Examining the Bears

As the California Men's Basketball team takes their annual break for final exams with a 6-2 record, it's a good opportunity to evaluate the team. It's a bit difficult to get a clear view with the throng of so-called Cal fans jumping off the bandwagon after the Kansas game. Rationality is a commodity often in short supply around these parts, but it's my job in my columns for The Bear Insider to reflect and analyze.

Heading into the season, there were four major questions about the Bears.

  • Would they stay healthy, especially Leon Powe?
  • Would they establish consistent guard play?
  • Would they defend?
  • Could they win on the road?

The health questions have for the most part been answered.

After missing four games with a stress reaction in his right foot, Leon Powe has responded with quality performances. No knee brace, no signs of a limp. After chewing up San Jose St., Akron and San Diego State, Powe struggled against Kansas a week ago last Saturday.

The combination of C.J. Giles and Julian Wright forced the Bears' star into forced shots and 5 turnovers. For the first time, Powe struggled with the double team defenses imposed on him, and the Cal offense ground to a semi-halt. Late in the KU game, Powe figured out that he needed to face up and shoot his jumper when the defender sagged off him. He can definitely make that shot.

Until the game in Kansas City, guard play appeared to be significantly improved. Cal may have the best frontcourt in the Pac-10, so the question mark is the backcourt. Ayinde Ubaka has been looking like the player he was at Oakland High, and a healthy Richard Midgley has regained his shooting touch. Even the backcourt defense has improved.

However, KU put more pressure on the ball in the second half, and the guards did not respond. Midgley struggled with 6 points and 4 turnovers for the game. At this point, the jury is still out on the Cal guards.

At the end of last season, Cal's defense collapsed. In six of the final seven games, the opponent shot at least 50% from the field. Washington State was held to 32%, and that was the only game of the seven that Cal won. For the first eight games this season, opponents are shooting 45% from the field, and 36% on threes. Not terrible, but not great. At times, Cal has been hurt by the three-pointer.

In the second half of the Akron game, the Cal coaches made an adjustment and started switching on screens. Nick Dials had a great first half, but in the second half when he came off screens Leon Powe or DeVon Hardin confronted him. Cal has continued using this defensive tactic, and the downside has been on the boards - Kansas hauled in 16 offensive rebounds last Saturday.

Another challenge: the Bears will need to demonstrate that their three-guard lineup can defend an athletic wing player, such as DePaul's Sammy Mejia.

Finally, Cal is 0-2 on the road. Unquestionably, their two worst performances of the season have come away from Haas. The evidence of their ability to win on the road isn't encouraging - yet. And since five of their first seven conference games are away games, it's a problem they need to solve quickly.

This team still has a chance to be very good. The Kansas game was an unfortunate step in the wrong direction, but it wasn't fatal. Cal should have been up by 15 or 20 at the half. The predictable Kansas run after halftime could have been overcome had the Bears taken care of business (and the basketball) in the first half.

If they can learn from their mistakes, and get everyone at full strength (especially Rod Benson), they can compete for the Pac-0 championship.

Washington and UCLA have looked like the strongest teams, but the Huskies have played seven of their eight games in Seattle, and Gonzaga was the only strong opponent. The Bruins record is more impressive than the quality of their performances.

The league is as wide open as it has been in years.

In the words of Hillel, "If not now, when?"


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If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

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Heading into the season, there were four major questions about the Bears.

The health questions have for the most part been answered.

After missing four games with a stress reaction in his right foot, Leon Powe has responded with quality performances. No knee brace, no signs of a limp. After chewing up San Jose St., Akron and San Diego State, Powe struggled against Kansas a week ago last Saturday.

The combination of C.J. Giles and Julian Wright forced the Bears' star into forced shots and 5 turnovers. For the first time, Powe struggled with the double team defenses imposed on him, and the Cal offense ground to a semi-halt. Late in the KU game, Powe figured out that he needed to face up and shoot his jumper when the defender sagged off him. He can definitely make that shot.

Until the game in Kansas City, guard play appeared to be significantly improved. Cal may have the best frontcourt in the Pac-10, so the question mark is the backcourt. Ayinde Ubaka has been looking like the player he was at Oakland High, and a healthy Richard Midgley has regained his shooting touch. Even the backcourt defense has improved.

However, KU put more pressure on the ball in the second half, and the guards did not respond. Midgley struggled with 6 points and 4 turnovers for the game. At this point, the jury is still out on the Cal guards.

At the end of last season, Cal's defense collapsed. In six of the final seven games, the opponent shot at least 50% from the field. Washington State was held to 32%, and that was the only game of the seven that Cal won. For the first eight games this season, opponents are shooting 45% from the field, and 36% on threes. Not terrible, but not great. At times, Cal has been hurt by the three-pointer.

In the second half of the Akron game, the Cal coaches made an adjustment and started switching on screens. Nick Dials had a great first half, but in the second half when he came off screens Leon Powe or DeVon Hardin confronted him. Cal has continued using this defensive tactic, and the downside has been on the boards - Kansas hauled in 16 offensive rebounds last Saturday.

Another challenge: the Bears will need to demonstrate that their three-guard lineup can defend an athletic wing player, such as DePaul's Sammy Mejia.

Finally, Cal is 0-2 on the road. Unquestionably, their two worst performances of the season have come away from Haas. The evidence of their ability to win on the road isn't encouraging - yet. And since five of their first seven conference games are away games, it's a problem they need to solve quickly.

This team still has a chance to be very good. The Kansas game was an unfortunate step in the wrong direction, but it wasn't fatal. Cal should have been up by 15 or 20 at the half. The predictable Kansas run after halftime could have been overcome had the Bears taken care of business (and the basketball) in the first half.

If they can learn from their mistakes, and get everyone at full strength (especially Rod Benson), they can compete for the Pac-0 championship.

Washington and UCLA have looked like the strongest teams, but the Huskies have played seven of their eight games in Seattle, and Gonzaga was the only strong opponent. The Bruins record is more impressive than the quality of their performances.

The league is as wide open as it has been in years.

In the words of Hillel, \"If not now, when?\"


©Copyright 2005, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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