PREDICTION - OREGON AT CALIFORNIATonight the Bears return to action at Haas (no TV!) to take on the suddenly-struggling Oregon Ducks, losers of four of their last six games. Those two wins - in Pullman and at home v ASU - have come by a total of seven points.
What's happened? Some cynics believe that nothing's happened - that the Ducks' decline is tied to a much tougher second half schedule. There's some truth to that. Oregon has had to travel to the Washington and the LA schools as part of that six-game stretch. But the tougher schedule doesn't explain why they nearly got swept at home by the Arizona schools.
Simply put, the Oregon team that tore up opposing defenses through mid-January now can't find the basket. Oregon's shooting percentage has fallen through the floor - they're averaging less than 40% over the last four games. Their defensive intensity has appeared to lag. Against Arizona, Oregon built comfortable leads and saw them whittled down as Budinger et al took the game over. Maybe this is due to a lack of depth. Oregon's not the deepest team once you get past Chamberlain Oguchi and maybe Adam Zahn, and perhaps they're feeling the effects of a long schedule.
On the other hand, maybe this is just where Oregon should be this year. In addition to the relatively soft first half, Oregon benefited from one of the better half-seasons a player has had in recent memory from Aaron Brooks. Even during their run to the #7 ranking in the nation, Oregon wasn't blowing people out. They beat Arizona by a deuce, ASU by five, UCLA by 2, and OSU by only three. And of course we remember that Cal had the Ducks on the ropes in Eugene before Brooks happened in the second half.
Dave at ATQ thinks that it's partly a matter of Brooks not saving the Ducks in these close situations. Sounds as reasonable as any explanation. Also, Oregon is a good jump-shooting team, but they need the threat of Brooks and Hairston breaking down opposing guards to make the perimeter game work. From what I've seen, there's been less of that in the last couple of weeks. If they just throw up threes on the break, and their big guns have off nights, then just about anyone in the conference can beat them. Outside of Leunen, Oregon has no equalizers inside who can create second-chance points and consistently get to the line.
Does this mean that Cal can pull the upset tonight? Yeah, it does, but a few things have to break right for the Golden Bears:
* Cal's backcourt of Ubaka and Wilkes has to bring it on defense and shut down dribble penetration. I worry a lot about what will happen when Randle is in the game.
* Ryan Anderson has to shake out of the funk that's plagued him for the last few games and recapture his stroke from three.
* Theo has to be a scorer and press the issue on offense, hopefully luring Taylor and/or Leunen into foul trouble.
* And, as always, Cal must stay out of foul trouble. A home game should help in this last respect.
I'm saying they come up a hair short, but give the Ducks another reason to be concerned about the state of their team heading into March.