TODDLIN' TOWNThe Golden Bears are now safely esconced in Ben Braun's hometown sans DeVon Hardin to face the least predictable team in college basketball - the DePaul Blue Demons.
DePaul, a popular Top 30 pick before the season, has been all over the map in 2006. They opened with a blowout road loss to Bradley (which doesn't look quite as bad now) and then scored 39 points in a loss to Northwestern. After splitting their next four (cupcake wins over Eastern Illinois and Chaminade, and relatively close losses to Kentucky and Purdue) they shocked the CBB world by blowing past Kansas 64-57 at home.
So they're back, right? Wrong - the next time out DePaul loses to a middling UAB squad in Birmingham. But then they bounce back to rout Wake Forest at home, building a 19-point halftime lead. So we have no idea who will show up tomorrow - probably the good Demons, since most of their troubles have occurred away from Chicago.
The biggest matchup problem for Cal is Wilson Chandler, a 6'8" PF who leads DePaul in scoring (15.4). Chandler (left) does most of his damage around the basket, though he will pop out for a handful of threes each game. A solid rebounder and shot-blocker, he had 11 in last season's 3-point win over the Bears. Anderson will draw him when the Bears are in man.
Cal figures to mix in a bit more zone without Hardin, unless Sammy Mejia makes them pay. Mejia (below), a 6'6" senior SG, is second to Chandler in scoring and leads DePaul in rebounds with 7 per game. Lorenzo Thompson is a widebody who occupies space and doesn't do much else. He's started at center and logged exactly nine minutes in each the Blue Demons' last two wins.
Karron Clarke (8.7/4.8) is a Miami (FL) transfer who starts at the 3; freshman Will Walker will likely start at the point. Walker has only five turnovers on the year and is shooting 48% from the floor. DePaul has five other players averaging double figures in minutes, led by junior SG Draelon Burns and senior forward Marcus Heard. DePaul is a deep team that will press and run and use its numbers to tire out opponents.
The Bears haven't announced their starting five, but chances are that Taylor Harrison will get the starting nod (as opposed to rolling out a small lineup with Robertson at the four). With the exception of Thompson, DePaul's bigs are active and fairly quick, which could present a problem for the freshman. We're hoping that Cal is capable of playing an active zone to keep Ryan Anderson out of foul trouble, but we've not been reassured by the efforts we've seen so far. Even with the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of DePaul, this looks like an uphill climb for the Bears. To win, they will need a big defensive effort from Harrison, and good offensive games from Ubaka, Wilkes, Robertson and Neo. They also need to stay out of foul trouble, since they'll dress only nine healthy scholarship players. As we said, an uphill climb.