Two of those four defeats came at the hand of the nation's consensus #1 team, so its not at all unexpected. During the nine-game stretch, the Bears mixed in gigantic road victories over the Oregon schools and Southern California. For the Sun Devils, the 75-70 win over Cal gave the program an enormous lift. To show how big a boost the win was, it marked just the 3rd time ASU had beaten a ranked team in their last 34 such contests. It also happens to the only ranked team Arizona State has knocked off this year. With the win over Cal, Rob Evans' program can now say they not only beat a Top 25 team, but one of the teams likely to finish in the top 3 of the Pac-10. The Sun Devils have assured themselves of at least a 5th place finish in conference play. They can still improve on that, and a win in Berkeley tomorrow would certainly help them out. Most pundits now have ASU slotted as a team that will qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and that hasn't happened since the 1994-95 campaign.
According to the RPI, ASU currently sits 4 spots higher than the Bears at #29. The reasoning for that is obviously strength of schedule, as Arizona State has won three less and lost three more games than the Bears on the season! As most fans know, its better to have a high quality RPI loss than a win over a team in the two-hundreds. The Sun Devils have played a quality schedule including the likes of Kentucky, BYU, Purdue, and Utah (twice) in non-conference action. The RPI also shows that the win over Cal is ASU's 2nd best win of the year and most important conference win. Another victory over Cal, or possibly a home win over Oregon gets ASU that pivotal 10th conference win. More on that later.
"The goal is always to make the NCAA tournament. We have an opportunity to take a step forward this year, a giant step. I feel we can compete with anyone in our conference, and if you can do that, you can compete with anyone in the country." - Rob Evans on his team's 2002-03 NCAA hopes
ASU has always had extremely bad luck when it comes to the NCAA Tournament selection process. Since 1990, 49 of 50 Pac-10 teams who have won at least 11 conference games have been selected to the NCAA's. The exception? ASU in 1992-93, when the Sun Devils were 11-7 and tied for 3rd in the Pac-10. Additionally, 53 of 55 teams since 1990 who have posted 18 wins and 10 Pac-10 victories have qualified. Again, the odd teams out were ASU in 1992-93 and 1999-00. If that statistic doesn't tell the color of bad luck, I have no idea what does.
Here is a quick look at the 2002-03 Arizona State team;
Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning starters in Bold)
PG- Jason Braxton 6'2 180 So (4.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.6 apg)
SG- Curtis Millage 6'2 175 Sr (15.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, 33% 3-Ptr's)
SF- Donnell Knight 6'7 200 Sr (5.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.4 apg)
PF- Tommie Smith 6'10 215 Sr (10.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.3 bpg)
C- Ike Diogu 6'9 240 Fr (19.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 61% FG, 74% FT)
Key Returning Reserves:
Jamal Hill 6'6 200 Jr (7.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.8 apg, 35% 3-Ptr's)
Shawn Redhage 6'7 225 Sr (7.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.6 apg)
Kenny Crandall 6'3 195 Jr (2.7 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 29% 3-Ptr's)
Kyle Dodd 6'0 175 Sr (4.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.1 apg)
Chris Osborne 6'9 240 Sr (1.7 ppg, 1.0 rpg)
If there has been one freshman that has dominated the talk out West in College Basketball this year its been that of Ikechukwa Somotochukwa Diogu - or Ike as everyone refers to him. If I have a vote, Diogu should be the National Freshman of the Year. He's been more durable than Bracey Wright of Indiana, more dimensional than J.J Redick of Duke, and far more consistent that Rashad McCants of UNC. Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony is truly his main competition, and I feel Diogu plays the harder position. Diogu is 3rd in the Pac-10 in Scoring, 5th in Rebounding, 2nd in Field Goal percentage, 1st in Free Throws made, and 1st in Free Throws attempted. Ike should be a 1st team All Pac-10 selection, as well as one of the top 3 candidates for Pac-10 Player of the Year honors.
