PREDICTION - OREGON STATE AT CALIFORNIA
Look, we'll keep this simple. When Sasa Cuic
and Marcel Jones
combine for forty points, the Beavers are in any ball game. That was the case against Arizona in Corvallis, when OSU gave the Wildcats a scare before losing by six.
Against Stanford on Thursday, Cuic was 0-10 from the field and wound up playing only 17 minutes in a game that was never close. That's what Cal needs today at Haas (3 PM, FSBA and other regional stations).
OSU has the size over Cal (who doesn't?) with Kyle Jeffers
in the middle along with Cuic and Jones. Jeffers has quietly turned in a very nice year on the glass, and he can pop for 10-15 on second-chance points. OSU will struggle, however, on defense matching up with the much quicker Bears. If Mr. Anderson is indeed back, then Cuic and/or Jeffers will struggle to keep up with him from the perimeter. And who guards Theo?
OSU gave Cal quite a scare in Corvallis, but that was with Jones having one of the best games of his career. The Beavs can't expect a repeat performance today, and we figure that OSU will struggle for offense. They've scored fewer than 60 points in four of their last five games. Let's make it five of six this afternoon.
California 67 Oregon State 59
THE CAKE INCIDENT
I can't say I was there for the 5-OT game with Oregon in 1977, which we detailed earlier this week
. But I was absolutely there at Harmon to witness the most notorious game in the 126-game history of the Cal/Oregon State rivalry.
January 7, 1990. The Cake Incident.
To set the incident up, you have to appreciate that Oregon State was one of Cal's true basketball nemeses. From 1978 until tipoff that day (twelve seasons), Cal had beaten Oregon State six times. Even the dip in OSU's program following the retirement of Ralph Miller couldn't change our fortunes. Cal fans didn't hate the Beavers, but they feared and respected them as the destroyer of post-season hopes.
That all changed when Oakland's own Gary Payton chose to matriculate to Corvallis in the late 1980s.
Payton's reputation has undergone plenty of shifts over the years, but at that time he was reviled as a showboating, trash talking punk. That he barely considered Cal during his recruitment was another thorn in the sides of Bear fans. Finally, the entire Payton clan would descend annually on Harmon to cheer on the Beavers near their bench, but right in the middle of an otherwise pro-Cal crowd.
In 1990 Cal had legitimate expectations of securing its first NCAA tournament bid in thirty years. The Bears came in 9-3, with their losses coming on the road at UNLV, Purdue and Arizona, and they had just crushed Oregon 95-72 two days earlier. Oregon State was 13th ranked in the country, and this figured to be the first showdown game of the season.
And then Oski came out, wobbling a bit and shaking his fist at the Oregon State bench. I remember the first thing that popped into my head.
At halftime of a pretty close game, Oski brought out a cake - a big two-layer cake topped with elegant frosting. He brought it around the circumference of the court, and Cal students - who had no idea why Oski had a cake in the first place - roared their drunken approval.
Then he brought it to the other side of the court, where the Payton clan sat. He gestured to the Paytons, and Mama Payton took the bait. Jumping to her feet, she seemed to dare Oski to throw the cake at her. Why, I have no idea. But she did, and the small, inebriated person inside the Oski costume played along.
And then Oski threw the cake.
I have no idea who was wearing the suit that day, but whoever it was set back Oski a generation with a single toss. The cake missed Mama Payton and landed on Gary's father and his brother, a minister. All hell broke loose - the Cal section went wild. So did the Paytons. Embarrassed Cal officials offered towels, but the Paytons were having none of it. They wanted Oski's blood.
The game was an afterthought; OSU won, as expected, and Cal had no answer for Payton. Oski was suspended, and chained to a new code of conduct that forbade the use of alcohol, among other things. At his next Harmon appearance following the suspension, our favorite Bear came marching out with a halo affixed to his head, never again to be the same.
THOUGHTS ON LAST NIGHT
Our keys to victory were basically met:
* Tough defense on Oregon's guards? Check. Porter and Brooks combined for 26 points but were a combined 10-25 from the floor and 6-17 from three. Ayinde had twelve boards!
