Original Bear Republic Podcast member and current KBAK sportscaster Jon Doss helps break down California's first-round NIT opponent: Cal State Bakersfield.
On Dec. 28, 2014, head coach Rod Barnes and his Roadrunners upset the Bears, 57-55, at Haas Pavilion.
At the end of that season, Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin's first in Berkeley, he said that he didn't want the team to play in a lower postseason tournament because, he said, "I just think for our guys we’re built to win an NCAA championship one day, and I think that’s first and foremost."
His tune has changed, somewhat, particularly after a stunning first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament last season to No. 13-seed Hawaii, and an inability to finish teams at home, 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. This is a team that has disappointed. The real question is: Are the Bears disappointed?
"Obviously, very disappointed, of course, and that's the challenge now, is to get the guys' energy level up to being ready to play a game on Tuesday night. Very disappointed, but it goes with the territory. You have a long season, and you do whatever you need to do to be successful as a team, and we came up short. Disappointed, but we have to move forward.
"With these tournaments, it's your motivation going into the game -- are you excited to play in the game, or are you upset about not making it to the NCAA Tournament? Now you're not ready to play in the game because it's such a quick turnaround, and you don't play at the level you need to, and you look back, two or three weeks later, and say, 'I should have been prepared to play in that particular game.' Yeah, it's tough, but like I said to our guys: We had a whole season to deal with that. We had 32, 33 games to correct anything we wanted to correct, and we didn't do it. We can be mad about it, but we've got to get back to work."
Barnes -- who came to Bakersfield in 2011 after a career spent mostly in the southeast -- at Ole Miss, Oklahoma and Georgia State -- said this week that Martin reached out to him upon his arrival on the West Coast from Tennessee, and that Barnes was one of Martin's first friends out in the West Coast coaching community. There is history between these two, and even though both teams had NCAA Tournament hopes at the start of this season, they'll find themselves in a 1-vs.-8 matchup on Tuesday at Haas Pavilion, to start the NIT.
"I lost to them my first year, and coach Barnes does a tremendous job," Martin said. "Every year, they're one of the best defensive teams in the country. They play hard, they play tough. They play together. It'll be a tough match-up for our guys, a well-coached team. Our guys have to be ready."
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1762328-updated-cal-basket... There is a lot of commonality in the styles of both the Bears and the Roadrunners. Both are defense-heavy teams, who play at a slow pace.
Bakersfield, the regular-season WAC champion, is 260th in the nation in terms of tempo, and the Bears are 293rd. The Roadrunners are 290th in offensive efficiency, and Cal is 159th. The Bears are 13th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, while Bakersfield is 21st.
"They grind guys, defensively," Martin said. "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."
The Bears have a clear size advantage over Bakersfield, and especially given the new NIT rules -- where team fouls re-set at 9:59 of every 20-minute half -- Doss says to expect the Roadrunners to use up all their fouls. Bakersfield averages 22.4 personal fouls per game -- eighth most in the nation -- and given how timid Ivan Rabb can get at times against an aggressive double team, that could pose a problem.
"I'm not growing frustrated with him," Martin said of his first-team All-Pac-12 forward, who's averaging 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. "My love for him, as an individual, will last a lifetime. My goal is, as a coach, to push him to be what his gifts allow him to be. I think he's blessed, because he has a special talent. He's one of the few guys I've ever been around -- and I've been around the No.1 pick in the draft, and I've been around the No. 4 pick in the draft, so I know what it looks like. He has those gifts and that ability. It's my job to get everything out of him. No, not frustrated on that level. He's a wonderful person, a successful young man with extreme talent. Whenever he gets it all, he gets it all. People go at different paces. They learn and grow at different times, and I think his only issue is that he's a wonderful person -- a very unselfish young man -- and that is his biggest issue in life. That's an issue for you as a ballplayer, but he's going to have an exceptional life."
6-foot-6 redshirt senior Matt Smith has 107 personal fouls on the year, while 6-foot-11, 225-pound Mississippi State transfer Fallou Ndoye has 47 in 234 minutes played. Those two, as well as 6-foot-10, 205-pound Moataz Aly, will likely be tasked with clogging the paint down low for Rabb, Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh.
"I think, more than anything, my issue, my struggle as a coach is with Kameron and Kingsley, how can I get those guys to be the guys that I think they can become," Martin said. "I think that's tougher for me than dealing with Ivan."
Rooks and Okoroh both missed easy bunny shots down low in their tournament finale against Oregon, and need to be able to impose their will and neutralize the likes of Ndoye and Aly. Aly averages 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes, and 1.8 blocks per game, but is an offensive liability (2.5 ppg).
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1762365-cuonzo-martin-does...Aly, Ndoye and Smith will likely be fouling at every opportunity, trying to rattle Rabb, but that could backfire, as the Roadrunners' depth will soon wear thin against a bigger and stronger Bears team.
While Cal will almost certainly be without senior Jabari Bird (concussion), Bakersfield has a Bird-esque player of their own in Jaylin Airington. The senior leads the Roadrunners with 14.6 points, and is the bell cow for the Bakersfield offense. The real shooter to watch out for is Damiyne Durham. He's played in all 31 games, but hasn't started a single one, coming off the bench for Barnes. Durham has what looks like a fairly pedestrian three-point shooting percentage (32.8%), but can get hot from beyond the arc. He hit 6-of-10 in the season opener, 8-of-19 against UC Santa Barbara, 7-of-13 against Portland State and 4-of-10 against Chicago State. In the WAC tournament, though, he went silent, going 1-for-11 in two games.
Closing out on three-point shooters was an issue for Cal in the Pac-12 Tournament, where opponents hit 26-of-56 from beyond the arc against the Bears, including a 10-for-17 barrage from Oregon State, the last-place team in the conference.
Another issue that could plague Cal, once again, is turnovers. The Roadrunners turn teams over at a rate that ranks them No. 8 in the nation (23.6% of possessions), while the Bears are 193rd in ball security, turning the ball over on 18.7% of possessions. The Bears held onto the ball well against Utah in the Pac-12 Tournament (just eight turnovers), but seven of the Bears' 11 turnovers in Friday's semifinal against the Ducks came from freshman point guard Charlie Moore, who will arguably benefit the most out of the NIT experience by simply having that experience.
"If you're trying to grow as a basketball player, every time you step on the practice floor or the game floor, it's real, and that's how you get better," Martin said. "You learn as you play, so every opportunity you get to play and practice is always a great time for basketball players. You see guys in these tournaments, and all of the sudden, the next year, they're household names. It can always happen, especially for young guys. They can always grow and continue to get better, because they can get reps underneath their belt and gain a level of confidence going into the spring and summer."