Cal Hoops Preview

The first half of the Pac-10 conference schedule ends this week as the Sun Devils take on the visiting Bay Area schools. ASU will play the California Golden Bears on Thursday night at 7:00 P.M. MST in an un-televised game. Here is the breakdown of the game.

Undefeated in conference play at 7-0, the California Golden Bears have taken advantage of the weakest portion of their conference schedule and now will make what is arguably the toughest road trip in the Pac-10. Cal has swept the Oregon schools and the Los Angeles schools at home, in addition you beating Stanford, as well as both games on the road in Washington. On the season the Bears are 14-2 having only lost games on neutral courts to Georgia and Kansas, two of the better major conference teams in the country. The eight game win streak that the squad currently enjoys is the longest for the program since the 1992-93 season and the Bears are now ranked 20th in the nation according to the Associated Press.

Over the last two seasons Cal has a 4-0 record against ASU, having won the last two games played in Tempe. Should Arizona dispose of Stanford on Thursday and Cal beat ASU it would run the Bears winning streak to 9 games, its longest since 1960, and set up the first ever match up of two Pac-10 teams sitting at 8-0 in league play.

Leading the charge for the Golden Bears are two senior wings, 6'5 Joe Shipp and 6'5 Brian Wethers, two players who grew up in Southern California dreaming of becoming UCLA Bruins only to go un-recruited by the school and wind up at Cal. At this point in the season, Shipp is the leading candidate for Pac-10 player of the year honors, and is leading the team in scoring nearly 21 points per contest. Far more than just a scorer Shipp is a versatile forward who is second on the team in rebounding, first in block shots and has more assists than turnovers on the season. He also leads the team percentage-wise from the three-point line at .453% and is a very good defensive player.

Brian Wethers, a true veteran with over 70 starts in his career, is arguably the team's best athlete and most dominating defensive player. He averages about 14 points per game, but what is most remarkable is the consistency of his scoring output. Wethers has scored in double digits in every game this season. This is a player who, very much like Shipp, can post up smaller defenders, shoot on the perimeter and rebound the basketball. With their size, quickness and versatility they present quite a challenge for opposing defenses.

Another player who is quite versatile and in fact could possibly be the most multitalented player in the entire league is 22 year-old sophomore 6'11 Amit Tamir, a player who came to the Cal program and the United States directly from Jerusalem, Israel. Tamir has gained about 20 pounds since last season and is now up to 260 but still possesses a terrific shooting touch from the perimeter and plays a style of basketball that is widely considered as more typically associated with players coming from overseas. He likes to face up with the ball in his hands and is one of the best passing big men in the Pac-10. In the off-season Tamir went to the Pete Newell Big Man Camp and really developed a better post-game. He's now more of a threat on the block and defensively he's improved as well, though this part of his game still isn't on par with his offense. He leads the team in rebounding with nearly 7 per game and when his 17-point average is combined with Shipp and Wethers it makes for the best scoring threesome of any team in the conference.

The fourth and final player that helps provide the bulk of the offensive output for Cal is freshman 6'1 guard Richard Midgley, another overseas import, this one coming to the country by way of England in 1999 where he played his prep ball with current Bears teammate David Paris. Midgley has been a surprising force in terms of stabilizing the team in the wake of the transfer of three-time starter Shantay Legans to Fresno State in the off-season. Midgley plays the bulk of his minutes from the point guard position, but has more of a shooter's mentality by nature and is an excellent marksman from long range at over 45% on the season. He also does a solid and consistent job of protecting the ball, averaging just over a couple of turnovers per game, yet he isn't a major passing threat at this point.

At the center position the Golden Bears start 6'11 junior Gabriel Hughes, a player who often doesn't even play much late in games and only averages about 12 minutes per contest, quite a modest total for a starter. Often the team goes without a true center, but the team plays two primary backups up front, 6'6 junior Conner Famulener and 6'8 freshmen David Paris. Famulener is an undersized former walk-on who also attended the Pete Newell Big Man camp and is one of the best post defenders on the team. Paris is a wide-bodied freshman who hasn't played significantly this season but may wind up getting some minutes in an attempt to counter Sun Devil star Ike Diogu. The player most likely to spell Wethers on the wing is 6'7 redshirt freshman Erik Bond, a shooting specialist that hasn't done a particularly good job shooting the basketball thus far in the season.

