There was a point during the Cal men’s basketball team’s season when making the NCAA Tournament was not a foregone conclusion — when it seemed that the team might not actually be able to secure a bid to the “Big Dance.”
And by the time the team finished its season with wins in eight out of its last nine regular season games, that talk had all but disappeared. Instead, the Bears turned themselves into a ranked team and put themselves on multiple lists to possibly make the Final Four of the tournament.
But aspects of Cal’s play in its two Pac-12 Tournament games are concerning for the NCAAs, where the Bears will not only have a chance of facing some of the Pac-12 teams that have already given them trouble this year, but will also match up against the best teams in the country on courts far from Berkeley, where the team went 18-0 this year.
How exactly will the four-seed Bears perform in the NCAA Tournament?
In the two games that took place in Las Vegas, Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Jaylen Brown shot a combined 4-23 from the field, failing to have the presence that earned him that honor before the tournament began. The offense as a whole especially lagged in the overtime battle against the Utes, with Cal making just 29.2 percent of the threes it attempted.
Defense is not usually the problem for the Bears. They ended the Pac-12 season as the top defensive team and managed to keep many teams they faced below their average scoring.
But it’s this offense that can prove fickle. There is no way to predict which player will have an impactful performance or will be able to turn on the magic.
Will it be Jordan Mathews? Or will Jabari Bird have one of his rare magical games when it seems like he is the best player on the team? Will Brown show up or — as occurred in the game against Utah — is it Tyrone Wallace’s day to show why he should, or shouldn’t be, drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft?
It’s not this team’s inexperience that will hurt them. The time for excuses of a young team that doesn’t know how to handle these tougher situations is long gone.
As Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin said in his press conference after the win over Oregon State on March 10, “I don’t think you can use ‘young’ to describe this team anymore.”
This is a Bears team that took down a then-No.11 Oregon squad that went on to win full ownership of the Pac-12 title and is now a one seed. It’s also a squad that almost defeated then-No. 5 Virginia, another one seed, in early December at the Cavaliers’ home court. So facing top opponents won’t be something new, despite the fact that there are two freshmen in Cal’s starting lineup.
So instead, an experienced, albeit young in age team, will proceed into the fray of March Madness with only three road conference wins. Will the team be able to handle everything and win multiple games in a row?
The answer to that question is honestly unclear. No stats can give information on what it means to be a part of the NCAA Tournament and how that impacts a team’s performance. Look at the Cinderella stories. There is no formula.
It’s all about winning.
Martin’s ability to lead these Bears to the promised land, which in this case happens to be Houston, is unproven. The coach hasn’t taken a team past the Sweet Sixteen. But could this formula, guide this team to a multi-win tourney?
It will take more than what they showed in the Pac-12 Tournament and more than what they showed on the road for almost all of conference play. It will take a complete team effort that we haven’t seen consistently this year.
If everything clicks, however, and multiple people on offense can have good games and get in rhythm, than this team just maybe, could take the Cal basketball program to places it hasn’t been in a very long time.
So for now, we will all just to sit back, watch and allow the dice to roll where they may.
Buckle up, Berkeley. It’s going to be quite a ride.