* Anderson back to form? Check - Ryan was 7-12 for 18 points, including the crucial three-point play late in the game.
* Theo forcing the issue on offense - not so much. He ended with one point, but did a pretty good job on Bryce Taylor, who finished with only eleven points.
* Stay out of foul trouble? Mission accomplished, Only Randle and Christopher picked up as many as three fouls on the night. By contrast, Leunen was in foul trouble all night (courtesy of Mr. Anderson and played only 29 minutes).
Oregon really has to worry about being one-and-done in the tournament, because they're playing like a tired team. Tired teams settle for jump shots, and 17 of Oregon's 29 first-half shots were from three. That's too many, even for a talented perimeter team.
As for the Bears, they can improve to 14-12 with a win on Saturday against the Beavers. This is a *cliche alert* must-win, since the Bears figure to struggle on the LA road trip. If Cal simply takes care of business (winning the games in which they are favored), they'll finish 15-15 and probably need a first-round win at Staples to get into the NIT.
Taking care of business won't be so easy, though. Oregon State is a classic trap game, and someone has got to guard Marcel Jones this time around. We'll have a look at the game later today, along with a fond retrospective of a memorable Cal/OSU home game.
Chris Throws Down (Associated Press/Dino Vournos)
There's your season-making upset! Patrick Christopher arrived tonight, and his 16-point performance was essentially the difference. Not to look ahead, but we can't wait to see him next year.
Cal did an amazing job at the end of both halves. A 17-0 run to close out the first? Holding the Ducks without a point for the final four and a half minutes? Pure guts from a short-handed team. This is a great win that puts the NIT back on the table.
We'll have a writeup tomorrow, along with an OSU preview. Bring on the Beavers, and let's get our first home sweep of the year. GO BEARS!!!!
PREDICTION - OREGON AT CALIFORNIA
Tonight 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.
Oregon 76 California 73
THE SELLING OF EUGENE
Oregon, Cal's opponent tonight, is in the news for something other than basketball.
In late November, the Ducks' Athletic Director Bill Moos resigned under pressure from Oregon boosters. Phil Knight, in particular, thought Moos insufficiently quiescent to the needs of his ilk. Despite a pretty impressive record of achievement over eleven years at the helm (BCS bowl, Sweet 16), Moos was shown the door after said boosters cobbled the money together to buy out his contract.
Today Oregon at long last has found Moos' replacement. It is Pat Kilkenny
. Who, you say? Why the same Pat Kilkenny who helped buy out Moos' contract in the first place.
You see, Kilkenny is one of Oregon's largest boosters.
Kilkenny has no background in sports, other than attending games, mailing checks and doing other things that boosters do (buying Playstations, lobster dinners, etc). He built his fortune in insurance, and has never held an administrative position in sport beyond perhaps coaching Little League. His surname graces the Oregon football practice fields. And, importantly, he is good pals with Papa Phil and his fellow boosters whose cash will be needed to build the replacement for ancient Mac Court.
And now he is the man who is charged with institutional oversight
of recruiting and all other aspects of the Oregon athletic program. I don't even know where to start with this. I've seen plenty of schools with a "lack of institutional control." I've never before seen one orchestrate
a lack of institutional control.
Oregon prides themselves as trend-setters. The uniforms and helmets, the ad campaigns, the over-the-top recruiting. They've now set a new trend, ceding operational control of their athletic program to the guys who write the checks. UO President Dave Frohmayer has abandoned all pretenses that a buffer exists between the Ducks on the field and the moneybags in the skyboxes.
Cal fans sometime grouse that we lack a dominant booster like Knight, who could make some of our problems (not the legal ones) go away. As this announcement suggests, we should be careful what we wish for. We should also thank our stars that the Haas family and other big boosters have been content to cut their checks, name their facilities, and let the program run itself.