He's been that good. His teammates call him 'the Beast, and Rob Evans calls him a young Karl Malone. No matter what you call him, Diogu has quietly become a leader for the Sun Devils off the court. "When Ike says something, this team listens. They realize his leadership, which is refreshing. We're talking about somebody very unique. This is a kid in no hurry. He goes at his own pace. He knows who he is." - Rob Evans
Tommie Smith plays the high post for ASU and he's done a solid job for Rob Evans again this year. One of the more foul prone/emotional players in the Pac-10 the past 3 seasons, Smith seems to get better defensively every year. He also understands the impact that Diogu has had on the team. "People wonder why I'm not averaging double figures, but with Ike in there it's like bread and butter. Give him the rock and it's two or three points every time. I compare him to Shaq on the college level. You can double and triple him and he's going to score anyway." - Tommie Smith. Tommie will always be regarded as a streaky offensive player as his range cuts out around 12 feet. He's only a 57% free-throw shooter. Smith can rebound though, and his combination of height and long arms often leads to keeping the ball alive in the paint. Senior Chris Osborne backs him up.
In the back court, Evans uses an ultra-quick duo to try and wear down his opponents. Jason Braxton plays the point while Curtis Millage man's the two spot, and this California-native combo will harass the ball all game long. Offensively, Millage is a sub-par perimeter player while Braxton has the most painful jump-shot I have ever seen. Contest after contest though, this duo finds a way to make it happen. Braxton penetrates and looks to score in transition, and Millage will continue to put it up until he finds the range. Behind the starters are Kyle Dodd and Kenny Crandall. Dodd has wheels close to Braxton's, but he's a timid offensive player as well. Crandall is another 3-point 'artist' in the Pac-10 who averages less than 3 points per game. Donnell Knight starts on the wing, and the senior from Phoenix has played much better this year than in year's past. Most people have noticed his improvement in just the effort he puts into his play, and that obviously comes from maturity. Fellow senior Shawn Redhage is the best reserve Rob Evans has, and he's played well lately. Redhage can play just about anywhere on the court, and he's got a nice dribble drive move or two near the post. Jamal Hill, the JC-transfer from San Jose who is originally from El Cerrito, will get minutes at both the 2 and 3. Hill has been slumping as of late but does have a nice jumper and scorer's mentality.
The Sun Devils do a number of things well. They average a little over 76 ppg and they have the #2 defense in the Pac-10 allowing just 69 ppg. ASU is the top field goal shooting team in the Pac-10 at nearly 48%, but they are second from the bottom in both 3-point shooting and free-throw shooting.
As I mentioned above, ASU certainly could use two more wins this year. There record shows that they are 17-9 (9-6 in Pac-10 play) however, in the NCAA Selection Committee's eyes, ASU only has 16 wins. The win over Division II Chaminade in Maui does not count for them. With three regular season games remaining, ASU is faced with winning 2 of 3. If not, they head to the Pac-10 Tournament desperately needing one more win. Their first round foe is likely going to be the Oregon Ducks, whom they also play in Tempe next Thursday. So despite currently sitting in the top 30 of the RPI, 10 conference victories might not get the job done for ASU. If they do not beat Cal, the Sun Devils will finish 1-6 against Top 25 ranked teams.
California 2002-03 Team California 2002-03 Team
Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold) 2002-03 Statistics
PG- Donte Smith, 6'2 190 Sr. (1.2 ppg, 0.2 rpg, 0.4 apg)
SG- Brian Wethers, 6'5 215 Sr. (15.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.2 apg, 36% 3-Ptr's)
SF- Joe Shipp, 6'5 220 Sr. (21.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.2 apg, 38% 3-ptrs)
F- Amit Tamir, 6'11 260 So. (16.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.3 apg, 43% 3-ptrs)
C- Gabriel Hughes, 6'11 230 Jr. (2.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.0 bpg)
Richard Midgley, 6'1 200 Fr. (9.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.1 apg, 45% 3-ptrs)
A.J. Diggs, 5'9 165 Jr. (3.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.8 spg)
David Paris, 6'9 260 Fr. (1.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
Erik Bond, 6'7 205 Fr. (2.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 0.6 apg)
Conor Famulener, 6'6 230 Jr. (3.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Rodrique Benson, 6'10 195 Fr. (Limited Minutes)
Martin Smith (Limited Minutes)
Tashaan Forehan-Kelly, 6'3 170 So. (Limited Minutes)
Jordi Vilardell, 6'10 190 Fr. (Limited Minutes)
During each Senior Day preview, I have always taken a few paragraphs to comment on Cal's departing class. I want to keep that tradition going, and what I'd like to first mention is that this Senior class will be the 1st Cal team in over 43 years to say they have played in 3 straight NCAA Tournaments. Only three of the five 1999-00 Cal recruits are still playing for Coach Braun, but what a trio they've been.
