Cougars (17-2 overall, 5-2 Pac-10) at Bears (11-7, 2-5)
Oregon State notwithstanding, Cal is about as close to an easy opponent as you’re going to get in the Pac-10 — which, once I start telling you about Cal, ought to tell you just how freaking tough the Pac-10 is this year.
The Cougs pretty well dominated the Bears last year, and you can chalk that up to one factor: They were horrific from beyond the arc in those two games, just 7-of-29 and 6-of-22 — 25.4 percent. And as was on full display on Saturday, a team shooting the 3 poorly against the Cougs is a team that usually loses.
One problem: Offensively, these Bears are much better than they were a year ago. Their offensive efficiency (what’s that?) has jumped from 105.1 to 112.8, and their effective field goal percentage (huh?) has jumped from 51.2 to 54.8.
Quite simply, they’re a better offensive team this year because they’re a better shooting team, and they’ve proven they can score on anybody — they’ve exceeded a 100 efficiency rating (the benchmark for solid offense) in every game but three, including all Pac-10 games but the one against UCLA, and they have exceeded 50 percent in effective field goal percentage (another benchmark) in every game but four. That’s not likely to change against WSU, unless they have an uncharacteristically bad shooting night.
But while we can wring our hands over what Cal might do offensively, trust me when I say that the Bears will be rightfully more worried about the Cougars are going to do offensively. Cal is a bad defensive team, something that ought to be obvious from the fact that despite all the offensive fireworks, the Bears are 2-5 in the conference and just a few games over .500 overall.
Cal has yet to even really come close to stopping a legitimate conference opponent. (Oregon State doesn’t count.) While UCLA and USC were around 107 in offensive efficiency, Oregon (116.5), Arizona (121.0), Stanford (121.4) and Arizona State (126.3) all exceeded a 116 efficiency against the Bears. That’s not just bad defense; that’s terrible defense. And as we’ve said here all year, the Cougs are one of the best offensive teams in the country, something that’s lost on most everyone because they don’t score a lot of points per game. Their overall offensive efficiency rating is 114.8 — ninth nationally. They’ve been especially beastly at home.
The moral of the story? The Cougs are going to score points and they’re going to win, but this is the kind of game I wouldn’t bet on if my life depended on it. The Cougs are favored by 11, but the score could be 70-65 as easily as it could be 70-55. It all depends — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — on whether Cal hits some 3s.
Other keys that could influence the flow, if not necessarily the outcome, of the game: