Monday, February 12, 2007

ON THE BRINK

To clarify, it's not really a season on the brink, since most of us have resigned ourselves to a sub-.500 regular season. 2007 has played out according to our worst fears - the Bears have run out of gas in the second half of the season, just as they've tired in the second half of games all season long.

I'm referring more to the collective psyche of our basketball program. After Saturday's loss to Wazzu, in which the Bears took the air out of the basketball and scored a grand total of 46 points, Ayinde Ubaka went public with frustration over the game plan. That led to a dressing-down by Braun outside the locker room.

Was Ayinde right? Rusty Simmons apparently thought so, and went out of his way to stress the fact that Cal's few successful possessions came in the transition game. As for us - well, we were surprised by Ben's game plan. The Cougars' twin liabilities are a relative lack of athleticism and a definite lack of quality depth. Their strengths are half-court offense and suffocating defense. Cal has become an ordinary defensive squad that is small but pretty athletic. Why Braun would think that Cal could out-execute WSU in the half court is beyond me.

But regardless of what we or you might think of the game plan, it's clear that the players (and probably Ben himself) are frustrated by what's gone on over the past two-plus weeks. Ubaka is watching his last chance at post-season play evaporate before his eyes. Omar Wilkes can't get a consistent flow going on offense. The freshmen are, by this time, worn out. When Hardin went down, we wrote that we would judge this team primarily by how hard it plays through the end of the season. By that measure, they deserve a solid B for the season. What is disconcerting about the WSU game is that it showed the first cracks to Cal's mental toughness - not on the court, where Cal battled until the end, but off the court for the benefit of the local media.

Regardless of the odds, the Bears have got to keep it together and exit the 2007 season on their own feet. If they need extra motivation, they should consider the rather precarious position of their head coach. As long as the team puts out and stays competitive, everyone agrees that this year is a mulligan for Braun, and that 2008 will be the real test. But if the team shows further signs of internal unrest, or the efforts flags in a noticeable way, I think all bets are off.

Sandy Barbour wants a Top-10 basketball program, period. She expects California to contend for and win conference championships; to make the Sweet 16 more than once a decade; to make a Final Four. So do most of us, and many Cal fans doubt that Ben Braun is capable of these sorts of results. I'm not saying that Sandy is looking for an excuse to make a change this off-season. I'm also not saying that Ben should give her one.

6 Comments:

At 5:03 PM, Blogger Seth said...

Spread this blessed news...

http://california.scout.com/2/617898.html

 
At 7:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our offense has been sub par for many years now. In the 2002, I believe, our offensive assistant left for Fresno State. Since then it's been downhill for the offense. Braun must go.

 
At 9:11 PM, Blogger Tightwad said...

Seth, I saw that as well. A positive development, but was her ruling unexpected? It seems like the plaintiffs were asking for a bit much, there - but I'm not a lawyer and don't appreciate the context.

As for the hoops offense, anon, it's actually been about as efficient as last year's team (and much better than the two previous years, which isn't a surprise). The problem this year is that Cal's defensive efficiency is terrible. And if a Ben Braun team doesn't play good defense (for whatever reason) it will not finish with a winning record.

 
At 10:33 PM, Blogger Seth said...

I don't know, with the wacky things Courts do these days I think we should be very thankful. Though, in this case we clearly had the CA Constitution on our side. Who knows though, I am sure the hippies are formulating some misadventure of a response as we speak.

 
At 11:48 AM, Blogger Eli said...

I am still trying to figure out if this season actually constitutes a mulligan. Hardin's injury was a key blow, but then again heading into this year the coaching staff probably had no idea how much of an impact Ryan Anderson would have in the post. Not to say his play has negated Hardin's absence, although when you look at the rest of the rotation right now there are only two other newcomers (Randle and Christopher) who have been earning significant time. Everyone else is at least a sophomore. They were in the NCAA Tournament last year. If the team is struggling this much, I think it's a reflection of the coaching and the overall level of talent, and that means recruiting.

The good news: Right now, if there were two teams they could face at home that could be springboards to some positive vibes, they would have to be the Oregon schools. Oregon State is, well, Oregon State, and Oregon could be reeling due to the unfortunate health circumstances of Ernie Kent and the fact that Aaron Brooks is not playing to the level he was earlier this year (only 10.3 ppg and 27% from the floor in his last four contests). I wish these games were on TV in San Diego, because I'd love to witness the overall morale and demeanor of the Bears during the course of a game.

 
At 12:20 PM, Anonymous SoCal Oski said...

The Original Ben Ball is one of those things whose time, I fear, may be at an end.

Let's face it, when we got Braun it was both a godsend and a minor miracle. The program had just suffered through Bozeman's dirt and Campanelli's anger, and was not the number one choice for many top-level coaches. And of the young up-and-comers out there, Ben Braun was probably the youngest and the up-and-comingest.

And he did what he needed to do: take a program on the verge of collapse and bring it cleanliness and a level of success (if not overall consistency) that it needed to establish a foundation.

The problem is, you need to build on a foundation to make it anything other than just a bunch of cement in the ground, and it's becoming pretty clear that whether out of bad luck, inability, or just bad ideas, Braun isn't the guy to build much.

I hate the idea of cutting loose a clean, honest, and really decent guy. Particularly when Cal basketball manages to be in the top half of the conference much more often than the bottom half. But there does come a point where you need to shit or get off the pot. That time may be now for Cal basketball.

Go Bears

 

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