Cal Preview

It's a battle for season-ending bragging rights... it's a battle for sole possession of 2nd place in the conference... it's a battle for NCAA seeding... and it's Senior Night. Saturday's game against Cal is awfully big, and based on what we saw in the first meeting this year, it should be a brawl.

Cal @ Stanford  3/8/03
Tip-off: 7:00 pm (PST)

Sponsored by the The Cafe at the Arrillaga Alumni Center: Official Pre-Game Hangout of The Bootleg

Saturday's game between Stanford and Cal is the second half of a big basketball rivalry, but coming this late in the season there are plenty of non-rivalry factors in play.  The winner of this game will lay claim to the 2nd seed in the upcoming Pac-10 tournament, which may or may not have an obvious advantage.  After Thursday night's topsy-turvy action around the conference, as many as four teams could finish in 7th place (the first round opponent for that 2nd seed), so it may be a question of picking your poison.  But the 2/7 game Thursday evening will come about 2 1/2 hours earlier than the 3/6 game, which will give much needed rest for whichever team wins the former game.  The latter winner may conclude their game close to midnight Thursday night.

This game is a very intriguing one, given the matchups and tendencies of these two familiar teams.  The two teams are one-tenth of one point apart in scoring margin on the season, with Cal excelling on the offensive end (#2 in FG%) and Stanford standing out on defense (#2 in FG% defense).Cal's offense has ridden the "Big 3" of Joe Shipp, Brian Wethers and Amit Tamir all season long.  Any of them can go for 20 points on any given night, and all of them can go for 20 at the same time.  The Bears possess two of the top four three-point shooters in the conference, but have shown some lifelessness against zone defenses with player movement away from the ball at times coming to a screeching halt.  

Defensively, Cal conversely enjoys mixing things up defensively, and Stanford will likely see several different looks.  More important than any scheme, though, is the intensity and toughness than their senior-led team has brought this year.  They are far from physically intimidating in their frontcourt starters, but have more balanced rebounding than perhaps any team in the conference.  Against Stanford back at the beginning of Pac-10 play, a Cardinal squad that had dominated opponents on the boards found themselves on the losing end of the scoreboard and rebounding tally (by a 40-31 margin).  Afterward, several Cal players boasted that "if you beat Stanford on the boards, you could beat them in the game."  Conversely, the Bears have been outrebounded by six per game in their six losses this year.  Stanford has to commit itself to not just box out the big guys, but also the wings and guards, with an added emphasis on hard-nosed defense for this game...

The Starters

#15 PG Richard Midgley Fr 6-1 200 9.4 ppg 3.1 apg 44.7% 3FG
#25 SG Brian Wethers Sr 6-5 215 15.3 ppg 4.4 rpg 50.0% FG
#34 SF Joe Shipp Sr 6-5 220 21.0 ppg 6.0 rpg 52.3% FG
#24 PF Amit Tamir So 6-11 260 16.7 ppg 6.4 rpg 44.7% 3FG
#33 C Gabriel Hughes Jr 6-10 215 2.7 ppg 3.4 rpg 49.2% FG

Midgley is the player who has improved the most during this season for the Bears.  He has become more aggressive offensively, and at some point clicked with the idea that he is the legit 4th scoring option on a team known for the "Big 3."  Putting up double digit scoring in 11 games this season, the Brit has scored from the outside and also driven to the basket.  Though as he has faced tougher competition in the form of Pac-10 point guards, his shooting percentages have dipped a little.  Does a good job scoring when the defense gives him opportunities, but he's not likely to create opportunities against a sound defense.  He's a reasonably good passer and generally has a good head when running the offense.  Still has freshman moments, though.

Wethers is one of my least favorite players in the conference, going back to his sophomore year when I dubbed him an "offensive black hole" for Cal.  When he touches the ball within 18 feet of the basket, he's almost always going to find a way to take a shot.  If tightly defended, he often tries to pivot back and forth to shake the defender for a quick jumper, but much less often will actually do something off the dribble.  A key is to stay on Wethers, because he'll take a shot whether a good one is there or not.  The only difference between him now and earlier in his career is that through experience he has matured into a better shooter.  His career averages over his first three seasons were 47.6% from the field and 29.1% from three-point range, and his respective percentages this season are 50.0% and 36.5%.  He's still a black hole, but he can hurt his team less now because he can score better.  Loves fallaway jumpers and using the glass.  To his credit, he has sought to master the midrange game, which is seldom embraced in college basketball today.  Also will cut to the basket and team up with Joe Shipp in the two-man game.

