It’s a difficult task to evaluate any program, no matter how elite or how lackluster, after a mere six games. While there are observations to be made, such a small sample size typically isn’t enough to map out the trajectory of a season. That being said, the Cal men’s basketball team’s (2-4) performance through a half-dozen games does not bode well for the rest of its season, as the Bears suffered a trio of sour losses and left the Maui Invitational empty-handed.
Each loss in Hawaii was worse than the one prior, both in terms of the final score and context. Cal almost played spoiler to No. 6 Wichita State in its first contest, but the Bears’ inexperience relative to a seasoned Shockers squad hindered them in the loss as they blew an 18-points lead. In its two subsequent ballgames, Cal suffered a pair of blowout losses at the hands of VCU and Chaminade University of Honolulu, the latter being a Division II program.
A plethora of factors contributed to the Bears flying out of the Aloha State with three more in the loss column, but the most jarring issue was their turnovers.
Fresh off giving up 19 turnovers in its win over Wofford, Cal arrived in Hawaii averaging 15.3 turnovers in its first three games. The issue traveled with them across the Pacific where the Bears averaged 16 turnovers per game, headlined by another ugly 19 giveaways in their first game against the Shockers.
Cal’s opponents also had a field day against a Bear defense that couldn’t string together stops. Once the dust settled, Cal gave up an average of 90.3 points per game, with opponents shooting 48 percent from the field. More jarring was the Bears’ three-point defense. Even with the Shockers’ cold afternoon from beyond the arc, the three opponents combined hit 41 percent from three.
Excluding Wichita State, VCU and Chaminade hit a combined 48 percent of treys. Of 351 Division I teams, Cal currently has the 15th-worst three-point defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, freshmen Darius McNeill and Justice Sueing and junior Don Coleman cracked the top 15 in scoring, the eldest of the three leading the way with 22.3 points per game. Coleman also ended the tournament having made the most field goals per game with 7.7, but also taking most field goals per game with 18.0.
“(Justice) plays with a lot of poise and lot of confidence,” said Cal head coach Wyking Jones. “I could play him at the four, could play at the three. He’s very versatile.”
Cal’s big man tandem of seniors Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh were quiet in the losses, as both scored only a combined 27 points over three games. Lee was a menacing figure on defense, racking up seven blocks in his three games, but he was constantly hindered by foul trouble, playing only 18 minutes per game in the tournament.
With a lineup consisting of two freshmen, a contrast to a Wichita State starting unit almost exclusively featuring upperclassmen, Cal was justifiably the heavy underdog against a top-10 team. Indifferent to the Shockers’ national standing, the Bears’ offense jumped on one of the nation’s best defenses from the tip. Led by Coleman’s 26 first-half points, Cal found itself up double digits to Wichita State.
The Bears kept their foot on the gas pedal in the opening minutes of the second half, shocking the Shockers by jumping out to an 18-point advantage, capped off by a three-ball from Sueing. Once Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall rolled out the full-court press, however, Cal met its kryptonite.
The Shockers induced 12 turnovers in the second half of basketball, trapping the Bears’ initial ball-handler in the backcourt and intercepting ill-advised passes. Wichita State outscored Cal 54-35 in the game’s latter 20 minutes en route to a 92-82 victory.
While Cal was competitive against Wichita State, its games against VCU and Chaminade were decided with plenty of time remaining, as the Bears dropped those two games by an average margin of 18 points. With the win, the Division II program Chaminade notched only its eighth win in 100 all-time games at the Maui Invitational, capping off a forgettable road trip.
“For me, in all the years that I’ve been coaching, I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life from the lack of effort from our guys,” said Jones. “So, for me, it’s about going back to the drawing board, myself and my staff, and figuring out what changes we need to make because there definitely need to be some changes.”