Breaking down the superficial narratives

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If something’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

When the Cal men’s basketball team was slated as the No. 12 seed in the East Regional during the Selection Show on Sunday, narratives emerged immediately.

The team’s opponent is UNLV, who beat the Bears by one point in December. Cal has turned its season around since its mediocre nonconference campaign. The current roster has come a far way since.

The location of the event is San Jose, only 46 miles south of Berkeley. With Cal fans expected to fill up HP Pavilion, the neutral venue ought to transform into Haas Pavilion South.

It’s tailor-made for a story that suggests Cal is going to pull off the upset. But many times, these narratives are superficial and incorrect. It misleads the readers by planting unwarranted hopes and ideas.

The Bears’ odds have been bloated by hard-to-support fluff, especially on three fronts.

First, Cal’s nail-biting loss to the Runnin’ Rebels at Haas Pavilion last December was a heartbreaker for the Bears, sure. But it’s no hard proof that backs up the point that they can do that again.

The most important difference between now and Dec. 9 is the presence of UNLV forward Mike Moser. Five minutes into the contest, he dislocated his shoulder and was out for three weeks.

The Rebels’ lineup was in disarray sans Moser. Last year, Moser, who transferred from UCLA, showed his potential as a quick, explosive forward who could rebound (according to kenpom.com, Moser was ninth in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage in 2011-12 and shoot 3-pointers.

The Mike Moser of yesteryear has yet to return this year. But it’s impossible to ignore the forward, considering that Cal’s frontcourt is the team’s Achilles’ heel.

The Bears, to an extent, banked on Moser’s misfortune to hang with the Rebels in December. Can they do it again with Moser on the court?

Second, Cal’s turnaround this season and its supposed “hot hand.” Personally, I believe momentum is extremely overrated, a term thrown around by sportswriters to construct sandcastle narratives.

However, if we are going to talk about momentum, let’s talk about the Bears’ last two games. Small sample size arguments aside, the losses to Stanford and Utah has been uncharacteristic of the new-look Cal team, which has emphasized defensive tenacity. During their seven-game winning streak from Feb. 10 to March 2, the Bears allowed around 56 points per game. In the last two tilts, they allowed 81 points per game.

If there are any momentum swings going on, it’s that Cal has been losing its luster as the season dwindles down.

Third, the “home” advantage. Statistically, home teams do win more games. But San Jose, no matter how draped in blue and gold it may be on Thursday, is not home. It’s not Haas Pavilion.

The geographical proximity narrative is also overblown. UNLV will be flying in from Las Vegas, just two hours away. The Selection Committee did an overall good job in eliminating geographical advantages, such as time zone differences, for all 68 teams.

If there are narratives to stir, they should be more statistical and analytical.

Intangibles and vague storylines rehashed by sportswriters for eons should be left out, for good.

Seung Y. Lee covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @sngyn92.