Oregon preview: Will their worst bring out Cal’s best?

Man about to throw ball as opponent blocks behind him with his arms in the air.
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The Cal men’s basketball team is on the cusp of a historic marker… for all the wrong reasons (unless you’re into pain or just really, really bored, in which case I’d suggest you find a new hobby such as woodworking or predatory lending). The “historic marker” and “wrong reasons” parts of that train wreck of a sentence intersect in the words that follow.

The Bears are only one more loss away from going 0-10 in conference play!

Yes. That’s right. A big ol’ zero followed by an even bigger 10.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “Well, when’s the last time that happened, Rory?”

Never.

Even during last season’s 2-16 campaign in Pac-12 action, the Bears went on two separate losing streaks, of eight and nine games, respectively, but never did they lose 10 conference games in a row. Come Wednesday’s showdown with Oregon in Eugene, Cal could have a whole new piece of history to celebrate bury.

Oregon snapshot

Oregon’s season (13-9, 4-5) has been defined by inconsistency and disappointment. Heading into the season, the Ducks were seen as a lock to compete in March Madness while Bol Bol garnered national attention and Payton Pritchard looked to be a potential candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year.

The Ducks struggled at times during nonconference matchups, which included a bad loss to Texas Southern, but the team looked great in others, such as during its win against Syracuse in Madison Square Garden. While the Ducks didn’t play as crisply as expected, they were still viewed as a dynamic squad with enough talent to challenge any team in the nation not named Duke.

Then, Bol Bol was ruled out for the season because of a foot injury, and everything kind of just “went to shite,” as my Irish brethren might say.

Ever since then, Oregon’s season has been a study in gravity, reaching highs only to return to Earth. The Ducks lost their first two Pac-12 games, only to win the next two, only to then lose the next two, which of course meant they won the next set of games but lost to Colorado in their most recent matchup.

While the offense has struggled mightily throughout the year, the Ducks have been forced to pick up the slack on the defensive end. They’ve deployed a press defense that’s been especially effective for them this season, and it’ll almost certainly be used against the Bears.

Players to watch on Oregon’s team are Pritchard, Paul White and Kenny Wooten.

What Cal needs to do to win

Play like how the team did against Stanford, but only more so. The Bears need to force turnovers and spread the scoring around the offense, as they did against the Cardinal. Connor Vanover needs to play as much as possible, something that coach Wyking Jones has been afraid to do because of… reasons, I guess. But the bottom line is Vanover brings too much dynamism to the offense for him to sit on the bench.

But as I’ve been saying all year long, Cal needs to defend to have any chance.

As our friends at California Golden Blogs pointed out, Cal has the worst defensive rating of any major conference program since 1998.

Best-case scenario

Defense plays the game of the century, and Vanover turns into the human torch.

Worst-case scenario

Can it get worse?

Prediction

Oregon wins by 15.

Rory O’Toole covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].