WHAT CAL DOES WELL
1. Shoot the three
The stats don't lie here; California is definitely one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country and quite possible the best outside shooting team Louisville has faced all season. They have three guys (see player profiles below) with as pure strokes as anyone in D-1.
The Bears led the country in three-point percentage a season ago at 42.7%, and are a praise-worthy 37.3% (217-for-582) from deep this season. Not a great draw for a team that ranked 12th in the Big East in three-point percentage defense by letting opponents hit 34.3% of their attempts from beyond the arc.
2. Shoot free-throws
The Bears shoot 75.7% from the charity stripe as a team, and boast three starters who shoot better than 81%, including Jerome Randle at 93.5%. Louisville has made a habit of not only fouling too much, but fouling the wrong people too much, a flaw which could be fatal Friday night.
3. Move the ball
This is not a tremendously skilled team off the bounce and they don't have guys outside of Randle who can make the flashy pass, but they're a great team in terms of making the "hockey pass" and ultimately getting the ball into the hands of the player with the best chance to score.
4. Move without the ball
This is going to be a major test for some of the Cardinals who enjoy taking extended periods of time off on defensive possessions (you know who you are).
5. Take good shots
This sort of goes hand-in-hand with No. 3, but the Bears aren't going to give you many easy defensive trips where they come down and chuck up a contested jumper. You have to have great shooters to be making shots at the clip they do, but you also have to have players who are willing to pass up the guarded shot for an open one, and Mike Montgomery has a handful.
6. Be old
Cal starts four seniors, and all four were either first or second team All-Pac 10 selections. The seniors account for 77% of the Bears' scoring.
7. Take care of the ball
The Bears haven't been pressed very much in the Pac-10, but they've been exceptional at taking care of the ball in their halfcourt sets, turning the ball over a little more than 12 times a game. Louisville averages more than 15 forcued turnovers per contest.
Because of Cal's relative inexperience in dealing with pressure and the Bears' efficiency at the free-throw line, officiating will be (as it always is) paramount.
WHAT CAL DOES NOT DO WELL
1. Resist the urge to help on defense
Cal is a man-to-man team, but they don't bring the sort of defensive pressure that Marquette or St. John's does. Part of the reason for that is that they don't have players quick enough to keep their man in front of them. And when an opponent does get a step on a drive, often a Bear is far too eager to help out and leaves his man wide open in a position to score.
2. Defend the post/Be tall
Unless 7-2 Max Zhang moves into the starting lineup to replace the suspended Omondi Amoke, Cal won't start anyone taller than Jamal Boykin, who's listed at 6-8 but is probably closer to 6-7. Bear forwards have had a difficult time staying out-of-foul trouble against good opposing big men, and were pushed around by both Syracuse's Arizne Onuaku and Kansas' Cole Aldrich in a pair of games Cal lost by 22 and 15 points, respectively.
Samardo Samuels has averaged just 11 points and turned the ball over 23 times to just three assists since his 36-point performance against Notre Dame. If he doesn't come to Jacksonville prepared and motivated to take advantage of what should be a fantastic situation for him to shine, then the Cards have absolutely no chance.
3. Get defensive rebounds
This is where Louisville, which rebounds about as well on offense as it does poorly on defense, can get its garbage baskets if the Bears aren't throwing the ball away against the Cardinal press.
4. Pressure the ball
This is great news for a team that doesn't have many above average ballhandlers. Cal will allow Louisville to run its halfcourt offense, it's going to be on the Cards to execute.
5. Have creative out-of-bounds plays
Seriously, the'yre worse than ours. If we make a concerted effort to to go after steals when the Bears are inbounding the ball, it could make a huge difference.
6. Have players who have tasted postseason success
Yes, this is one of the most senior-laden squads in the field of 65, but those seniors have been to the NCAA Tournament just once, falling to Maryland in the first round a year ago.
Jerome Randle (5-10, SR) (18.7 ppg/4.5 apg)
The Pac-10 Player of the Year is the obvious place to start.
