Saturday, March 03, 2007


Defense and Not Much Else (AP/Ben Margot)

Not a great way to finish the year. Losing to the #9 team in the conference (ASU is better than OSU right now) at home and scoring a grand total of 16 points in the second half qualifies as a pretty pathetic sendoff for two memorable Golden Bears. The NIT is now out of reach, barring a 2nd round upset of UCLA at Staples.

Even worse, the Haas crowd was again moribund - on a day when they at least should have shown up to enthusiastically bid adieu to two Golden Bear seniors. The listed attendance was 7900 - I think that's more than a bit of a reach.

Ayinde Ubaka played his last game in Berkeley today. He came to Cal as part of the heralded 2003 recruiting class that was headlined by Leon Powe. Ayinde's the last to go, and he leaves without the conference championship that many anticipated back on signing day.

Like a lot of guards, Ubaka's career was split in two halves. Always fairly steady with the ball, AU became a scorer as a junior last year, and took over several games down the stretch in Cal's run to the Tournament. Some might look at this career and term it a mild disappointment, given that he was a Parade All-American and there was so much optimism about his class. That's a mistake, I think. The good things Cal has done over the past couple of years have been due, in large part, to Ubaka's talents and leadership. That he and his mates didn't win a conference championship is disappointing; but we can point to other problems than the performance of #1. He's been a great Golden Bear, and I wish him well. A shame that he finishes with a 1-8 shooting performance and 3 total points.

Former walk-on Alex Pribble was also honored today. Pribble has been an inspiration to his teammates; for all his limitations, he showed how hard work can transcend potential and earn a handful of Pac-10 starts.

We'll have something up after the season on Coach Braun's future in Berkeley. As most readers know, we're somewhere in the middle of the Great Debate, but finishing the season by shooting 32% against ASU at home doesn't fill us with lots of hope for the future, injuries or no.

Only nine days to spring football practice.

Friday, March 02, 2007


Last night's five-point loss was expected; how the Bears lost was as unexpected as the earthquake that shook the East Bay early in the second half.

The foul disparity between the two teams didn't improve as the setting shifted from Tucson to Berkeley. The Wildcats went 20-26 from the line, and Cal was 7 of 8. Eight free throws at home is a ridiculous number - so ridiculous that Ben Braun picked up the first home technical of his coaching career at Cal.

The Bears played pretty good defense, holding the normally explosive Wildcats to 42.6% from the floor; Arizona also turned it over 16 times. But as Alex Pribble giveth, he also taketh away. In his fifteen minutes of floor time, Pribble played tough D but shot only twice (missing both). As a team, Cal struggled at 41.9% from the floor and 28% from three. Ryan Anderson struggled all night, and the Bears were once again clobbered on the boards.

We'll have a look at ASU tonight or tomorrow; the Bears need the win to have any hopes of finishing above .500 and making any sort of case to the NIT selection committee.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


The WorldWide Leader has this article on its CBB splash page, suggesting that UCLA is "all but set" as the Tournament's #1 overall seed. How anyone can write that before the Bruins complete the very difficult Washington road trip and navigate the Pac-10 tournament is hard to understand. In any event, it feels like bad karma for tonight's game on the Palouse.

The other important game on the Pac-10 docket is, believe it or not, ASU at Stanford. Bear with me, here - Stanford has been in a bit of a spin and needs this win and some momentum going into Saturday's matchup with the Wildcats. ASU is suddenly playing pretty well, having beaten USC and nearly beaten Arizona in the past two weeks. I'm not thinking upset here, but Stanford shouldn't expect a pushover, either. If Stanford loses tonight and to Arizona on Saturday, they'll need to make a little run at Staples to get a bid, in my opinion.

All of this pales, of course, compared to the cosmic significance of tonight's game at Haas. Arizona needs this win - even with the strong RPI they're a 10 seed in Lunardi's latest edition of Bracketology. I have no idea whether Cal needs this win to get an NIT bid, since there is no such thing as an official NIT bubble, but it wouldn't hurt. Those of you with cable/satellite hookups can tune into Fox Sports Arizona to see what transpires. GO BEARS!


Jay Heater, the only MSM writer worth reading on Cal football, has begun to update his excellent blog, which you can find here. Heater is almost surely the only paid media source who could name Cal's two-deep off the top of his head, and while he's a clear admirer of JT and the program you can usually get lots of subtext between the lines of his entries. Bookmark it.

