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NCAA Basketball: Oregon Ducks at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

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What to Watch For: Scouting WSU vs Cal

The Cougs are starting off the Pac-12 tournament against the 10-seeded Cal Golden Bears.

The Washington State Cougars are looking to start their postseason off right tonight with a win against the Cal Golden Bears in the Pac-12 tournament. After a successful last week of the season beating the Oregon schools, it feels like WSU is in a great place heading into the tourney. They would benefit greatly from a solid win over lower-seeded Cal to keep that momentum alive and well for the game against UCLA that would follow.

The game will tip off from Las Vegas at 6 p.m. PT. It can be watched on the Pac-12 Network or Pac12.com (with a cable subscription).

The Golden Bears had a rough end to their season against the Arizona schools, but they have had their moments throughout the year. They held Stanford to 39 points, and their brand of slow, grind-it-out basketball has even given the Cougs some trouble. They take their time, play hard on defense, and they are a respectable team despite their struggles against most conference opponents.

Cal Golden Bears

Offense:

The 10th-seededGolden Bears are not a high-powered offense. They are 215th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and they are only passable in one of the four major factors. They are a poor shooting (288th in effective field goal percentage), offensive rebounding (293rd in offensive rebound percentage), and free throw drawing team (319th in free throw rate). The one area they excel at on offense is that they don’t turn the ball over, ranking 80th nationally in turnover rate. As with many teams with low turnover rates, they also rank low in assist rate, where they are 299th nationally. They rely mostly on isolation scoring and simple one-on-one actions to score, which limits the need to pass and make plays on a given possession.

In both games against WSU, the Golden Bears played around their average efficiency. They shot more threes than they often do, likely because of WSU’s rim protection inside and small stature on the perimeter, but they did not shoot at above-average efficiency in those games. The first game the two teams played, in which WSU won by eight, was a complete slug fest where only 58 total possessions were played. The second game was a bit higher paced, but still slow by WSU’s standards. Cal shot poor from deep against WSU in both games and they shot about average for them from two-point range. Overall, WSU has proven they can handle Cal’s offense in both of the past two games.

Cal plays a lot through their guards, especially without Andre Kelly, who remains out with an injury. They run plays to get their guards downhill or get them matched up with slower wings and bigs they can score on in isolation. This is a pistol look into a bit of a horns stagger that gets the guard downhill.

WSU switched most screens against Cal and their lack of passing became apparent when they tried to exploit these switches. This is an advantaged post matchup, but the Golden Bears cannot make an entry pass, and nothing is gained from the look.

Cal also likes to run a lot of chin sets. They have had to do this with different personnel since Kelly’s injury, but this is a foundation of their offense. They do some away screen actions and then turn the chin into a DHO. The ball swings and they get a good look in the post. This play also shows their patience, as they are willing to let the clock run as the play develops.

Defense:

Cal is a solid defense, but they are likely a bit overrated by the metrics. They are 80th in the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, but they are 10th in the conference in defensive efficiency. Their greatest strength is that they finish possessions at a high level. In defensive rebound percentage, they rank 28th in the country and 2nd in the conference. They almost never force turnovers, more content to try and force tough shots and get the rebound. An interesting stat is they are 26th in opponent assists per field goal made, meaning they are often beat in isolation or pick-and-rolls without a pass. This is because of their scheme in pick-and-roll and their lack of aggressive help principles.

WSU has shot on both ends of the spectrum from deep against Cal, shooting 47% in the second, closer game and 27% in the first game. This is somewhat encouraging for WSU as they have proven that they can beat this team whether they fall on either side of the shot-making spectrum. The overall offensive efficiency in both Cal games was towards the bottoms of WSU’s wins for this season, so if they keep up the energy and shot making from the Oregon game, this could be a big win for the Cougs.

Cal likes to hard hedge their ball screens and get the ball out of the point guards’ hands. The Cougs countered this with these north screen looks. WSU trusts Michael Flowers to handle these hedges and make good decisions with the ball.

Here, the hard hedge is beat by a quick screen rejection. This is a common play against the hard hedge and Cal lacks the backside rim protectors to help when the hedge is beat.