Randle is Cal's all-time leading scorer and also the school's career leader in three-pointers made, assists and free-throw percentage. He's accurate from just about any spot over halfcourt, and is the one Bear who can kill you off the dribble. His range and bounce remind me of Jameer Nelson.
Hr's very quick, but what Randle is really good at is changing speed, luring defenders into a false sense of comfort before kicking it up a notch and blowing by them. He's the second-best free-throw shooter in the country at 93.5%, so grabbing him after he beats you to the bucket probably isn't the best strategy. Because of the size of Cal's other guards (unless Jorge Gutierrez starts), Randle will probably be Edgar Sosa's to deal with, which is a scary thought for Card fans.
Put simply, the kid's really good.
Patrick Christopher (6-5, SR) (16.0 ppg/5.4 rpg)
A two-time first team All-Pac 10 selection, Christopher is Cal's fourth leading all-time scorer, and also ranks fourth on the all-time list in field goals made and three-pointers made. He's seen action in all 132 games the Bears have played since he arrived at Berekeley.
Though he possesses formidable size, nearly all of Christopher's points come off of jump shots. He's also the one guy Cal has who will take the occasional bad shot, a right I suppose he's earned over the past four seasons. He's a much better catch-and-shoot guy than he is taking jumpers off the dribble.
Christopher's a solid defender, and his size will be an issue for Louisville's off-guards in terms of getting off shots. He's also a capable rebounder.
Jamal Boykin (6-8, SR) (12.0 ppg/6.7 rpg)
This is the guy I'm really worried about.
A Duke transfer, Boykin is big, athletic and capable of scoring with either hand from just about anywhere inside the three-point line. He's the type of slashing forward who has given Louisville fits this season, and he comes into the tournament on a tear having scored in double figures in each of Cal's last six games, including 20-point performances against Washington and Arizona.
A second team All-Pac 10 performer, Boykin provides the type of fearlessness in the paint that U of L has been lacking for long stretches this season.
Theo Robertson (6-6, SR) (14.1 ppg/4.7 rpg)
Another second team All-Pac 10 performer, Robertson led the Bears and the conference in three-point percentage at 43.5%,
Robertson, a three-year starter and another 1,000-point scorer for Cal, might be the best NBA prospect on the team because of his combination of size and shooting stroke. In his last two games he's averaged 22.5 points and connected on 6-of-11 three-point tries. There's little you can do to prevent him from getting his shot off.
He's not a tremendous defender, which could open the door for an RRG (Random Reggie Game) or perhaps even a Batman resurrection.
Jorge Gutierrez (6-3, SO) (5.4 ppg/2.7 apg)
Basically Preston Knowles with long hair.
Despite coming off the bench, Gutierrez notched 27 steals and was named the Pac-10 All-Defensive Team. He notched five steals in the Bears' loss to Washington last weekend.
Mike Montgomery has consistently praised Gutierrez's ability to make a play when Cal needs it the most. He's a spotty jump-shooter and a shaky ballhandler, but he seems to hit the big shot or make the big pass late in games or when opponents are on the verge of big runs.
He might move into the starting lineup due to Amoke's suspension.
Markhuri Sanders-Frison (6-7, JR) (3.3 ppg/3.1 rpg)
A starter at the beginning of the season, Sanders-Frison has seen his playing time dwindle thanks to a combination of the emergence of Omoke and a worsening bad back. He's not much of a threat to score, and he fouls far too much, but he's a big body and a solid rebounder.
Max Zhang (7-3, SO) (3.3 ppg/1.4 bpg)
A 7-3 guy whom the country doesn't already know all about is almost always a project, and Zhang is no exception. He blocks a lot of shots because, well, he's 7-3, but he's slow and un-skilled. Still, this could be a very difficult matchup for a guy like Samuels who is undersized and not overly athletic. Terrence Jennings might be able to have more success against Zhang.
Quick Final Thought
Both teams are going to get open shots, a fact that would seem to favor the better shooting team, Cal. Louisville has to compensate for this by getting cheap points either out of its press or on the offensive glass.
This game appears to be as much of a toss-up as any in the tournament, and given the unpredictability of U of L's season, I would not recommend wagering anything significant on any aspect of the contest.