Less than two weeks ago, Cal men’s basketball could do no wrong. A blowout of Arizona State capstoned a nine-game conference stretch in which Cal had won eight, firmly entrenching itself in the third seed of a Pac-12 that currently has three teams in the national top six and, in all likelihood, will provide the NBA its top two picks in the upcoming draft. Ivan Rabb was dominating and finally looking like the player the Bears hoped he would be in his sophomore season.
Oh, how things fall apart.
In the three games that Cal has now lost in a row, by a total of 13 points, Rabb has averaged only 10 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest, shooting just more than 44 percent from the field. Those numbers aren’t inefficient, but Rabb’s team is designed to go as he goes, and in the last few losses, though they were close ones, he has severely underperformed as the team engine.
The season — in both college basketball and NBA scouting — is reaching its fever pitch, and Rabb has disappeared at quite literally the worst possible time. He’s supposed to be the most dynamic big man in the country, capable of hugely impacting a game 30 feet from the basket as well as 3 feet from it, but recent opponent game plans have shut him down with low-post doubles and solid perimeter rotations.
Rabb’s team now sits fourth in its conference and teeters on the edge of a hugely valuable bye in the upcoming conference tournament and an even more valuable berth in the famously mad NCAA Tournament not long after. The Bears simply must run the table in their remaining three regular season games, but the good news for them is it that at the onset, it looks doable. Cal will host flailing Oregon State (5-24) on Friday before finishing their campaign against the number seven and six teams in the Pac-12 in Utah and Colorado.
The Beavers are not too good on offense, and the Bears are usually pretty stellar on defense. Oregon State is dead last in the conference in scoring, field goal percentage and turnovers (But ninth in three-point percentage! Hey! Small victories!), and its best scorer, Tres Tinkle, hasn’t played since November. In his stead, forward Drew Eubanks has excelled, shooting nearly 60 percent, but the offense has not been designed to consistently get him the ball. He shoots fewer than 10 times per game, and his production is often deferred in favor of the quicker — yet far less efficient — guards on the team. In any case, Rabb will likely be guarding Eubanks, and should shut him down well enough to slow the Oregon State offense into total stagnation (which really hasn’t been that rare).
Still, on offense, Rabb will need to show up more than he has recently. And while Rabb has been slumping, Jabari Bird has been on a tear, averaging nearly 21 points per game over his last three, while shooting nearly 52 percent from three. But Oregon State has the manpower to clog up the perimeter, at least when it has nothing else to focus on. It’ll be on Rabb again to fight inside and open up space for his shooters to rain fire if he wants to avoid his team stepping down hard into this Beaver trap.