When Cal coach Ben Braun decides to go with more of a defensive-minded point guard he turns to A.J. Diggs, a player who is one of the best on-ball defenders in the Pac-10 at the guard position. Diggs is also someone who does a good job of protecting the ball, but offensively he's not much of a threat and actually teams sometimes even slack off of him defensively in order to double down on opponents in the post, not unlike Arizona State point guard Jason Braxton. Martin Smith is a walk-on player who has seen limited minutes as a third stringer at the position and Donte Smith is two games back from a severe muscle injury in his leg that required surgery. He's capable of backing up either guard position.

The biggest key to the success of the Golden Bears this season has undoubtedly been the disciplined play required of the team by Braun and his staff. This is a team that hasn't had a player foul out of a single game all season long and in fact has shot 135 more free throw attempts that their opponent. Cal's only player of note that has more turnovers than assists on the season is Gabriel Hughes. Defensively this squad doesn't take possessions off, and on offense they have an excellent grasp of good shot selection.

This year the Golden Bears have played more zone defense than in previous years. This scheme is one that ASU can expect to see regularly on Thursday as they have the highest field goal percentage in the Pac-10 at .483% and yet are the worst three-point shooting team in the conference at .317%. The zone of choice employed by Braun is the 2-3 zone, but whatever defense the team uses expect the focal point to be on surrounding Ike Diogu with as many bodies as possible and forcing him into bad decisions. Diogu in an excellent scorer and has gone to the foul line substantially more than any other player in the Pac-10, but has thus-far not shown himself to be a very good passer out of the double team.

Tommy Smith will have to stay out of foul trouble for ASU, as he is likely the only player on the squad that is capable of defending Amit Tamir. Smith has a tendency to foul opposing players that are more active and move around the perimeter and that is exactly the type of player that Tamir is. Reaching in, hand checking and reacting to pump fakes could get Smith in trouble, but if he plays an intelligent ballgame his league leading ability to block shots could have a dramatic affect on the outcome of the game.

A defensive assignment that might even is more testing that the one Smith faces is the one involving Brian Wethers. With his size and athleticism the Devils have no one player that is a particularly an attractive defensive matchup, assuming Donnell Knight is given the task of trying to contain Joe Shipp. It's very likely that the Sun Devils will put a variety of players on Wethers, from Curtis Millage to Jamal Hill to Shawn Redhage in an effort to wear on him with fresh bodies.

It will be imperative that the Devils prevent at least two of Cal's four primary scoring threats from having big games. While it's true the team has literally four players who can score, these guys can indeed score, and do so in bunches. ASU will have to extend the defense along the perimeter and fight over screens in a man-to-man defensive alignment to keep Cal from getting open looks. Shipp, Tamir, Wethers and Midgley make up about 80% of Cal's scoring. Cutting off two of those players would effectively knock out their ability to put points on the scoreboard.

To further this end the Devils must protect the basketball and make smart decisions on the offensive end. Against teams like Kentucky and Arizona, ASU has had a tendency to force the issue and allow the opponent to set the pace of play. Jason Braxton and Tommy Smith are the key players to watch in this area. If they appear out of control it could spell trouble. When the Devils take smart shots every time down the court and do not force penetration they perform much better.

This is a key game for Arizona State in that they are home and the team they are playing is above them in the Pac-10 race. A Sun Devil win would move the Devils to only two games back in the loss column with Cal playing Arizona in Tucson on Saturday and the Devils taking on Stanford. ASU coach Rob Evans has stressed the importance of taking care of the home court. It's time to see if the Devils can hold serve against Cal.

Sun Devil Source Top Stories