His first offering is a look at the Mike linebacker position; he'll go 'round all the position groups leading up to spring kickoff on March 12. Unlike us, Jay actually talks to coaches regularly, so expect a slightly more informed depth chart projection that the one we worked up earlier this year. Of course, the downside with Heater and other MSM sources is also that they talk to the coaches regularly, which is why blogs like this exist.

We'll be very interested to hear with Coach Thompson says about the SLB position with Alex Cook now very much in the mix. We're also eager to see where Felder fits into this crowded depth chart. Only 183 days until sweet, sweet revenge.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


First off, let me state unequivocally that Lute Olson does not have Parkinson's Disease.

Believe it or not, Lute spent the first part of his presser this week denying rumors that he's suffering from the disease. He says that his hands shake in anger and frustration because his team doesn't play defense, which sounds pretty plausible to me. It's pretty sad that these types of rumors circulate and are used by opposing programs in the recruiting wars. Here's a link to video of his remarks, courtesy of the Arizona Daily Star.

When he finally gets around to discussing Cal, he goes directly to the heart of their chance for the upset:

"They're a team that shoots a lot of threes, they create a lot of matchup problems because they have four players - perimeter guys - almost guard sized, 6'5, 6'6 and under...and Anderson, the guy that's called the post is really a perimeter does create a matchup problem similar to what we had with USC, where it was hard for us to play Jordan (Hill) at the same time as Ivan (Radenovic)....It's not a team you can zone well because they have a lot of good outside step Anderson to the outside and you've got five outside shooters."

Lute's making some important points here - the Wildcats have been rolling out a starting lineup that includes the freshman Hill alongside Radenovic, Marcus Williams, Chase Budinger and point guard Mustafa Shakur. The long Hill is much more comfortable banging down low than chasing a mobile player around the floor. So too is Radenovic.

Also, the Cats like to play a fair amount of matchup zone, and as Lute notes they may find it difficult to do so against Cal (if the shots are falling). Their defensive shortcomings are magnified in man - Marcus Williams in particular can struggle with dribble drive. When Arizona went to zone in the first matchup between the two teams, Cal got hot from outside and climbed back within shouting distance of the Cats.

Since Lute compares Cal to USC, it's worth noting that the Trojans swept Arizona this year, shooting above 50% from the floor and 40% from three in each victory. So Cal might be able to do some interesting things on offense.

Defense is quite another matter. Arizona is one of the more efficient offenses in Division 1 - 2nd in the nation in adjusted efficiency according to Pomeroy - and in the first game they torched Cal for 60.3% (72% in the first half). They also shot 28 free throws to Cal's 8; that's unlikely to be repeated tonight, although Arizona is tops in the nation in limiting free throw opportunities to opponents. (This is perhaps the greatest tribute to Lute Olson - bench jockey supreme. Seriously, I don't think there's ever been a guy who works the refs more effectively than he.)

But the questions persist - who guards the 6'7" Williams? Who stays with Budinger when Arizona does have both bigs in the game? If Cal had the first clue about how to play an effective zone, I'd recommend it here, but the memories of the USC game are still too fresh. Between them, Williams, Budinger and Radenovic went a combined 19-23 in January - and I don't think Cal has become a better defensive team since then. In fact, Cal has fallen to 131st in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, surrendering an abysmal 52.3% shooting percentage by opponents.

Given these numbers, an upset of the Wildcats is probably not in the cards. Should be a relatively tight game, though, and the Vegas line (2.5 points) reflects this. We'll probably have to wait 'till next year, and hope to send Lute off into the sunset with at least one loss at the hands of a much better Bears team.

Arizona 79 California 75


I've always considered the NFL draft to be a bit like Carousel - the creepy yet comical death ritual for thirty-year olds in Logan's Run. For those too young to get the reference, the society in Logan's Run required every citizen to commit group suicide as they approach their thirtieth birthday. It was like a party, climaxed by the willing victims floating to the ceiling of the ritual hall and being blown up by lasers, or something. Good stuff.

The Draft is like Carousel to me because I don't watch the NFL. The NFL is full of 9-7 teams who employ guys like Pacman Jones, governed by a corporate authority who seeks to trademark common adjectives and nouns. I prefer sustained, demonstrable excellence - where the program is bigger than the individual and tradition is something more than a uniform design. The only Cal guy I watch on a fairly regular basis is David Binn, since he snaps for the Bolts when he's not saving rainforests and banging movie stars.

