UPDATED with Bakersfield stats, game time at 5:46 p.m.
California's five seniors -- and likely-NBA-bound sophomore Ivan Rabb -- will get at least one more game on Pete Newell Court at Haas Pavilion. The Bears were named a No. 1 seed and host for the National Invitational Tournament on Selection Sunday, after missing out on the NCAA Tournament.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1762365-cuonzo-martin-does...The Bears (21-12) will host first-round NIT opponent Cal State Bakersfield at 8:15 p.m., PT, on Tuesday, on ESPN2. The Roadrunners (22-9) lost in the WAC title game against New Mexico State, after a four-overtime, 81-80 semifinal win on Friday.
Bakersfield is 290th in the nation in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency, and 260th in terms of offensive tempo. The Bears are in the middle of the pack, at 159th in terms of offensive efficiency, but are one of the slowest teams in the country, with a tempo ranked 293rd. Tuesday's contest is sure to be a low-possession, half-court dominated game.
"They grind guys, defensively," Martin said of Bakersfield, which ranks 21st in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. "They take good shots. They make you work, when you're on offense; and when they're on offense, they force you to make bad decisions, defensively, so they can get the best shots, whether it's on the perimeter or on the interior."
Cal specializes, of course, in defense, and the Bears are 13th in the nation in terms of defensive efficiency, 43rd in three-point defense, third in two-point field goal defense and 38th in block percentage, led by Kingsley Okoroh. Okoroh is three blocks from tying David Kravish for the single-season program record for rejections.
Cal is making its third NIT appearance since 2010, and their ninth, overall. Cal won the NIT in 1999, under Ben Braun, and reached the quarterfinals in 2014 under then-head coach Mike Montgomery, who is a part of the NIT Selection Committee. It was his duties with the NIT that prevented him from receiving the Pac-12 Hall of Honor induction during this weekend's Pac-12 Tournament in las Vegas. His wife instead received the honor on his behalf.
When Cal missed the NCAA Tournament in head coach Cuonzo Martin's first year, Martin declined a bid to the College Basketball Invitational, saying, “No disrespect to any tournament because you always want to complete, play games and get better. I just think for our guys we’re built to win an NCAA championship one day, and I think that’s first and foremost."
On Sunday, Martin said: "You look at your players, you look at your team. To play in the NIT, I think our guys are still hungry to play some basketball. There are some young guys who need to continue to play and grow and get better, so we're looking forward to it."
Martin, it must be mentioned, is being heavily mentioned for the newly-opened job at Illinois, which just fired John Groce, as well as Missouri, according to several sources close to that situation in Columbia, Mo. The Illini, a two-seed in the Illinois State quadrant, play No. 7-seed Valparaiso in the first round of the NIT, in Champaign, Ill.
Cal is ranked 54th in RPI, and and 58th by Kenpom.com, but the Bears could not finish off a number of opportunities for signature wins. Cal went 1-7 against teams in the top 50 RPI this season. The Bears were within two points in the final 20 seconds against then-No. 12 Virginia, but lost 56-52 on Dec. 23, 2016. Cal led then-No. 18 Arizona by as many as eight in the second half, and 13 in the first half at home on Dec. 30, 2016, and were within four with under three minutes to play. The Bears lost, 67-62. Against Oregon on Feb. 22, Cal led by as many as 16, and led by 10 with 4:15 to go, but lost on Dillon Brooks's last-second three. Cal did beat NCAA Tournament teams Princeton, USC, UC Davis and South Dakota State.
Utah -- who Cal beat to get into the semifinal against Oregon -- is seeded third in the Illinois State quadrant of the bracket, and will play Boise State in Salt Lake City at 7 p.m., on Tuesday.
The Bears, who took West Region 3-seed Ducks to the brink twice in the last three weeks, will likely be without senior wing Jabari Bird, who is being evaluated daily after suffering a concussion against the Ducks in Friday night's Pac-12 Tournament semifinal. The first round of the NIT will be played from March 14-16, and a student-athlete, under NCAA concussion protocol, must be symptom free for seven days before competing again.
Rabb -- a first-team All-Pac-12 selection -- eschewed the NBA to return for his sophomore season, but things have not gone quite as planned. He missed two games early with a foot injury, and missed a month of preseason practice with mononucleosis. He's averaging 14 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, with 17 double-doubles on the season. Before Senior Night against Oregon State, Rabb acknowledged that he had thought about that game being his final go-around at Haas Pavilion.
"Yeah, I have," he said. "I haven't put too much time into it, because I still have a lot of games to play, but it's a great possibility."
After Cal's loss on Friday, he said that he wasn't done yet.
"I'm pretty sure we have more games," Rabb said. "I think we do. It's on to the next one."