Hats off to Dave at Addicted to Quack
for a frank and honest assessment of this decision. I'll quote him:
"I know college sports hasn't been 'pure' for several decades now. But for all intents and purposes, we have an owner (Knight) who controls the pursestrings of the program and is making the personnel decisions. We are basically a professional sports franchise. Not only that, but if I were the NCAA, I'd be watching Oregon like a hawk.
"Its obvious that for everything Bill Moos did for this program, he got a raw deal. But that's neither here nor there. The fact is that Oregon hired a candidate with no experience who bought the job. Its just like being a big contributor to a presidential campaign, then getting a nice job as Ambassador to Luxembourg once that candidate enters office.
"I really hope that this works out, but I could alse see this ending really badly for the Ducks. I also think that it sets a dangerous precedent.
"At the VERY least, it is very sketchy. I don't like the smell of it one bit."
If only there were a few more like him in Eugene. God willing, this latest Oregon trend will remain confined to their campus.
PAC-10 COACHING CHANGES
I can't remember an off-season with more coaching changes up and down the staffs of Pac-10 schools. Here's some of what our opponents have been up to:Arizona
Sonny Dykes, Offensive Coordinator (replacing Mike Canales/Dana Dimel)
Here comes the Air Raid - Dykes assisted Mike Leach at Texas Tech and will install an offense that still makes Cal fans cringe. The good news is that defenses have caught up to the Tech scheme - shooting through the monster splits taken by the offensive line, and bringing pressure to force bad decisions by the QB. It's not at all clear that Arizona has the personnel to run this offense, either - Willie Tuitama is a good athlete with a bad concussion problem, and the Wildcat offensive line was the worst part of their team last year. Also, Willie is most dangerous in run/pass options and isn't known for the type of surgical accuracy on short and intermediate routes demanded by the Air Raid. Still, I suppose that anything is an improvement over Mike Canales, who is now coaching the receivers at South Florida. Ouch.
Stoops has other vacancies on his staff that remain unfilled.Arizona State
Dennis Erickson, Head Coach (replacing Dirk Koetter)
Rich Olson, Offensive Coordinator (replacing Roy Wittke)
Craig Bray, Defensive Coordinator (replacing Bill Miller)
I don't think Dennis Erickson is going to punt the ball nearly as much as Dirk. For all his faults, Erickson goes for the jugular and is sure to clash more frequently with the lunatic in Tucson. We have visions of a smackdown before the opening kick of the Centennial Cup. DE has already shown that he will recruit nationally, and we're of course waiting breathlessly for ASU's first points in the annual competition for the Fullmer Cup
Olson wasn't a terribly popular OC at Miami, where fans criticized his lack of imagination and his inability to work more effectively with QB Kyle Wright. Gotta take that with a grain of salt, though, since the entire Hurricane program melted down last year. He's got a great resume filled with college and NFL experience, and he's one of Erickson's closest confidantes. Bray is another Erickson crony, having served as his DC and secondary coach at OSU before short stints as secondary coach at Colorado and, most recently, Minnesota. I don't know much about his philosophy; all I know is that those last two teams had pretty lousy secondaries. The "hire your buddies" approach can work well, but I wonder whether it's the right call for this ASU program.Oregon
Chip Kelly, Offensive Coordinator (replacing Gary Crowton)
Kelly was at New Hampshire for fourteen years, which seems like an awful long time to be at a D-1AA program. Why wasn't he snatched up before this? A very different type of hire than bringing a D-1A head coach in, as they did with Crowton. And then you think about the hire, and you read about Kelly's record and philosophy, and it begins to make some sense. Oregon looked like slaves to the shotgun spread last year, which magnified their shortcomings at the QB position. Dennis Dixon ain't Vince Young, and the Ducks should give him and Leaf less to do and occasionally put a fullback in front of Stewart. Kelly's reputation suggests that he'll stop trying to force things and get the ball into Jonathan Stewart's hands on a more regular basis. Oregon can keep their silly QB rotation, as long as Mr. Stewart gets thirty plus touches per game.Stanford
Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach (replacing Walt Harris)
David Shaw, Offensive Coordinator (replacing Walt Harris)
Scott Shafer, Defensive Coordinator (replacing AJ Christoff)
Sorry, but the burden of proof is on the twenty-nine remaining Stanford fans to explain why guys who ran a glorified high school program can step up to the Pac-10 level. Shaw may have the title OC, but at USD he was the passing game coordinator and deferred to Harbaugh on big-picture scheme issues. Some Card fans have bravely pointed to USD's success on offense, but that was due to the Toreros having Jason Johnson, an athletic freak at QB who was just too much for opposing defenses. Harbaugh brought other USD assistants with him, whom I'm too bored to mention.