I know I'm extreme in this view, so I thought it useful to look at where Cal guys might go in Carousel, along with a select number of other Pac-10 players.

The first Bear off the board figures to be Marshawn Lynch. Much has been made of an anonymous comment by an NFL scout suggesting that Marshawn has lots of baggage, based on the since-resolved sexual assault complaint filed by his ex, and, let's see, the fact that he has gold teeth and ghost-rode an equipment cart. No one who spends time with Marshawn - and all the interested teams have - could possibly come away with the impression that he will be a problem at the next level. That quote is either a) from a scout whose team hasn't had such an interview, or b) is purposefully designed to lower Marshawn's stock so said scout's employer has a better chance of nabbing him. More than a couple mock drafts have Marshawn going at #16 to Green Bay, which would reunite him with Aaron Rodgers. The Packers are a bit of a nightmare right now, and I'm hopeful Marshawn goes elsewhere.

Next up should be Daymeion Hughes, who didn't have a very good combine. He ran a 4.7, and some think this will push him down to the mid-2nd round. Not a big fan of the combines, but speed at corner is pretty important. Hughes will run again in individual workouts for interested teams, so he'll another bite at the apple. His cover skills received loads of praise from NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl. Lots of dissension about where he will go; the highest I've seen is Fox, who has him going to New Orleans at #27.

The third Bear off the board should be Brandon Mebane, who figures to be a 2nd-3rd round pick by a 3-4 team looking for an active nose tackle. I really hope Brandon finds himself in a good situation; he's a hard worker whom I'll always remember fondly.

Who else might get drafted? Desmond Bishop is the only other guy who has a shot of having Gene Washington call his name on Day 2. The rap on him is he's a step slow to play MLB in the League, especially with more and more teams asking a lot of the position in the passing game. Feh. He's got great lateral coverage, plays hard and hits. He'll hang on somewhere.

Elsewhere, NFL Draft Day is an occasion to celebrate the fact that certain opponents won't be around to torture us next year. Chief among them is Dwayne Jarrett, who figures to go in the mid-1st round. Good riddance. Other Trojans who should go on Day 1 include Steve Smith, who I think will be a good pro, and Ryan Kalil, who I think was the best player on USC last year and will be a great pro. Zach Miller, the ASU tight end, will go in the 1st or 2nd round - he is a great physical specimen who should do pretty well at the next level. Eric Frampton will be a 2nd or 3rd round pick out of Wazzu - glad to see this really underrated DB leave Pullman.

Further down the board we get to two of the most interesting Pac-10 draftees: Stanford QB Trent Edwards and Arizona RB Chris Henry. Neither did much in college 'cause they had little support and each spent big portions of their careers on their backs courtesy of awful offensive line play. Henry ran a 4.33 forty at the combine, which has some teams very interested in his services. Edwards is still the guy who was a 5-star recruit out of HS - 6'4" with a nice arm, which may push him into the late second round.

Lots of other guys, but I'll flag a few - OSU safety Sabby Piscitelli, who has run a 4.5 and plays with his hair on fire, will make some team very happy. Fellow Beaver Adam Koets is a mid-round guy who has confounded experts at every level and has enough size to be a serviceable OT in the pros. Stanford's Michael Okwo isn't big enough, but he's a great football player and that's enough for me - probably a good pick in the 5th or 6th round. Lastly, Mkristo Bruce might not even get drafted. Bruce's physical measurements are below-average for an NFL defensive end - in particular he's run 5.0 on a couple of occasions. I don't care. I watched Mkristo Bruce dominate the Pac-10 for the last two years and I'll be hoping that a good team picks him up in the mid-late rounds. He will be a good pro, even in a backup role.

And if Mel Kiper disagrees, he can go suck it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Zachary Runningwolf has been cruelly and unconscionably detained by an overzealous Berkeley police officer. Said officer over-reacted to some innocuous comments made by Zachary at the sacred Indian Burial Ground/Old-Growth Forest. Quoth Zachary: "You're going to get yours...we're going to do what we have to...we're going to shoot you (expletive)."

As clarified by fellow tree-sitter Terri Compost, Runningwolf was clearly referring to the Mayan calendar. If the University truly cared about justice and decency, they would assign a more sensitive police force with a firmer grasp of esoteric Mesoamerican cultural references to the glade. I mean, is that too much to ask for in the year 2007?

