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A KenPom Preview: California Golden Bears

The Background

Don't let the 6-3 record fool you.

Sure, it doesn't look like your typical record of a preseason Top 10 team, at least one that hasn't completely choked on its high ranking. But the three teams its fallen short against (Syracuse and Ohio State in New York, @ New Mexico) have a combined 2 losses. Both of those belong to the Buckeyes; one against the defending National Champions and the other sans Evan Turner, the best player in the entire Big 10/11. 

This is still the same Cal team it was expected to be entering the season, and they are playing like a Top 10 team. At least according to KenPom. They have played like the 10th best team in the country so far, according to good ol' KP, highlighted by their stellar, 4th rated offense. The defense is still formidable, too, posting a 38th ranking.

They are good. They have good players. They might be the Pac 10's best team, although that has as much to do with nearly all 10 schools having a simultaneous down year as it does with Cal actually being a dominant team. But they have the tools in place to be one. 

They have a coach, Mike Montgomery, who has led #1-ranked teams before. They have a point guard, Jerome Randle, who is among the best in the country. They have the offensive stalwart on the wing, with two first names no less, in Patrick Christopher. And perhaps most importantly of all, they have size, size and more size down low, headlined by one of the best rebounders in the country (seriously), Omondi Amoke (no, not Amobi Okoye). 

Preseason, this game kinda freaked me out. Especially considering it comes just three days prior to Christmas. But the past couple of weeks, I haven't really been that concerned. For whatever reason, I don't know. After taking just a look-see at their KP page, though, oh my word. I'm like freaked out now. Of course, even given their high standing in KP's eyes, the only numbers only give them an 18% shot at losing. But really, that's pretty sizable. 1/5 isn't that big of an upset.

Anyone else concerned yet?

The Offense

Like I said, they're an offensive team. 4th in the country usually means you're better at scoring than preventing it. However, they aren't particularly awesome at any one aspect. 

  • eFG% (84th) -- Good, not great. Relatively, they're better at threes than twos, which jives with what common knowledge tells you about the Bears. They are also a very good free throw shooting team, shooting over 75% as a team. Also interestingly: they are shooting exactly 50% from inside the arc. So, basically, Cal's two-point attempts are just like flipping a coin. 
  • Turnover% (36th) -- This would be their primary strength on offense, particularly not getting it stolen away (where they rank 14th). This goes back to great point guard play, which makes sense given Jerome Randle. However, it isn't just Jerome that takes care of the rock -- the entire team's TORate is pretty low, including nationally ranked TORates for Patrick Christopher and Omondi Amoke. Last year, our bugaboo was the turnover battle. It may end up being the same thing this year (check out Warden's FanPost on the topic), so this will be interesting to watch.
  • Off. Reb. % (83rd) -- This is almost entirely due to one man. Amobi Okoye. Wait, I mean Omondi Amoke. When he's in the game, 18.3% of his team's misses end up in his grasp, an absurdly high percentage that ranks him 8th in the country. He can rebound opponent's misfires as well, but specializes in his own team's misses. Fellow starting forward, Jamal Boykin, and reserve 7'3" Chinaman Max Zhang also contribute on the offensive glass, combining to make it a formidable offensive weapon.
  • FTA/FGA (303rd) -- Not a big free throw shooting team, which makes their impressive percentage from the line less worrisome. This, again, makes sense. They like shooting threes more, and you don't get fouled nearly as often outside the arc as inside it. Omondi Amoke has a decent FD/40 (Fouls Drawn/40 minutes), but nothing remarkable.

The Defense

It isn't a bad defense, for certain. Looking at the four factors, two of them are averagely done, one of them stellarly and one of them not-so-much. That's about what you would expect from a good defense, which is what I would classify #38 in the country.

  • eFG% (119th) -- They're better against the three, worse against the two. As good as Omondi is, he is only 6'7", and fellow frontcourt mate Boykin is only 6'8". Cole should have a height advantage all night, except when 7'3" Zhang is in, so we'll see how that goes. 
  • Turnover % (291st) -- Yuck. They don't force a whole bunch of turnovers, instead electing to just play solid defense for long periods of time. They don't go for steals much at all, or at least don't succeed very often. Again, I'm fascinated with all turnover-related things and this team, so we'll see if we can entirely limit turnovers against a team that doesn't force any.
  • Off. Reb. % (13th) -- We're ranked 15th in the country in offensive rebounding. They're 13th in defensive rebounding. Should be a clash of titans. Cole and Emondi are the headliners of the story, based off of numbers and reputation and all of that. And for good reason. But I think the battle will be determined by how all of the extra players around them act. Most notably, the Morris twins for Kansas and Boykin, Zhang and Christopher for Cal. The Morris twins have both had some excellent games recently (Markieff in Los Angeles and Kansas City, Marcus in eco-friendly home games), so let's see if they can both have one at the same time. Or, at least, one of them dominates for the fourth straight game.
  • FTA/FGA (178th) -- Let's do some quick math. 178*2 is 356. There are 347 teams in Division 1 college basketball. So, yeah, they are average at sending you to the free throw line. Making this entirely irrelevant. 

The Players

  • G Jerome Randle -- Point guard who doesn't really turn it over, who can shoot the three (last year he shot 46%, this year only 39%), doesn't foul and will get to the free throw line at a decent rate. A really good player, all around, and a defensive challenge for Sherron or Tyshawn or whoever.
  • G Jorge Gutierrez -- The glue guy for the Golden Bears, doing all of the little things that coaches seem to love. High assist rate, low turnover rate, decent defensive rebounder, solid defender. He can also shoot the rock from distance, if not from the charity stripe (50% from the free throw line, 59% from three in 17 attempts).
  • G/F Patrick Christopher -- Kinda the offensive star, I guess. Can shoot the three (35%), can drive, has a nice pullup jumper IIRC from last season. We'll see how we're using Brady Morningstar, because last year this is for sure the guy he would have been tasked to guard. Despite Christopher's biceps being as large as his thighs. Now, I don't know. Xavier matches up with him size-wise, so maybe that's the direction Bill will go in.
  • F Jamal Boykin -- Highly, highly effective shooter. Stays inside, knows his range of 15 feet, and consistently hits shots. Rarely gets to the line. Really solid rebounder, especially on defense.
  • F Omondi Amoke -- Absolutely fantastic rebounder, as mentioned before. Not much of an offensive threat, with most of his production coming off of putbacks and such.

The Verdict

So, yeah, the Golden Bears are a really good team. I promise. It won't be a cakewalk. However, we should still win. They are pretty deep, and they have talent. They are a good team. But we are deeper, and we have more talent. And we're at home. We don't often lose in Allen Field House. What's the streak at now? 47? Yeah, that's a sizable amount.

As long as we limit stupid turnovers, don't give up a bounty of offensive rebounds and get some solid production, we'll win.

Kansas 84 Cal 77