Joe Shipp is frankly the best player in the conference, period.  Make a case for Ike Diogu if you will, the best frontcourt presence in the Pac-10, or perhaps somebody for Arizona, the best team out West and maybe the country.  But Shipp is so freakin' impressive with his ability to hit shots from every spot on the floor that it's ridiculous.  I'm not in the business of throwing out kudos to Cal players, but this guy is having a phenomenal year.  A defensive gameplan often looks at where on the floor a given player tends to score, and then pester him into uncomfortable positions of lower scoring probability, but the only place Shipp can't score is on the bench.  You might think on his backside he couldn't score, but he's already proven that he can hit the twine from his behind when he did it last week against Arizona.  Undersized as a forward, Shipp looks like a third guard but he has filled out his frame over the years and plays big and physical.  He was the one, despite standing at just 6'5", who killed Stanford on the boards with 10 rebounds in their January meeting.

Tamir can shoot - there's no question about that.  But he has to be one of the most non-physical 6'11" players you can find in America.  If you want to attach stereotypes, he fits the "Euro" mode of pro basketball players seen today that excel in the high post game better than many smaller forwards and wings.  Tamir loves to camp outside and wait for outlet passes to find him open.  Very much a catch-and-shoot player, he gets the ball up in a hurry after receiving the pass.  Almost never puts the ball on the floor, and his shooting percentage drops when he is forced to move with the ball.  That all being said, he can absolutely kill you when he gets going, and ironically Shipp & Wethers make up for much of his missing physicality down low.  Good perimeter passer, too.

Hughes is the weakest link on this starting roster, playing well below the talent level you might expect for his size and length.  Ben Braun says he's improving, though he has hit a grand total of 19 baskets through 17 games of conference play.  He is tall and has long arms that can pose a defensive problem in the paint, but Hughes is also pretty foul prone.  Expect Justin Davis and Rob Little to put Hughes on the bench with a few pump fakes, which will pull Hughes off his feet in a jiffy.

The Reserves

#2 PG A.J. Diggs Jr 5-9 175 3.2 ppg 2.2 apg 31.2% FG
#3 SG Donte Smith Sr 6-2 190 1.8 ppg 0.4 apg 50.0% FG
#30 SF Erik Bond Fr* 6-7 205 1.9 ppg 1.2 rpg 27.8% 3FG
#40 PF Conor Famulener Jr 6-6 230 3.0 ppg 3.4 rpg 51.3% FG
#55 PF/C David Paris Fr 6-9 260 1.8 ppg 1.6 rpg 46.4% FG

Diggs is Stanford's nemesis.  He continually plays his best games against the Cardinal, pestering Stanford ballhandlers into turnovers and Cal transition buckets.  He started the year as the starting point guard after the transfer of Shantay Legans to Fresno State, but was eventually passed by freshman Richard Midgley.  Now back to his old role of defensive specialist and reserve ballhandler, he's usually a non-threatening player.  Shoots very poorly and is a complete non-threat on offense, unless he gets on the break off a steal.  May come in to play the point and move Midgley to the off-guard.

Don't let Donte Smith's shooting percentage fool you.  He has hit just seven shots all year, and three of those came last Saturday on Senior Night versus Arizona State.  Truly plays in spot duty to spell Midgley or Wethers.  When he does shoot, he'll try a little pull-up shot from midrange off the dribble.  Julius Barnes 

Stanford fans remember Erik Bond from the recruiting wars a few years ago when he vied with Josh Childress for the small forward spot in the 2001 Cardinal class.  Bond was told by Stanford to wait and see if Childress came, and when the Southern California phenom made the move to Palo Alto, Bond verbally committed to Cal.  Took a medical redshirt his first season, and is playing this year in limited minutes behind Shipp and Wethers.  I think he's a great pure shooter (despite his percentage this year) who will find a solid niche at Cal in his remaining years, and he already hit one big trey against Stanford this year.  His seven points in that game remain unsurpassed in his first year of play.

Famulener gives quite a few minutes to spell Hughes or Tamir, and though a smaller forward he plays a pretty good game inside and outside.  He'll mix it up inside, but also will play on the perimeter and pass or shoot.  But against Stanford, he has one identity: the clumsy dolt who stumbled his way to Justin Davis' MCL injury back in January.  It will be interesting to see what happens when Davis and Famulener line up on the court together again Saturday.

David Paris is the son of former San Francisco 49ers all-pro tackle Bubba Paris, and like his old man is a big body who likes physical play.  The younger Paris has one good go-to move with his back to the basket, and decent touch from the high post.  But more important than the minute details of his game is the overall physical presence in the low post he brings to a team that doesn't like to bang.  He'll be very good down the road in the conference, and he already showed once this year that he can hurt Stanford.  His seven points in that game still stand as high season high.

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