LAS VEGAS -- California (23-10) has won nine of its last 11 games, ending the Pac-12 Tournament with a loss to No. 2-seed Utah on Saturday night, after a quarterfinal win over No. 6-seed Oregon State. On Selection Sunday, the Golden Bears' late-season run bore fruit, as Cal was named a No. 4 seed in the South region, and will first head to Spokane, Wash., for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, facing off with No. 13 seed Hawaii, with former Cal assistant John Montgomery on its staff. The game is set for 11 a.m., Pacific, on Friday. The winner of that game will play Maryland.
The No. 4 seed is the highest Cal has ever drawn in program history, as the Bears return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2012-13 season. Cal was a No. 5 seed in 1995 and 1997.
Our Scout hoops guru Josh Gershon said on the Bear Republic Podcast on Thursday night that the Bears have a very high ceiling -- potentially a Final Four.
On the CBS Selection Sunday show, Charles Barkley picked the Bears to advance to face the Terrapins. If Cal advances to the Sweet Sixteen, they would likely face No. 1 overall seed Kansas in Louisville, Ky.
Maryland lost to Minnesota on Feb. 19, which was at the time on a 14-game losing streak, and the Gophers beat the Terps with defense, forcing turnovers and scoring in transition -- basically, everything the Bears are good at. Cal is No. 16 in the nation in opponent shooting percentage, and No. 1 in opponent two-point shooting percentage (40.9%).
Hawaii (27-5), which went 16-3 in Big West play, is No. 24 in the nation in opponent two-point shooting percentage (43.8%), and No. 17 in the nation in opponent assist-to-turnover ratio (0.77). More on their statistical profile can be found here. The Warriors beat Long Beach State -- the alma mater of John's father and former Cal head coach Mike Montgomery -- to win the Big West Conference Tournament and earn their way into March Madness.
What's worked in Cal's advantage this season? The Bears went 6-7 on the season against RPI Top 50 teams, and was itself ranked No. 16 in the RPI. Cal had signature wins against then-No. 11 Arizona, then-No. 11 Oregon, over St. Mary's and Utah (a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament)-- all at home. The Ducks are the No. 1 seed in the West region after demolishing the Utes in the Pac-12 Tournament final. Also a plus: the Pac-12 got seven teams into the Dance, evincing the league's strength as a whole.
Cal went 2-1 against Oregon State, which will be playing in Oklahoma City as the No. 7 seed in the West, playing Virginia Commonwealth. The Beavers make their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 26 years. The Bears also beat No. 8-seed USC at home this year in their only meeting.
The Bears also split the season series with No. 8 seed in the South region, Colorado, which faces UCONN (24-10) in the second round of the Tournament. The Wildcats are a No. 6 seed, in the South Region, the same region as Cal.
What works against the Bears? Before three road wins in the final two road weekends of Pac-12 play, Cal was 1-8 away from Haas Pavilion, where it compiled it first undefeated home season since the 1958-60 national title season. Also, Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Jaylen Brown is 9-for-42 over his last four games, averaging 8.75 points and 2.75 turnovers per game over that stretch.
However, All-Pac-12 second-teamer and All-Pac-12 Tournament selection Ivan Rabb is arguably playing his best basketball, averaging 15.6 points over the last five games, and 9.6 rebounds, with three of his 10 double-doubles on the season coming in the last five games.