three-point shots aren’t falling for Cal, they need to find other ways to manufacture points and getting to the line could be a reliable one.

KenPom projects: Santa Clara - 72, Cal - 67 (68% win chance)

This seems a bit high. KenPom’s projection of USF winning by eight seemed about right, but I’m not convinced Santa Clara is as good as the computer models are projecting. Losing by 31 to a very mediocre Nevada team didn’t help that mindset. This will obviously take a strong effort on both ends of the court from Cal, but I’m bullish on Cal’s chances in this one (even though I’m a huge KenPom homer). 

Discussion from...

The BearInsider Scout: Cal vs Santa Clara

3,307 Views | 3 Replies | Last: 4 yr ago by caltagjohnson
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From the Bronco board:

I watched the Cal-USF. Cal was just not ready to play. Apparently there was a women's game before so Cal just opted to do a shoot around in Berkeley and only warmed up for about 30 minutes at USF. They just didn't look ready to play.
Also, Bradley was held out of the starting lineup due to a team rules violation (I'm assuming coming to practice late or something minor because he played most of the game).
Cal is coming off two 8 wins seasons under Wyking Jones (a terrible coach). They brought in Mark Fox (former Nevada and Georgia head coach). Most Cal fans were underwhelmed by the hire (I'm a Cal grad and Bear Backer)the new AD landed on Fox really quickly and most felt we could have found someone better. Fox had been fired at Georgia a year before and was not working so it just seemed like they should/could have explored more options.
Fox has brought a lot more discipline to the Bears. They run a more deliberate offense and really try to involve the post players. Defensively they still have a long way to go, they have been especially bad on closing out on three balls.
Bradley is noticeably better this year, much leaner and more aggressive offensively. He is very strong and can be a handful to cover. Definitely Cal's best player.
Anticevich the Aussie is another guy who has transformed his body, he got much leaner and improved his quickness. He has been shooting the ball well and is a great rebounder.
Point guard is unsettled. They start Joel Brown a freshmanI like him a lot. He is going to be a good one in a couple of years. Strong and quick, but not much of an outside shot. Paris Austin (a former O'Dowd kid who played with Ivan Rabb in high school and spent two years at Boise State) started last year and plays a lot minutes. He is very offensive minded and can be frustrating to watch at times because he fails to make some easy passes, choosing to shoot himself i Sometimes they run Brown and Austin at the same time.
Harris Dyson plays a lot on the wing, he is a tremendous athlete but a turnover machine on offense. He struggles to dribble and has no midrange shot. If he gets by you (and doesn't dribble it off his foot) he will throw it down.
Thiemann the freshman center is a Euro, skilled and strong for a freshman. He doesn't score much but sets solid screens and bangs. If they can work on his quickness, he should develop into a decent player in the next couple of years.
Kelly the power forward looks much better than last season, he is scoring more and flashing more skills.
Overall, the Bears are much better coached than the prior two seasons. It remains to be seen if Fox can take them into the upper tier of the Pac 12. They have some talent but not any real elite players.
I think it should be a pretty close game, two veteran coaches. If the Broncos fans turn out and provide some noise, the home court advantage could definitely be a factor. This is a young team and could get rattled. I think the Bears will need someone to go off (most likely Bradley) to win. Normally you would think that the Pac 12 team would have the better athletes, but the Bears didn't seem to have much of an advantage at USF.
For the Broncos to win, they will need to shoot well from the outside, open 3's will be there if they move the balls on the Bears. Fox continues to be disappointed by the defense, he wants to see them play relentless and smart on D, so far it hasn't happened for extended periods. The vast majority of the time the Bears play man, so the Broncos will need to exploit some one on one matchups.
If I had to throw out a guess, I'm going with the home team, Broncos 73 Bears 68
Hopefully the crowd comes out. Fox was asked about having to play AT USF and Santa Clara. He said he didn't make the schedule, BUT he wouldn't mind continuing to play the local schools as long as they came to Berkeley. So I don't think you will see the Bears coming down to the Mission Campus anytime soon after Saturday!

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Nathen, Nevada is not a very mediocre team. That was a really dumb comment. I have seen every home game, I doubt you have seen any game. Alford took over an empty roster when Muss went to AR, He has done an outstanding job putting a team together. They are really coming together (4 wins by (20 pts per game) as Santa Clara found out. They have 4 of the best guards in the West, all capable of 10-20 pts in a given game. Bradley is the only Cal player who is comparable.

BTW the game is still decided by the players not a computer algorithm. Jazz Johnson, Nevada's star SG (48.7% from three incl. 7-10 against SC) is 5-10. I'm sure a "computer model" would say he belongs on the bench of a D-III team. Nevada's last 4 wins are against mid major teams. Everybody knows those teams are "weak". Right? Just ask KY, Duke, MO and UCLA.
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Hey Nathan, Nevada, the "very mediocre" team won its 5th straight double digit victory today. Opening MWC game at Air Force. They hit 13-23 (57%) from three. In the 31 point rout of Santa Clara they hit 14-28 from three. If Nevada is very mediocre, what does this make Cal? Next time please know *** you are taking about.
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