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Cal Basketball

The BearInsider Scout: Round Two With Wazzu

February 18, 2020

Since last meeting in Berkeley on January 9th, both Washington State (14-12, 5-8) and Cal (10-15, 4-8) have drifted towards the back of the Pac-12 standings. In the 10 games between facing off, Wazzu has gone 4-6 with home wins against Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona State, and Washington. 

In the first meeting between the teams, Matt Bradley poured in 26 points and Paris Austin added 17 as Cal recovered from a rough opening 10 minutes to beat the Cougars 73-66. C.J. Elleby paced the Cougars with 22 points while freshman Noah Williams came off the bench to add 16.

Let’s take a look at the updated numbers of both teams.

When Cal has the Ball

Stat Cal Washington State
Adj. Eff. 99.7 (212) 97.1 (85)
Avg. Poss. Length 19.2 (332) 17.3 (139)
Eff. FG% 47.5% (260) 49.9% (201)
TO% 19.5% (220) 21.4% (52)
Off. Reb. % 25.0% (273) 25.8% (78)
FTA/FGA 33.2 (157) 29.3% (108)
3P% 34.7% (100) 31.3% (82)
2P% 45.8% (312) 51.3% (248)
FT% 71.1% (168) 67.2% (37)
Block% 9.0% (192) 6.1% (303)
Steal% 7.4% (28) 9.4% (137)
Non-Stl TO% 12.2% (326) 12.0% (23)

As we learned from the first meeting between Cal and Wazzu, one of the Cougars’ best defensive strengths is turning opponents over. When the teams met in Berkeley, Wazzu forced Cal into 10 turnovers in its first 17 possessions while building a 14 point lead against the Bears. Wazzu hasn’t been able to force Pac-12 teams into turnovers like it was its non-conference opponents, but the Cougars still rank 52nd in the country in TO% at 21.4%. 

Wazzu is also ranked in the top-100 in keeping opponents off the offensive glass (25.8%, 78th), opponents’ three-point percentage (31.3%, 82nd), and non-steal TO% (12.0%, 23rd). The non-steal turnover rate is particularly concerning for Cal, which is one of the worst teams in the country at committing non-steal turnovers (12.2%, 326th). 

Cal’s inability to shoot well on the road combined with Wazzu’s ability to turn teams over makes this particular matchup a potentially tough one for the Bears. 

When Wazzu has the Ball

Stat Washington State Cal
Adj. Eff. 101.3 (189) 100.4 (141)
Avg. Poss. Length 16.9 (110) 17.7 (231)
Eff. FG% 46.4% (308) 49.5% (179)
TO% 16.4% (30) 17.6% (263)
Off. Reb. % 27.2% (206) 26.2% (97)
FTA/FGA 28.9 (271) 37.4 (277)
3P% 31.5% (259) 35.6% (291)
2P% 45.8% (314) 47.1% (94)
FT% 72.4% (121) 72.8% (280)
Block% 9.9% (270) 6.8% (271)
Steal% 7.3% (26) 5.9% (351)
Non-Stl TO% 9.0% (86) 11.6% (36)

Fortunately for the Bears, Wazzu also has one of the conference’s least-efficient offenses. In conference-only games, KenPom ranks Washington State, Washington, and Cal at the bottom of adjusted offensive efficiency in the Pac-12. Unfortunately for Wazzu, it appears they could be without starting junior point guard Isaac Bonton the rest of the season. Bonton, who leads the team in assists at four a game and is second in scoring at 14.8 points per game, was injured in the team’s last game at USC and head coach Kyle Smith said he didn’t know if Smith would be ready to go against Cal. Bonton scored 10 points and dished four assists in the teams’ first meeting in Berkeley.

Wazzu still has one of the league’s best scorers in C.J. Elleby, who is averaging 18.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. As a team, Wazzu’s main offensive strength is not turning the ball over. The Cougars are a pretty bad shooting team (46.4% eFG rate, 306th in the country). They also don’t really grab a lot of offensive boards (27.2% offensive rebounding rate, 206th) or get to the foul line much (28.9 FTA/FGA rate, 271st).

Without Bonton, this could be a game similar to Cal’s game against UW in Berkeley when it took overtime for a team to break 60 points. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Bears.

Keys to the Game

Turnovers. This is setting up to be a game in which the Cougars could struggle mightily on offense. Smith has a few days to re-arrange his offense without Bonton, which will likely entail moving senior combo guard Jervae Robinson to the PG spot while moving Williams into the two-position. Freshman Ryan Rapp might also play some point. Either way, the Cougars will be fronting a make-shift backcourt and Cal shouldn’t do them any favors by creating easier offense by turning the ball over.

Pace. Wazzu is the league’s second-fastest team behind Arizona State. Cal did a pretty good job at slowing the Sun Devils. It doesn’t want to get in a track meet with the Cougars. Of course, this could change with Bonton out, but Cal is usually at its best when it slows the game and limits possessions.

Bring the shooting. Cal had one of its best shooting performances in Pac-12 play on Sunday against Arizona State. Both Matt Bradley and Grant Anticevich knocked down a lot of shots. If they can bring that with them, that’d be a good thing.

KenPom says … 69-62, Wazzu with a 73% win-chance

This obviously doesn’t take into account the potential missing production in Bonton, which is a lot. If Bonton is out, this game gets a lot for winnable for the Bears. 

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