On the other side of the ball, Harbaugh appears to have made a good hire in getting Scott Shafer to run the defense. As the linked article suggests, Shafer has done a good job at Western Michigan, transforming one of the nation's worst defenses into one of its best. Shafer's an upgrade from Christoff, who never got the most out of some decent defensive talent.UCLA
Jay Norvell, Offensive Coordinator (replacing Jim Svoboda)
No change of scheme here - Norvell ran the West Coast Offense under Bill Callahan at Nebraska. We don't like the WCO and we're grateful that Tedford doesn't either. It relies on precise timing and a very smart quarterback who can make accurate reads - two things in shorter supply at the college level v the pro game. Perhaps Ben Olson can do more with the scheme than his predecessors. Bruins fans should hope that Dorrell/Norvell won't be slaves to the WCO, and will allow Olson to take seven-step drops and throw the fucking ball deep. If not, they're wasting the special talent they return at QB. As for Norvell himself, Husker fans were hardly crushed to see him go. BN's already on the case
Steve Sarkisian, Offensive Coordinator (replacing Lane Kiffin)
Meet the new boss(es) - same as the old boss? Sarkisian will handle play-calling, and Carroll also brings in thirty-something John Morton from the New Orleans Saints to serve as passing game coordinator. Morton knows Sarkisian from their time together with the Raiders, so any fears about overlapping responsibilities should be mitigated by their friendship. No big change here either, other than Trojans fans will have someone new to blame when things don't go perfectly. Although Kiffin was the recruiting coordinator, he was not always the most popular coach on the Trojan staff with players. Sarkisian is well-liked, which could be important given the number of five-star egos in that locker room.
THE LONGEST NIGHT
We, like the team we love, have frankly run out of gas with respect to this basketball season. We'll have another look at the Ducks before tip-off Thursday night at Haas - their recent stretch has been abysmal, which sparks hopes of a season-making upset. But there's not that much to talk about with respect to Cal - I mean, there's no mystery as to why a shorthanded team hits the wall at halftime every night. If there's a compelling subplot we've missed let us know.
In the meantime, Oregon's visit to Berkeley gives us a chance to reminisce about the most epic battle in the long rivalry between the Bears and Ducks. No, not last year's Pac-10 tournament semifinal, which was long and mostly frustrating, despite the eventual win (worst officiated tourney game I've ever seen). No, not the Amit Tamir game in Berkeley when Cal dropped the Lukes 107-103 in double OT. I'm referring to a game that happened thirty years ago, in the middle of historic dry periods for California basketball. I'm referring the longest game in Pac-10 conference history.
On February 10, 1977 about 4000 fans settled into their seats at Harmon Gym for what figured to be an uneventful match-up between Cal and Oregon. The Bears were 6-13 overall and just 1-6 in conference; the Ducks had blown them out by 26 points in Eugene just five days earlier. Dick Edwards (left
), Cal's coach, would be gone in fourteen months - yet another in the string of complete coaching disappointments since the surprise retirement of Pete Newell in 1960.
The names on Cal's roster will not be featured in our Sweet Sixteen countdown, though point guard Gene Ransom was certainly a contender. The other Bears - senior forward Ray Murry, sophomore center Tom Schneiderjohn and sophomore off-guard John Caselli, were largely journeymen, though Murry did explode in the season's last game for 41 points in a win over Stanford. Freshman forward Doug True would evolve into one of Cal's all-time leading scorers, but in his first varsity year he mostly supplied rebounding support.
