There's no other event that has been able to capture so many thrills, upsets, surprises, and emotions. Its flat out the best. Cal certainly has had their moments in the Tournament, and hopefully...we'll have some more great moments to talk about. The NCAA Tournament is all about opportunity.
In my Pac-10 Preview before the start of the 2002 Season, I predicted the 2002 California Golden Bears would finish in 3rd place in the Pac-10. I did a preview of each team, and placed them in respective positions. And even though I did get some of them twisted, I nailed Cal on the nose...and I also stated the following in that preview;
"I know most of the readers on CyberBears will dislike the position of Cal in my next preview (#3 team), but as I have stated throughout most of my previews, the top five in the Pac-10 conference are completely interchangeable…as there is just an unbelievable amount of parity regarding the 2002 Pac-10 Season. Teams will be separated by conference position in one place – and only one place – out on the court. This year reminds me very much of 1997, when the Pac-10 team that finished in 5th Place (Arizona) won the NCAA title. I mean folks, there's a lot of balance this year in the Pac-10. We can certainly weigh out why one team might be stronger than another, and there are some obvious differences between some of the top teams and the bottom teams…but I believe overall, the top five will all end up in the NCAA tournament. And that has to be the bottom line – making the field of 64."
Of course, in looking back at it...Oregon was the one true surprise that nobody in America could predict in the Pac-10. I knew right after the Ducks went 3-1 over the 1st two weeks of the Pac-10 Season, sweeping Arizona...that the Pac-10 would get 6 teams in - and that they did. The last statement I made is really the most important part of what I wanted to post though, and that is the ‘bottom line'. For Cal, they achieved their goal for the 2nd Straight Year - and I believe the Bears will make this a long-time tradition. Its great to be one team in the sixty-four team field, and even better to be one of the 34 At-Large Bids - certifying Cal as one of the top programs in the Country. I believe a Pac-10 Championship is a very realistic goal next season.
Okay, so lets get to it...the 1st Round Match-Up. I had a feeling it would be Penn, Tulsa, Wyoming, or Kent State...and I am very glad it isn't the Golden Flashes. The Quakers are talented, but trust me on this one - they don't have Trevor Huffman. If anybody missed my pick for a team seeded higher than a 9 seed to make the Sweet Sixteen, it would be Kent State. Anyway, lets breakdown the 2002 Ivy League Champs quickly;
- 6'8 225 lbs Junior Power
Forward Ugonna Onyekwe
- 6'8 215 lbs Junior Power Forward Koko Archibong
- 6'4 185 lbs Junior Point Guard Andrew Toole
- 6'5 210 lbs Frosh Shooting Guard Tim Begley
- 6'6 205 lbs Sophomore Shooting Guard Jeff Schiffner
- 5'11 175 lbs Junior Guard
- 6'9 225 lbs Sophomore Center Adam Chubb
- 6'10 205 lbs Frosh Center Jan Fikiel
- 6'0 175 lbs Sophomore Guard Charlie Copp
When you look up and down this group, one thing I notice quite quickly is that there isn't a lot of weight on the Frontcourt of this group, and that doesn't surprise me since it's a-typical of teams in the Ivy League or Patriot League's usually. Onyekwe is easily the most versatile player on the Quakers, and his tendency to hang around the perimeter at times is well documented. Both he and Archibong (Pasadena native who is also a former L.A Rockfish) are very good at helping free each other up in the post, and they can step out and hit a 10-12 footer. Onyekwe will take a majority of the shots inside, and though he is a London native - Ugonna wont remind anybody of another former Londoner who played in State College, PA...for Penn State; Jon Amechi. He's not a brute force interior player like Amechi, he's simply athletic. Archibong averages 14.1 ppg, while Onyekwe slots in at 17.5 ppg...though Archibong is coming off a scintillating game against Yale when he went for 21 points and 16 Rebs. Also helping out in the frontcourt is Adam Chubb & Jan Fiekel, though they play sparingly for about 5 minutes each half. Together, they combine for about 6 ppg, 3 rebounds per game, and of course...10 fouls per game. Overall, it's a very athletic group.
One thing you'll notice right off about Penn is that Coach Fran Dunphy likes to go with his starters a long way. In fact, all five of his starters average 30 minutes per game or more. Only one sub gets significant playing time, and that's David Klatsky, a ball-handler type. The impressive part about the Quakers backcourt is their height, going 6'4, 6'5, and 6'6 across the board. That means they have the ability to shoot over zone's, and over most man-to-man defense's. And Coach Dunphy's three backcourt starters are pretty good marksman, each shooting the trey to the tune of 41% or better. Toole is the best in the lot in my opinion, I like his range and form. I think he does play out of position at the point though, and that's why I think Coach Dunphy will have to go with Klatsky against Cal.
Overall, Penn is a fine shooting team with good balance....nearly 4 players in double figures on average. They've also won 10 straight Ivy League games. Again, the Quakers are a very athletic team that likes to get the tempo up, and in comparison to the more traditional teams that have played in that Conference - that's unusual. The one large problem that I see ahead of time for Penn is that they truly don't have depth, and in all reality...they don't play very good defense. It's been well documented that the Quakers have not been a consistent Defensive Team.