"The three of them are solid guys and they've had a lot to do with the direction of our program over the last couple of years. They have helped us get better every year and established a model or standard. They have represented us not just on the court, but as people off the court. They've had to make some extra sacrifices along the way, but it has paid off." - Ben Braun on Cal's three senior's
First up is Brian Wethers, the unofficial senior leader for Cal. BW is 2nd on the team in assists and both 3rd in rebounding and scoring. One of the most athletic players in recent Cal history, Wethers has been a lesson in maturity. I do not know how many people remember it, but I can recall a time when the much heralded Wethers was a freshman playing in his 1st collegiate game ever. It was November 18th, 1999 in Fairbanks, Alaska against Texas Christian University. Brian played 12 minutes, went 0 for 3 from the floor (0 for 2 on 3-pointers), had 3 turnovers, 1 assist, 1 steal, and did not score. His fellow freshman added 46 points that day. Overall, Wethers' first 2 seasons at Cal were extremely up and down, averaging under 9 points and 3 rebounds during both campaigns. He wasn't even a regular starter till the beginning of this season. However, BW stuck with it. His Cal career is not one that can be judged statistically, though he does currently sit in 20th place in Cal's all-time scoring list. Wethers merit falls in between his hustle, leadership, and attitude in troubling times. The most memorable moment I have of Brian's career was a game played during his junior season in late January at the Sports Arena in his native Los Angeles. Wethers came off the bench to score 24 points in just 22 minutes of play, also grabbing 6 rebounds and 2 steals. It was his turn around fade away three-pointer to push the game into overtime that led directly to Cal having a shot to win the game. BW is a player who has grown by leaps and bounds, and you can easily tell that Berkeley has positively changed him in a number of ways. I believe he still has some magic in him down the stretch too.
"Joe Shipp has really improved over the years. He was really a set shooter in high school, but he is now explosive in transition. He has been one of the more durable players that I have ever coached, as well. I don't remember him ever taking a day off. I credit his dedication and belief to where he is now. He has always hung in there when things weren't going well, and that's a credit to him. He's as good a candidate as any to win the Pac-10 Player of the Year. I may be a little biased, but I think he has a real shot at it. The good thing about Joe is that he is comfortable with who he is, whether he wins that award or not." - Cal Coach Ben Braun
Currently the favorite for Pac-10 Player of the Year honors, Joe Shipp has had an excellent Cal career. One of the most profilic scorers in Cal history, Shipp sits in 6th place all time on Cal's career scoring list. In addition to leading the Pac-10 in scoring this year at 21.0 ppg, Joe ranks among the Pac-10's Top 10 in rebounding, field goal shooting, three-point shooting, and free throw shooting. Shipp's senior year has directly led to the Bears remarkable run back to the NCAA Tournament - a place not many writers had them re-visiting in 2003. He is the confident voice of the team. I believe Joe's best game during his Cal career was his 31 pts outburst at Haas Pavilion against Fresno State on Dec 11th, 2001. Shipp set the all-time Cal record with 9 three-pointers in one contest that night, and helped the Bears avenge their season ending defeat to the Bulldogs during the previous season. This season, Joe has a chance to move into 2nd place all-time (behind only Sean Lampley) on Cal's career scoring list if he can manage a little over 22 points per contest and the Bears play another 5 games this season. Shipp can also become Cal's 5th Pac-10 Player of the Year award winning since 1994.
