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Cal Basketball

The BearInsider Scout: Bears Face Big Test at Colorado

February 5, 2020
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Cal begins its road trip through the Rocky Mountains with a stop in Boulder where the Bears (10-11, 4-4) will play the No. 24 Colorado Buffaloes (17-5, 6-3). The Pac-12’s eastern-most outpost hasn’t been a kind stopping place for the Bears who are 2-12 in Boulder. Cal’s last win at Colorado was a 68-61 win in February 2015. 

This year’s Buffs team is solid but has had a couple of head-scratching losses at home against Oregon State and on the road at UCLA. Despite those two losses, Colorado still sits tied for second in the Pac-12 with two key wins at home against Oregon and at USC. In Tad Boyle’s 10th season in Boulder, it looks like he has his best team and is one of the conference’s current locks for the NCAA Tournament, where Colorado has not been since the 2015-2016 season.

Let’s dive into how Cal might be able to pull a massive upset in the Centennial State. 

When Cal has the Ball

Stat Cal Colorado
Adj. Eff. 100.5 (208) 90.3 (16)
Avg. Poss. Length 19.2 (330) 17.6 (216)
Eff. FG% 47.4% (266) 45.1% (31)
TO% 19.4% (201) 21.1% (71)
Off. Reb. % 25.4% (257) 24.5% (39)
FTA/FGA 34.1 (125) 24.8 (28)
3P% 33.8% (150) 33.0% (168)
2P% 46.1% (294) 43.1% (18)
FT% 72.8% (107) 72.2% (253)
Block% 8.9% (177) 8.2% (197)
Steal% 6.9% (12) 9.4% (138)
Non-Stl TO% 12.5% (328) 11.7% (50)

Colorado’s defense is stout. At No. 16 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, the Buffs have the conference’s second-best defense (behind Stanford) overall this season. Colorado forces teams to take tough shots (45.1% opponent eFG%) and turns teams over at a decent clip (21.1% opponent turnover rate). The Buffs are very good at not fouling (24.8 FTA to FGA rate) and guarding the two-point shot (43.1% opponent two-point rate).

But where the Buffs’ defense is vulnerable is from behind the three-point arc where teams are shooting 33.0% against Colorado. In the game against UCLA, the Bruins didn’t shoot the ball well (41% from two and 33.3% from three), but they out-rebounded the Buffs and pulled down 13 offensive boards and shot 29 free-throws (making 25). If the Bears want to pull the upset, this is a replicable blueprint. 

When Colorado has the Ball

Stat Colorado Cal
Adj. Eff. 109.9 (51) 100.6 (141)
Avg. Poss. Length 17.6 (203) 17.7 (244)
Eff. FG% 50.8% (107) 48.8% (150)
TO% 19.9% (232) 18.1% (232)
Off. Reb. % 31.4% (73) 27.6% (148)
FTA/FGA 38.7 (40) 37.0 (291)
3P% 36.9% (35) 35.9% (291)
2P% 48.2% (211) 45.6% (61)
FT% 74.3% (71) 73.8% (311)
Block% 10.0% (267) 7.4% (235)
Steal% 11.0% (328) 6.1% (350)
Non-Stl TO% 8.9% (60) 12.0% (31)

For as good as Colorado’s defense has been, its offense has been under-valued. In conference-only play, Colorado’s offense has been the most efficient in the Pac-12. The Buffs have been particularly good at getting to the foul line (38.7 FTA to FGA rate) and knocking down outside shots (36.9% from three as a team).

Colorado brings a very balanced scoring approach. Junior guard McKinley Wright leads the Buffs averaging 13.4 points per game and Tyler Bey, a junior stretch-four is averaging 13.3 points per game. Colorado’s other main scoring threats are wing D’Shawn Schwartz (10.6), forward Evan Battey (9.2), and forward Lukas Siewert (8.7).

Keys to the Game

Bey vs Anticevich. Not to put this totally on two players, but both have similar games and both are very important to their respective team’s success. Cal’s chances of winning increase significantly is Grant Anticevich is able to keep Bey in check while also knocking down some of his own shots. Of all the matchups, this one might be most important to watch early.

Guarding the perimeter. Colorado isn’t a good two-point shooting team. But they are a good three-point shooting team. Cal’s perimeter defense has looked improved, but it will need to be even better against the Buffs who have quite a few quality long-range shooters. Schwartz has attempted the most threes on the season for the Buffs and is shooting 39%. Siewert — a 6-10 forward — is shooting the highest clip for the Buffs at 40.2% on 87 three-point attempts. Wright and Bey can also step out and knock down three-point shots.

Fouls. The Bears were able to overcome a huge free throw discrepancy against Oregon State (the Beavers shot 30 foul shots to Cal’s 17). But Cal shouldn’t make a habit of that. Colorado has been very good at not fouling but when Oregon State went into Boulder and picked up the upset win, it went 18-of-21 from the foul line compared to Colorado’s 11-of-13. 

Frontcourt. Colorado doesn’t have a big or dominant frontcourt. If the Bears can get some production from Andre Kelly or Lars Thiemann, it could go a long way.

KenPom says … 72-56 Colorado win chance 93%

This is a tough road test for Cal. But not impossible. We’ll see if the Bears can pull off a massive upset.

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The BearInsider Scout: Bears Face Big Test at Colorado

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