- 6'11 225 lbs Senior Center
- 6'11 265 lbs Frosh Center Jamal Sampson
- 6'5 220 lbs Junior SF Joe Shipp
- 6'5, 200 lbs Junior SG Brian Wethers
- 5'10 175 lbs Junior PG Shantay Legans
- 6'10 250 lbs Frosh PF Amit
- 5'10 160 lbs Soph PG A. J. Diggs
- 6'5 195 lbs Senior SG Ryan Forehan-Kelly
- 6'3 200 lbs Junior SG Dennis Gates
More than anything else, this game goes back to basics for the Bears - a trait that they usually excel at. There have been many games this year in which Cal has face smaller front lines, and teams that shot the ball well...but lacked depth. In those cases, this team has really taken advantage of that situation...and I think this is an excellent match-up when considering those facts. Coach Ben Braun re-directed his program defensively and offensively this past off-season, and most of the re-direction came from recruiting and establishing a talented and intimidating Frontcourt. Cal had simply been beaten by size and height down on the post in Ben's tenure, and they lacked confidence in being able to score. So the Coaching Staff's desire to turn Cal from an ‘outside-in' offensive philosophy, to an ‘inside-out-with-defense-#1' ideology was their task...and I for one think they did a very good good job of the re-direction in just this 1st season. By recruiting Freshman Jamal Sampson and Amit Tamir, the Bears were able put front-line pressure on their opponents inside players...with Jamal Sampson being the key. At 6'11, 265 lbs...Sampson is going to be a big-time load in this game for either Archibong or Onyekwe, and he'll definitely leave an impression on them. His defensive abilities are stellar, and he excels against smaller forwards. I know most of the practice time this week for Cal in preparation for this game was spent in getting Jamal so deep in the lane that he'll be able to score much easier. Amit Tamir will also cause Penn some match-up problems, though its his passing that'll probably be the key in this game. Solomon Hughes will again get the start in this game, and he'll likely get the Bears first couple of shots in this contest...but overall, it'll be about Sampson & Tamir inside for Cal.
If the Bears have an advantage down low in the post, than they'll certainly back that up with the advantage on the wing. Joe Shipp & Brian Wethers are two of the best wing scorers in Cal History, with Shipp having more range...Wethers being the best athlete on the team. Together, they are one tough combo, and my gut feeling is that it'll be Shipp that really gets the Bears ahead in this contest. His nose for the tin is pretty amazing, as he's just one of those players who always finds a way to score and beat you - and the minute you think Joe is only a lane rat - he'll knock down a 22 footer. During the course of this season, Shipp has usually hit the shots that got Cal going offensively. The point guard's will again be both Shantay Legans and A.J Diggs, two incredibly skilled boisterous leaders. Legans has about as much range as anybody on the Cal team, and he's deadly from the free-throw line...and Diggs brings a defensive toughness that I can promise you Andrew Toole & David Klatsky will not like. I'll predict right here & now that Diggs picks one of their pocket's at least once. Cal's two other mostly unsung talents are Senior's Dennis Gates and Ryan Forehan-Kelly. Forehan-Kelly might be shooting the ball better than any other Cal player right now, and I have a pretty good feeling that Dennis isn't going to be his usually shy offensive-self. Both players are standout defensive leaders, and they are one of the main reasons Cal was the #1 Defense in the Pac-10. That was quite an accomplishment.
Truthfully, the Bears are a unique group of ‘Defense-First, but offensively skilled' players. The 3 seniors on this team are key contributors, but overall...it's the youth and talent on this team that make it go. Cal played in the NCAA Tournament one year ago, so every player on this team (save the 2 Frosh) have played in this type of environment. With the Bears losing their 1st Round game a year ago, I think that bodes very badly for the Quakers - a team hasn't been a part of the Tournament in 2 years - and has very limited experience since no Senior's even play. I think the match-up's are all positives for the Bears, and I especially like that Penn isn't going to try and change the tempo of this contest. The experience factor also plays out for Cal. The one negative that sticks out to me is obviously the State that the game is being played in, and due to the fact that in most NCAA Tournament Locations (for those of you who've never been to one), most crowds enjoy rooting for the upsets - that is something to factor in. It certainly wont be a hostile crowd though, and I think if the Bears establish the post early...and take control of the game on the defensive end by rebounding and forcing tough shots...Penn is going to really struggle guarding Cal's inside-out and high-low offense. It'll be very difficult for this Penn team to beat Cal over a 40 minute span, though I certainly don't see a blowout by Cal either. I'll go ahead and say 71-61 Cal over Penn, and I'll predict the MVP going to Joe Shipp. I believe UCLA & Arizona got Cal very ready to play in the NCAA Tournament...and I think that'll factor in huge on Friday. It's one thing to play Yale, its another world to play Arizona.