"You can't define yourself or put your worth only on playing time or points scored," Braun said. "If all of us measured ourselves based on statistics, that would mean there wouldn't be very many successful stories. Donte, in my eyes, is a success story. What he's accomplished at Cal, coming from where he's come from, makes him totally a success story." - Cal Coach Ben Braun
Donte Smith is a story of perseverance, and he is the longest tenure Bear on the team. If College Basketball had a new reality show, my hope would be that it features Donte Smith. Along with every player, coach, and fan, Smith has acknowledged disappointment on the hardwood during his time in Berkeley. His admission was troubled from the start, and after a solid redshirt-freshman year in which he started a number of games for Cal (14 of 33), its been a downhill ride ever since. Smith was slotted behind his teammates the past three years and suffered not only from injury but from the emergence of other players in Cal's program. Humility and wisdom are traits that no player will forget though, and its life beyond the court that has truly influenced Donte Smith. As one of my favorite CyberBears and an academic advisor in Cal's Athletic Study Center said in late-January, "It's important to Donte that he gets the education that is offered here at Cal," said Bruce Smith. "He understands that it takes a lot of work to get what you need out of school - the total academic experience. He sees himself as more than just a basketball player. He takes school seriously, and that drives his success." Donte will always be remembered by Cal fans as a 3-time Pac-10 All-Academic selection. Smith's best game during his Cal career was on Feb 10th, 2000 in Berkeley, when Smith saved the Bears in a 70-68 win over the Oregon State Beavers. Pouring in 19 points in just 25 minutes, Smith also added 3 assists on 6 of 7 shooting (5 of 6 from 3-point land).
Looking ahead to Sunday's game, I believe Donte Smith will start against the Sun Devils. That should be the only adjustment to the starting line-up's. I believe you can bank on the fact that Joe Shipp and Ike Diogu will score at least 10 points each to remain two of only three Pac-10 players all year that have scored in double figures every game this season (Luke Ridnour being the third). When you factor in some of the past statistics between ASU-Cal, I think there are a few key points to keep in mind. The Bears have won four of the past five in this series, however the Sun Devils have out-rebounded Cal in each game. Cal's success during that span is mostly due to forcing turnovers, and shooting at a high percentage.
One of the major weaknesses for ASU is there penchant for not playing well in big Pac-10 road games. This year alone, the Sun Devils have dropped road games at Arizona, Stanford, Oregon, and USC. They have wins over Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, and UCLA - so there record is a deceiving 4-4. With Haas Pavilion one of the most difficult road venues in the West, it's going to be difficult for ASU to come in with confidence. I believe part of ASU's problems is that they have to team up with Arizona for every road swing. A lot of times coaches will make sure their best effort is against the team they are likely to get the win against.
As the clock wins down, the key number for every fan to keep in mind is 72 points. And that goes for both squads. If Cal is able to hold ASU under 72 points, they'll win this game….and vice versa. If both teams score over 72, buckle up cause we are in for a wild ride. In Cal's 19 wins this season, 16 of them have come when the Bears have held teams to 72 points or less. For the Sun Devils, 15 of their 17 wins have come when they hold their opponents to 72 points or less. It's a telling statistic.
Defensively, I believe the Bears will look to force ASU to move the ball on the perimeter and really pack the lane. We'll likely see the Bears play zone for long duration and use a number of players too. Getting a quality start against the Sun Devils will get the crowd going and make it that much more difficult on Rob Evans squad, so that's a big key. This is a big game in the Pac-10, and the results will directly impact the seeing and placement for the Pac-10 Tournament. ASU is still in a position to climb as high as 3rd in the conference, but they have to beat Cal in order to do that. For the Bears, it's a chance to secure at least the three-seed for the Conference Tourney. I believe Cal will avenge their early season loss to the Sun Devils, and I look for some solid shooting by both Tamir and Shipp. Richard Midgley is due for a big game as well. I'll say Cal 75-69 with my Player of the Game going to Richard Midgley. He had a horrible game against ASU last time out, and I believe he'll correct it. Perhaps it'll be the Freshman's Day on Senior Day. I am currently 21-4 on predictions this year.
CyberBear Staff Writers regularly visit the CyberBears Insider board, and are happy to discuss any questions you may have about this article or about Cal Athletics.
If you haven't already, subscribe so that you can participate in the
CyberBear Insider community - and get access to the premium content across the entire
= GreyBear, Webmaster