Oregon, on the other hand, had a pretty good team. The Ducks were led by their best player in years in senior forward Greg Ballard. Ballard (right
) would go on to be drafted #4 overall in that summer's NBA draft by the Washington Bullets, and was a key reserve as a rookie on the Bullets' NBA championship team. He was a bit of a one-man show - other Duck starters included the inaptly named shot-blocking center Kelvin Small and a guy named Ernie Kent. The Ducks were led by fiery Dick Harter, who would win Pac-8 Coach of the Year at the end of the year for leading the Ducks to a 19-10 record despite the graduation of All-America guard Ron Lee.
Cal might have been 1-6, but the Ducks limped into Berkeley having lost four of their last six, including an inexplicable home loss to WSU and a sweep at the hands of the hated Beavers. So Bear fans could be excused for expecting an upset. It's certain that none of them expected a five
game that lasted three hours and 15 minutes (without the benefit of TV timeouts).
The numbers from that night are amazing: Ransom played the entire game until he fouled out with 1:30 left in the final overtime, and scored 36 points in his 63.5 minutes. He shot 19 free throws, and the Bears as a team shot 50 over the course of the evening. For his part, Ballard led all scorers with 41 points in 63 minutes of play. Ten players - five from each side - fouled out before the final buzzer sounded. There were many occasions where the game could have ended, but fate conspired to extend play to yet another extra period. At the end of the third OT, Cal held a four-point lead with twenty seconds to play. Two quick Duck baskets, sandwiched around missed free throws, kept the proceedings going. In the next period, Ransom hit two free throws to tie the score with about ten seconds to play.
As the teams played on, points were hard to come by. The teams scored six points apiece in the 3rd overtime, and then struggled for four a side in the 4th. Suddenly Cal caught fire in the 5th OT, behind scoring from Caselli and reserve Jim Griffith, while the Ducks' legs betrayed them. The final was 107-102, and Cal had scored a most memorable upset.
After the game, Ransom was asked how it felt to win such an amazing contest. Speaking for all involved, Cal's point guard stated that he just wanted to go home and jump in bed. The game is the longest in California history (its closest competition is a four-overtime game with Iowa during the Newell era), and the longest in the history of the Pac-10. Given Cal's injury situation, let's pray that we avoid a repeat on Thursday night.
THE SWEET SIXTEEN - #9 - RUSS CRITCHFIELD
#9 - RUSS CRITCHFIELD, GUARD (1966-1968)
Those of you who have tuned in to FSN's coverage of Cal basketball this year have heard the name Russ Critchfield, for he is Cal's nominee for induction in the Pac-10's Hall of Fame for 2007. He's also #9 on our countdown of Cal's greatest basketball players. Generously listed at 5'10", Critchfield was not a basketball prototype in any era. He was, however, a shooter - one of the two greatest (along with Joe Shipp) in California history.
The Salinas-born Critchfield broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore, playing for a team that would go 9-16 under the perennially disappointing Rene Herrerias. He announced his presence in the first round of the American Legion Tournament in Seattle, which was held right before New Year's 1966. Cal drew Texas and the Bears, 3-5 to that point on the season, figured to struggle. Critchfield, however, shocked the Longhorns and the assembled media by hitting for 36 points and leading Cal to a 82-77 win. He finished that year with 15.5 ppg, and became locally famous for the incredible range on his jump shot.
As a junior Critchfield blossomed into one of the most dangerous guards in the country, averaging 21.0 ppg and leading the Bears to a 15-10 overall record. He was named an honorable mention All-America by both the Associated Press and UPI, a 2nd team AA by Converse (which picked teams in those days) and a 1st team AAWU selection. He was also selected to represent his country at the World University Games in Tokyo - on a squad that included Butch Beard and Wes Unseld, Critchfield averaged 11.3 ppg in seven contests and helped Team USA bring home a gold medal.
There was more of the same his senior year (22.0 ppg), and a first-team All-America selection by the Helms Foundation, but the Bears could do not better than 15-9 and 4th in the AAWU. Critchfield capped his college career by hitting for 36 points in a home defeat of Oregon that left Harmon fans wishing for an extra year of eligibility (particularly true given the talent on Cal's freshman team that year, including Jackie Ridgle and Charlie Johnson).