Why can't the UC recognize that Zachary is a leader for the 85,000 Native Americans living in the Bay Area? That his impressive list of accomplishments includes giving up his car (and associated payments) five years ago and inspiring us all by riding a bicycle to and from protest sites? That despite being an important Native American Leader/Elder, he has no income or assets of any sort, and is therefore pure as the driven snow that today blankets his home reservation in Montana? That he will put the public good above his own safety time and again? I mean, just read his own words to get a sense of what an innovative, yet basically balanced leader he is.

Free Zachary Runningwolf! For the love of all that is Good and Holy, do not silence this courageous and entertaining voice of the people.


Thursday will mark the 24th time Lute Olson has walked the visiting bench in Berkeley (or Oakland/SF, where a handful of Cal/UofA games were played). In that time, Olson has built and sustained a dynasty in the desert. Lute's players helped define the Pac-10 and western basketball for almost twenty years - from Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr to Miles Simon to Richard Jefferson.

Last year everything fell apart. The Cats won only 20 games in 33 tries, and they didn't look like a Lute Olson team. Sure, they ran and scored, but they didn't have a good offensive flow all year and their defense was well below average (221nd in the nation in field goal percentage allowed).

I hearken back to a drunken discussion I had with some Arizona boosters at last year's Pac-10 tournament. To my great surprise they almost unanimously advocated Olson's retirement - voluntary or not - after one more year. When I reminded them politely that Lute won a NC and made four Final Fours, they insisted that he should have won more with the talent afforded him. These weren't college sophomores with no sense of history, either - these guys were probably in their early forties and identified themselves as "givers" to the program.

Whatever the reasons for last year's slump, this year the pre-season hype was that Arizona and Lute were back. ESPN ran a fawning article in its Pac-10 preview suggesting that Lute had re-focused his team on fundamentals and defense, and the clear suggestion was that UofA would give UCLA all they could handle in conference. Chase Budinger, according to newspaper hacks, was the best freshman in the country next to Greg Oden. Marcus Williams was a likely POY in the Pac-10.

28 games later, none of those predictions have come true. Arizona looks like the same disinterested bunch whose effort ebbed and flowed throughout the season. They don't play good defense, and Budinger - while enormously talented - has at times struggled to assert himself in games. Williams has the offensive numbers, but looks either lost or disinterested on the other end of the floor. They have little off the bench. It's the same damn Arizona team.

Last week there was an interesting back-and-forth between Jon Wilner of the Stanford Daily, er, San Jose Mercury News and Greg Hansen, the top writer covering Arizona basketball at the Arizona Daily Star, about the recent decline of the Wildcat program. Wilner sees a general collapse of the program:
Now, after two incredible decades, 11 league titles, four Final Fours and a national title, Lute Olson’s program is fading at runaway-truck pace. After being the standard against which all other programs were measured, after forcing the rest of the league to elevate its play, the Cats have fallen into the middle of the Pac.
Then Wilner gets specific about what he sees as Lute's mistakes. You can read the article to get the full flavor, but Wilner suggests that Olson has lost his ability to communicate with his players and made bad recruiting decisions.

Hansen thinks that's a bit overblown:
Shortcomings? The Wildcats misjudged the long-range potential of Mustafa Shakur and missed it on several other recruiting evaluations, from J.P. Prince to Mohamed Tangara. To me, that is the extent of Olson's shortcomings. A few recruiting mistakes.
I'm somewhere in the middle of this debate, I suppose. I don't think Lute has lost his touch - it's rare for a venerable coach with his type of success to suddenly lose the ability to communicate with players. But I don't think you can blame Arizona's recent problems on a handful of bad recruiting decisions, either. And even if you can, Lute is ultimately to blame for those decisions.

It's not just that their "star recruits" haven't hit. Arizona's classes have almost always been rated highly, but they've also always included guys who accepted a variety of roles once they got to Tucson. What the Cats lack are the players who have helped define the program over the past twenty years - role players who might not score twenty points a game but who play defense, set good picks and get hustle rebounds.

Guys like Reggie Geary (I feel dirty writing that). Even their "stars" were players who checked their egos and played a complete game, like Luke Walton, Miles Simon (left) or Jason Terry. Wilner calls them "glue guys," and he's absolutely correct in his analysis. I'd go a step further and call them mature basketball players - guys who made enough good decisions to help Arizona win basketball games. Where are the guys with high basketball IQs?