Cal is patient when trying to hedge because they understand how easily it could be beat with a rejection. Here, Kelly is catching, and he would hedge if Flowers used the screen, but he stays in catch position as Flowers rejects.

Players to Watch:

Jordan Shepherd is Cal’s best player with Kelly out and he had a big game against WSU earlier this season. He is a legit shot-maker who can cook from deep and in the mid-range. He also has the ability to get to the rim occasionally and his ability to score from all over the court is deadly. His size makes him tough for the Cougs to matchup with and he could be in for a big game.

Grant Anticevich has had an up and down season for the Golden Bears, but when he is cooking, he is still one of the best players in the whole conference. The 6’8 forward is a versatile offensive player, able to stretch it out and hit shots from deep, get to work in the post, and even create some shots for himself from the perimeter. His scoring package is solid for his size, and he will likely find himself playing professionally when he leaves Cal.

Jalen Celestine is an interesting player who has high-level flashes. The 6’6 wing can hit shots from deep with regularity, but his slashing is a bit below expectations. He is a good athlete, but the finishing lags behind his jumper. Still, he has had some big games against WSU so far this season and he will punish teams for leaving him open.

Sam Alajiki continues to intrigue me despite his limited playing time. He is a great athlete at 6’7 that loves to crash the glass and defend. His flashes of rim protection and on-ball defense make him a potential All-Pac-12 defender down the line and his athletic finishes and occasional three pointers make him a potentially NBA-caliber two-way player. He has a long way to go to reach that ceiling, but the ceiling is definitely there with Alajiki.

Washington State Cougars

Players to Watch:

Michael Flowers officially did it. He is the first point guard to lead WSU to an over .500 conference record since Derrick Low and he’ll have the challenge of leading WSU into the conference tournament. Winning this first game would be a huge accomplishment and Flowers will have to be a big contributor to it. Cal slows the game way down and that is going to force WSU to rely a lot on pick-and-roll and self-created jumpers. Flowers is the go-to guy, and he will need to have an efficient offensive game.

Noah Williams is a momentum player, and it feels like he could finally be gaining the momentum we have all been waiting for in the Oregon game. He had an efficient 19 points and, perhaps more importantly, he went 3-5 from deep. The deep ball eluded Williams most of the year, but WSU would greatly benefit from him knocking down those shots more consistently. It will be even more important if the Cougs want to get some upsets in later rounds but continuing that momentum through the Cal game could be huge for Williams and the Cougs.

Efe Abogidi was absolutely snubbed from a true Pac-12 All-Defense selection, and he could come out with a vengeance to prove his spot amongst the best defenders in the Pac-12. In the last two games against Cal, Abogidi had four total blocks and five total steals, and he should continue that level of impact in this one. The offense has also been better in recent games, scoring efficiently in most of the last five games and he has even hit some jumpers. Continuing that streak of play is huge for the Coug sophomore and he could put himself back on the NBA draft radar with a good Pac-12 tournament.

What to Watch For:

Hitting shots has been a key this year more times than I can count, and it will be no different against Cal. It is undeniable how much better the WSU offense has looked in the past couple weeks simply because they have hit the open shots that they so often miss. Continuing to shoot well on the open shots that the offense generates is huge for WSU and it should be enough to push them over this mediocre Cal team.

Taking advantage in the middle is another key for WSU. Cal will still be without Kelly in this one and WSU will have Dishon Jackson for the first time in any of their games against Cal. The other bigs on the roster should excel on the roll with Cal’s lack of rim protection and Jackson should dominate the opposing bigs in the post. Taking advantage of Cal’s lack of size and skill in the middle will make offense overall easier for the Cougs and it should be a huge boost for WSU’s offense.

Locking Cal down is the biggest key for this game in particular. Cal is a bad offense and their weaknesses have been even more apparent since Kelly went down with injury. Cal only has a couple sources of offense and WSU has the defenders to throw at those guys to make their lives difficult. The rim protection should be on point and forcing Cal to beat them by driving is an easy path to success for the Cougs.

Question of the Game:

Will the Cougs keep Cal below 60 points?

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