Critchfield had bad timing at Cal - in his sophomore and junior seasons he played alongside talented Charlie Perkins in the back court, but the Bears were thin up front. In 1967-68, Perkins was replaced by sophomore Trent Gaines, and Bob Presley blossomed into a very nice center. Never during Critchfield's career did Herrerias put all the pieces in place to make a run at UCLA (or at least finish second in the conference).
After college Russ played for one year for the Oakland Oaks of the ABA, averaging about four points per game in a reserve role. That team won the ABA championship and featured an amazing assortment of talent - Rick Barry, Doug Moe, Gary Bradds and Larry Brown, among others. Critchfield got his masters (St. Mary's) and became a coach, assisting Dick Kuchen at Cal and Lynn Nance at Washington. When Kuchen was fired he was thought to be a candidate for the head job in Berkeley, but Dave Maggard recruited Lou Campanelli from James Madison. Today he is the head basketball coach at one of Cal's favorite football recruiting mills - Butte JC in Oroville.
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.
A MAP OF RECRUITING (PART 2)
SoCal Oski made a point on one of the comment boards
that got me thinking about where Cal sits among the "traditional powers" of college football recruiting.
Cal has consciously focused its recruiting on two main areas: Greater Los Angeles, and the Bay Area. This year's class is heavily weighted toward Los Angeles, but the Bears also picked up nine out-of-state commitments (10 if you include New York-born Nyan Boateng). Does this indicate a shift in Cal's recruiting philosophy? If so, is this a good idea? Will the Bears increasingly lock horns with Big 12 and SEC schools for talent?
The shift, if you can call it that, occurred in 2005, when Cal became more aggressive in recruiting outside California. That year the Bears recruited 14 such players, up from 1 in 2003 and 6 in 2004. ('Recruited' is defined as pursuing a player enough to have a listed scholarship offer - even if some of those reported offers were ultimately rescinded). Unsurprisingly, 2005 was the year after Cal's breakout 10-2 season that saw them in the Top 10 for most of the season; recruits who received letters and phone calls from Cal coaches presumably were more responsive after seeing the Bears on TV and reading the glowing press about Tedford.
In 2006 Cal recruited 16 guys outside of California, and this year the number hit 29. Time will tell, but I don't believe he jump in 2007 is due to any further change in philosophy. If anything, it's the byproduct of a relatively poor year for in-state talent, and Cal's need to recruit a relatively large class.
These out-of-state numbers include kids from traditional Pac-10 recruiting markets (which we'll define as Colorado and everything west of there). After years of being an afterthought in these states, Cal is now usually a player with top-rated recruits from these markets, and we land our fair share (Guarnero, Riley, Felder, Jones, Pimentel, Jordan, several Hawaiians). It has helped that a number of the local programs have been in some disarray (UW, Colorado) during this time.
Another change is that Cal is now pursuing more kids outside the Pac-10's 'home turf.' This year Cal recruited 13 kids from east of the Rockies, more than the total number of such players Tedford had recruited in his previous five seasons. JT lobbed offers to kids in Missouri, Georgia, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, Arkansas and Virginia; and Tedford has already offered receiver Devier Posey (LaSalle HS, Cincinnati) for next year's class.
How much of this is Dunbar's influence is hard to guess. Northwestern recruits nationally - sort of like Stanford on a smaller scale - so perhaps his departure will bring the numbers back down. I don't think so, however. Tedford has built a program that is nationally recognized for offensive production, and I suspect that fact gets him in the door with lots of kids.
So the question remains - if a shift has indeed happened, is it a good thing? The cautionary tale with respect to national recruiting is our old friend Bruce Snyder. After the Sun Devils came within a whisker of the MNC in 1996, Snyder decided that ASU was a national program and shifted his recruiting focus to Texas, the Midwest, the Deep South - basically everywhere but Arizona. You saw the results, and ASU football has never been the same since.
