In quarterfinals of Pac-12 tournament, Cal men’s basketball clashes with Colorado

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The bubble hasn’t burst for the Cal men’s basketball team yet.

While most bracketologists have the Bears as one of the first teams out of the NCAA tournament, there are reasons for Cal fans to be optimistic about their team’s chances. A group of analysts for the University of North Florida that has accurately predicted 73 of 74 at-large bids over the past two years has placed Cal as a team that has a 100 percent chance of making the tournament. This means that, historically, teams with Cal’s resume have made the tournament every time.

But that won’t ease the nerves of the team. Cal is still on the bubble, and no number of bracketologists, statistical models or crystal balls will ease the Bears’ minds as much as a resume-boosting win.

“Obviously, you think about it because nobody wants to play in the NIT,” said point guard Justin Cobbs.

Cal (19-12, 10-8 Pac-12) will play Colorado (22-10, 10-8) in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. On Wednesday, the Buffaloes outlasted the Trojans, 59-56, to advance in the tournament and set up what will be Cal’s second consecutive matchup with Colorado. As the fourth seed in the tournament, the Bears enjoyed a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament and rested while Colorado and USC fought to a close finish.

But there is no reason to think the extra rest for Cal will give the team an advantage Thursday afternoon. In the Bears’ last matchup with the Buffs — just four days ago — Cal was forced into an overtime matchup that it won by just one point. That game could have gone either way, and it is reasonable to expect that this next one could be similarly close, especially since it is going to be played at a neutral site in Las Vegas instead of at Haas Pavilion.

“You have it pretty fresh in your mind what (Colorado) did and what you can do or can’t do or what you need to do better,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery.

Cal was burned by Colorado’s Xavier Johnson the last time the two teams met. The forward put up 24 points for the Buffs — his second-highest total of the season. Johnson cooled off during Wednesday’s game against the Trojans, though, and only mustered 11. The responsibility for stopping Johnson will likely fall with David Kravish and Richard Solomon, whose interior defense has been effective all season. The Bears have held their conference opponents to just 45.1 percent shooting on 2-point shots all season, good for second in the Pac-12.

Though Johnson shined the last time out, Josh Scott and Askia Booker average more points for the Buffaloes. Though Colorado’s offense has been relatively mediocre since star guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down, the Buffs have enough talented players who can get hot and put up big numbers on any given night. A stout defensive effort may be key for the Bears.

There is no way to see the future and know if Cal will play in the NCAAs or the NIT. The Bears may win Thursday and still miss it. They may lose and still make it. But one point cannot be argued: The Bears can only be helped by a win over Colorado, a team that is currently projected to make the tournament. The winner will then go on to play the winner of the Utah-Arizona match being played earlier in the day, giving that team another opportunity to further boost its postseason resume.

“If I was sitting in the room and drawing up brackets, Cal is in,” Montgomery said. “But I’m not in the room … I think there are a lot of teams in our league that are capable of being representative in the NCAA tournament, and we are certainly among them.”

Riley McAtee covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @riley_mcatee