While winning is fun and thrashing is funner, the Cal men’s basketball team still has much to build on from the smoldering embers that were once South Dakota State. The Bears, still without their unquestioned leader in Ivan Rabb, made quick work of the Jackrabbits, 82-53. And as Cal prepares for its bout with the Anteaters, there is still much to learn from its young 1-0 season.
Charlie fuckin’ Moore! The young gun, after a strong performance against Cal Baptist in the exhibition, got the start at one-guard over returner Sam Singer, whose 0-3, one-point statline against the Lancers couldn’t have done wonders for his job security.
While this may very well have been an example of head coach Cuonzo Martin continuing to shake up his still Rabb-less lineups en route to the far-off-yet-inevitable opening of Pac-12 play, this was still a not-for-nothing game, and he still started a true freshman over a well-seasoned senior — and that means at least something.
And although Moore continued to play alright as he further acclimates to an offense he’s being handed the keys to much more quickly than anticipated, the story of the switch had to be Singer. Playing with an intensity that I can only imagine was spurred to disprove a tweet by our section that dismissed any improvement his once-hideous jumpshot had made over the summer:
Cal wins close one, 81-73. Rooks and Mullins lead way with 16 a piece, Moore shows flashes, and Singer still can't shoot. Recap soon
— Daily Cal Sports (@dailycalsports) November 4, 2016
The senior put together what was perhaps the best game of his entire career. Going 6-10 from the field (2-3 from three! Sam, you dog), along with six assists, five rebounds and two steals, Singer forced a decision for his coach that will no doubt be blissfully difficult — keep him on the second unit where he shined or throw him back with the starters and hope he can maintain.
His efficiency also harkens a style that one certainly wouldn’t associate with Bears basketball of old — threes!
For reference: Last season, Cal shot 19.1 three pointers per game, making 6.9 of them for a teamwide 36.3 percent average. And, with the recent losses of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Jordan Mathews and Nick Kerr, the 2016 Bears are without 147 of last season’s 236 makes — a 62.2 percent loss. So, you’d expect those paltry numbers to drop even further, especially without Rabb to consume double teams and leave the perimeter open. But — oh boy — would you be wrong.
Against the Jackrabbits, Cal made 12 threes on 32 attempts — a more than 40 percent increase in attempts and 42.5 percent increase in makes from last year, on an even-increased 37.5 percent clip. And that’s still not even considering the space the aforementioned Rabb will provide those shooters.
Speaking of shooters, two stood far above the field in the recent rout. Jabari Bird and Grant Mullins look to be the go-to deep threats for the Bears, at least early in the season, as they combined for half the team’s three-point shots (16 of the 32) and more than half such makes (seven for 12) Friday.
Two players contributing so much in such a category certainly isn’t great for the balanced attack that Cal will strive for in the coming months, but even if you totally eliminated the production of Bird and Mullins, the Bears would have been right around their three-point averages from last season. That, if nothing else, shows growth in an area of the game that is only gaining more and more importance in modern hoops.
Soon enough, all this talk of Rabb’s return will be over. The preseason All-American will make his return to the Haas Pavilion floor in time and will immediately make life easier for teammates and coaches alike. But while his ghost lingers, the Bears have to prove they can make his life easier, too.
And having a reliable — nay, dangerous — deep attack will only make Cal more symbiotic. And symbiosis, especially these days, means wins.