The Washington State Cougars will take on the red hot California Golden Bears today at 1 p.m. PT in a Pac-12 contest that will be televised and streamed live by Pac-12 Networks. You can also listen to the game via TuneIn internet radio.
This is a tale of two teams going in opposite directions. The Cougars are now 1-4 in Pac-12 play after getting blown out by Stanford at Maples Pavilion on Wednesday; the Golden Bears, meanwhile, are 4-0 and one win behind Arizona for first place in the Pac-12. Cal started the conference schedule with impressive road wins over Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State, then came home on Wednesday to destroy Washington.
Mike Montgomery has turned his best recruiting class at Cal -- rated 13th overall by Rivals thanks in large part to landing consensus top 20 recruit Jabari Bird -- into perhaps his best team in his six seasons in Berkeley. This is no small accomplishment when the departure of all-everything guard Allen Crabbe to the NBA.
Is Que the next Klay?
The comparisons between the freshman and one of the all-time greats at WSU were a little too convenient at first, but now it appears they just might be apt.
Unsurprisingly, Ken Pomeroy's laptop says the Cougs stand little chance in this one, estimating they'd win only eight of 100 times. Let's see why.
When the Cougars have the ball
Cal's offense likely will get all the attention from the broadcasters, but it's the defense that has set this squad apart from previous Montgomery squads at Cal. This, of course, is problematic for a WSU offense that has been the worst in the conference since the start of Pac-12 play on a per possession basis.
Cal's interior defense, led by forwards Richard Solomon and David Kravish, is one of the best in the country: The Golden Bears allow just 43 percent on twos, terrible news for a Cougar team that struggles mightily to score on the inside (just 36 percent on twos in conference play). Those fans frustrated by the Cougars' lack of an interior presence are likely to feel much the same way today.
Solomon and Kravish also are a big reason why WSU shouldn't count on a lot of second chance opportunities.
One thing Cal does is induce you into some quick shots as they try and turn up the tempo a bit; WSU's best offensive strategy probably is to run clock and shoot threes, praying that enough go down to keep the game close.
When the Golden Bears have the ball
Cal features weapons galore, led by senior point guard Justin Cobbs. For a guy who was a transfer, it sure feels like he's been at Cal forever.
In his final year, he's developed into the premier point guard in the conference, leading the team in possessions used while ranking seventh in the conference in efficiency among players who use at least 24 percent of their team's possessions. He's the trigger man, posting one of the top assist rates in the country while turning the ball over a surprisingly low amount for a guard. He's adept at getting into the lane and either finishing, getting fouled, or finding an open man.
About the only thing he doesn't do well is shoot the three, so I fully expect the Cougs to come out in a zone in order to contain his penetration. Only one problem: There are other credible threats on the floor. Bird, who has had his injury problems but is now back, shoots 39 percent from beyond the arc. Sophomore Tyrone Wallace shoots 35 percent. Freshman Jordan Matthews has taken plenty of threes but hit only 30 percent. And while these season numbers don't look super impressive, consider that Cal has shot 48 percent on threes in its four conference games.
While we all have gotten tired of watching WSU get lit up from deep, the reality is that Cougars' best strategy might be to pack it in and try to force three-point shots from some of the less skilled shooters on the floor ... and pray for misses.
What do you hope to see today? Discuss now and as the game unfolds.