JT won't do that. From the start, he has dedicated himself to repairing relationships with Bay Area programs that had frayed under previous leadership. He has also established Cal in Los Angeles and Long Beach by bringing in decorated recruits like DeSean, Mebane, Hagan and others. So I think the national recruiting that Cal does, limited as it is, will be a net positive for the program.
So which states outside the Pac-10 (CA, WA, OR, AZ) look to be important in the Class of 2008?Hawai'i
. Ken Delgado has now recruited five players (not including UH transfer Ma'afala) from the Aloha State to Berkeley in the past three years (he recruited Eselu, although he's a tight end). This is, on the whole, a very worthwhile investment of the program's dollars. Hawai'i produces more D-1A prospects per capita than most states, particularly along the offensive and defensive line. On the downside, you sometimes have to deal with severe bouts of homesickness - Berkeley ain't Oahu - but having a base of islander players can mitigate that somewhat.Texas
. New LB coach Kenwick Thompson was instrumental in convincing Alex Cook to turn down Arkansas and come to Cal. Thompson is a native of Houston and coached for years at Texas Southern. That's not exactly UT or A&M, but it does mean he brings new relationships with Texas HS coaches to the Cal program.Utah
. A pretty good football state, but Cal hasn't had much success here. Nu'u Tafisi grew up in SLC, but Cal recruited him out of Mt. San Antonio JC. In 2005 Cal missed on OT Matt Reynolds (BYU); in 2006 RB Stanley Havili went to USC. The reason I list Utah is that Cal could be in the mix for at least two kids from the Beehive State in 2008. RB Sausan Shakerin lists the Bears with BYU, Colorado, Florida, Oregon and Utah - he's a big (6'3") back who has said he wants to go out of state to play CFB. CB Cameron Comer (Springville HS) has already visited Cal, which suggests the Bears are interested in his services.
But still there are bread-and-butter California programs that should continue to be important for the Golden Bears in years to come. Here's a list of ten such programs:Dorsey (Los Angeles)
- A traditionally strong program, the Bears will have two Dorsey alums on next year's roster (Robert Mullins and Keith Browner). Long Beach Poly
- Duh. The Jackrabbits send loads of kids to D-1A programs; this year Cal went 0-2 on LBP players (Warren and Rowe) but it's clear that JT has reasonably good links there.Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks)
- The alma mater of Sam DeMartinis, ND sends lots of kids to D-1A program though few have chosen Cal in recent years. Next year's class includes highly touted QB Dayne Crist and LB Anthony McDonald. Crenshaw (Compton)
- Crenshaw has become a go-to school for Cal - in addition to being Daymeion Hughes' alma mater, the Bears picked up Darian Hagan and RJ Garrett from 'Shaw in 2006. They're always loaded - next year's star is WR Kemonte Bateman, who will be recruited nationally. Edison (Fresno)
- Under DB coach JD Williams, Edison was a major pipeline for secondary talent (Amadi, Hicks, Peele). Williams is now in Seattle, but Cal needs to maintain close ties with one of the premier programs in the Central Valley.Berkeley
- The arrival of McClymonds coach and friend of the program Alonzo Carter makes Berkeley a potentially important school down the road.McClymonds (Oakland)
- Who knows what will become of the program after Carter's departure, but this has historically been the most important HS program in the Bay Area for Cal (Kyle Reed, Derrick Hill, etc).Monte Vista (Danville)
- Never hurts to be the alma mater of la famiglia
Tedford. MVHS is usually good for one or two D-1A prospects per year. Next year it's QB Drew McAllister.Grant Union (Sacramento)
- Strong program that sent Worrell Williams to Cal; next year they have RB Marselius Williams coming out.Butte JC (Oroville)
- Can't argue with a Juco that has produced Aaron Rodgers, Garrett Cross, and now Skylar Curran. All three were under-recruited, and all three were pretty quick Cal commits. FYI, Cal's first commit for 2008 should be OT Tyler Rigsbee (Pleasant Valley HS - Chico), whose father happens to be the AD at Butte.