WSU Vs. Cal: A First Look At The Golden Bears

Fresh off their best performance in conference play, Washington State hosts Cal this afternoon at 3pm. The Bears have established themselves as the top team in the league and bring a 6-1 conference record. They will provide a bigger challenge that the Cardinal did on Thursday.

With much of the snow in Pullman turning into ice, the weather will likely still play a factor in attendance. The athletic department is trying to counter that their shiny new toy, Mike Leach. He will be addressing the crowd in presumably the same fashion he did at the Cougar Hardwood Classic in KeyArena.

Brock Motum also tells us that fans can win a Ford Focus. With the way that snow has been dumping on Washington, maybe something like this would be more likely to bring out Cougar fans.

Even if fans don't show up from out of town, the students showed on Thursday they can still create a great atmosphere all on their own. There was only about 3,000 people in attendance against Stanford, but it sounded like a lot more. Hopefully they can brave the walk to Beasley again this afternoon.

Offense and Defense previews after the jump.

OFFENSE

Cal's offense is played inside the arc more than almost any team in the country. Just 23% of their field goal attempts come from three-point range, which is 10% less than an average team. Of those infrequent outside shots, Allen Crabbe has taken nearly half of them. Aside from Crabbe, the Golden Bears are looking more to get their shots in the mid-range and inside the paint.

Crabbe is such a good shooter that he can take a high volume of threes and still make a high percentage at 45%. He averages six attempts a game and expect that to be exceeded against WSU's mix of 3-2 and 2-3 zones. Don't expect him to struggle with those looks the same way Aaron Bright did on Thursday.

Jorge Gutierrez is Cal's best all-around player and one of the top in the conference. The offense will run through Gutierrez as he leads the team in possession percentage and assist percentage. Add in Justin Cobbs, who has been the most efficient player for Cal, and the Bears have a tough backcourt to guard.

On the frontline the match-up between Harper Kamp and Motum should be interesting. They are very similar players, and Kamp won't be able to overwhelm with athleticism and strength the way some other Pac-12 bigs have done.

Richard Solomon had elite rebounder statistics, but he has been ruled academically ineligible. Kamp and 6-9 freshman David Kravish are decent offensive rebounders. that is something to which the Cougs will have to give attention. Cal doesn't crash the glass like UW and is just about average in terms of offensive rebounding percentage, so WSU has a chance to build on their second-half rebounding effort against Stanford.

Mike Montgomery has a lot of talented offensive players of which defenses need to be awar. The backcourt trio is as good as it gets in the Pac-12 and even Kamp, who is statistically a role player, can score in bunches when others are struggling (as he did against Colorado). With their tendency to play inside, a zone seems like a not-terrible choice in this match-up. UW used the 2-3 on Thursday and held Cal to just 69 points on 70 possessions, or just a shade under one point per trip. That's excellent against a team that typically scores around 1.1 points a possession.

Can WSU duplicate that effort? Or will Cal's experience on Thursday give them an edge in dealing with the zone?

DEFENSE

The Golden Bears have the best defense in the conference and one of the best in the country. They are ranked 13th in adjusted defensive efficiency and has recently held Colorado and Washington well under their typical effectiveness.

Cal's strengths suggest they could do the same against WSU. WSU relies heavily on shooting well inside the arc and getting to the free throw line. Cal is ranked 24th in defensive two-point percentage and 8th in opponents free throw rate. They are stout inside. With Kravish defending the paint and Guitierrez as a lock-down defender on the perimeter, it has been difficult for offense's to get things going towards the basket. Losing Solomon is a blow to Cal's interior defense, but they still make it tough on opponents.

Defensive rebounding has been solid for the Bears and that has a lot do with their guards. Crabbe and Gutierrez have DR% that you would typically expect from an undersized four. Cal will not have guards leak out looking for a fast break opportunity, they will be crashing the glass to ensure the possession ends after a missed shot.

They will play man defense, so screens and finding mismatches off switches are important. Reggie Moore and Faisal Aden did an excellent job of exploiting bigs off switches against Stanford. Doing this to create opportunities near the basket may be the best option because without having to worry about Marcus Capers shooting jump shots, Cal can sink his man closer to the middle to make things difficult for Motum.

Kenpom.com predicts a 70-64 Cal victory with 74% confidence. This will be a tough game for WSU and one in which they will need to play above their heads to win. Many in attendance on Thursday said they saw extra effort and intensity out of the Cougs they hadn't seen all year. That is hard to quantify, but if it is true they will need to bring that again today.

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