From an outsider's perspective it almost seems as though Lute is running the program with one eye on the hourglass. Rumors suggest that his wife would like to see him retire, and he is 72 years old. Maybe the "glue guys" are harder to find in Tucson because Lute isn't recruiting them - because he knows he won't be around to see them develop into productive juniors and seniors. Maybe there's no fear left in his players, since Lute has shown a propensity to treat discipline problems with kit gloves. Whatever the reasons, I generally agree with Wilner's conclusion. The sun is about to set in the Sonoran Desert, and the conference will never again be the same.

(And if Marcus Williams goes for thirty against us Thursday, don't blame me.)

Monday, February 26, 2007


#7 - LEON POWE - FORWARD (2004-2006)
The Show. He's probably not the best basketball player in school history. But he is, without a doubt, my favorite.

For every Leon Powe there are at least a hundred kids whose situations get the better of them. His father walked out on the family when he was two. His house burned down when he was five, and Leon and family lived in temporary situations for the next several years. His mother struggled with the burdens of raising the family and was arrested for theft, fraud and drug possession. Leon missed almost his entire fifth grade year...caring for his siblings. Finally in 1998 he was placed in foster care.

And through all of this, Leon Powe got a 3.2 GPA his senior year at Oakland Tech and is on track to graduate from Cal during the NBA off-season. He suffered the type of knee injury that has ended many a career - and came back to become Freshman of the Year, an All-American and a second-round NBA draft choice.

Back in 2003, Powe was the cornerstone of a Top 10 recruiting class that also included Marquise Kately and Ayinde Ubaka. A local product, his commitment to Cal had the echoes of another famous local recruit a decade earlier. Powe did not disappoint as a freshman, averaging 15.1 ppg and 9.5 rpg (breaking the Cal single season record held by Bob McKeen). Whatever his game may have lacked in polish, Powe compensated with incredible upper and lower body strength and a relentless work ethic. He led the conference with 14 double-doubles and peaked (in my opinion) with 14 boards and 19 points in a home win over UCLA.

After his medical redshirt year, fans worried whether the same Leon Powe would return. In truth, he was better. In 2005-6, every one of Cal's opponents knew that Powe was the first option on almost every possession, and it didn't matter. Leon had improved his foul-shooting to the point where teams could no longer hack him with impunity - he finished the season at 72%. And with his strength he was able to complete many of the plays when opponents did foul him in desperation. He was a monster -the best big man I've ever seen in a Cal uniform, and one of the best in recent conference history. He averaged 20.5/10.1 and was a 2nd team All-American selection at season's end.

My enduring memory of Leon Powe is that overtime game with Oregon in the Pac-10 semifinals last year. My friends and I kept waiting for Leon to get tired, even though we almost sixty games of experience to suggest that wouldn't happen. We kept waiting for him to miss some shots from the floor - that didn't happen either as he would up 14-17. Maybe he'd start missing free throws? Turn it over? No. He drew charges, hit his free throws and pulled down rebounds. He willed his team - our team - into the conference final.

Afterwards we realized that we were watching a test. The game, the situation, the lack of support from his teammates - all of these things were testing Leon Powe as the night grew shorter. And Leon kept doing everything right. When he finally left with a minute left, cradling his injured shoulder, many Duck fans joined in the standing ovation. We had forgotten - my friends, myself, and the rest of the Staples crowd - that Leon Powe had been tested many, many times before.


* If you read a certain message board, you'll notice two things about Cal basketball fans. One, there ain't many of them. Two, it is a given that every thread will eventually devolve into a Ben should stay/Ben must go debate. We'll tackle that question in depth later, but for now a couple of things come to mind:

* Some seem to want to give Braun a medal for getting the team to play hard. Sorry, that's competent coaching - not good coaching. And we deserve better than competent coaching.

* What in the wide world of sports was Cal doing on defense Saturday? The Bears came out in the worst zone I've ever seen. The Trojans didn't recognize it until their third (I think) possession. They didn't even need to run a cutter to the free throw line; their bigs just sauntered into the lane and caught easy entry passes eight feet from the basket. I guess my point here is that zone defense isn't rocket science, but the Bears still haven't figured out how to play it after 28 games.

* DeVon Hardin may come back for the Pac-10 tournament. Not sure this is such a good idea, given where Cal stands and the fact that stress fractures are touchy injuries.

* Enough of that loss. Elsewhere, things ran according to form over the weekend. The Wildcats were fortunate to beat ASU, who could be a handful next year. Ryan Appleby hasn't forgiven Aaron Brooks. UCLA is perfect at home for the first time since 74-75. And Stanford needs at least a split this week to get its ticket punched for the tournament.