Coming into this week, I’d been going back and forth about this year’s edition of the Cal Basketball. One part of me has been cautiously optimistic, noting that the Bears were playing team basketball, possessing of two particularly valuable qualities that they haven’t had in a while; steady senior leadership at the most important position on the floor, and above-average shooting ability. The other half of me has noted that the Bears have yet to prove they can beat anyone of substance, which means that a) they could be in for a rough time of it in the Pac-10, and b) they’ll need to pick up some quality Pac-10 W’s to give the NCAA Tournament Committee any reason to invite them, something that could be difficult, given a).
But this week’s events have severely clouded this team’s future. Tuesday’s game against Furman seemed to go well. The Bears started slowly, but then figured things out midway through the first half and were on fire through the rest of them game, absolutely blowing out a team it should beat handily at home. Now, I’m told Furman isn’t that bad of a team, but they just don’t have the athletes to stack up to the Bears, and Tuesday’s result was entirely predictable, even with the loss of Hardin. And yes, Hardin’s injury is the big story here. He wasn’t expected to carry this team, but he was going to be one of our stars, and his loss leaves the team terribly thin, both in the post and on the bench. The Bears have a couple of big freshmen, Ryan Anderson and Taylor Harrison, but that’s it over 6′ 6", and neither of these guys bring to the court the kind of physical tools that DeVon did. Not that they’re bad players, but they’re freshmen, and they’re different types of players. Not only that, but it leaves the Bears with only 9 healthy scholarship players (and that number includes Alex Pribble), meaning everyone else is going to have to work that much harder.
Now, I didn’t get to see yesterday’s disaster, and the recaps posted online aren’t very informative, but a couple things stuck out at me. First, the Bears led by as much as 9 in the first half, and took a 3 point lead into the break. This is still a talented team, and one that can win ballgames. They’ve got scorers all over the floor, and can still play Braun’s trademark defense. However, while the first half was promising, the second half was anything but, as the Bears appeared to fall completely apart, getting outscored 57-26 in the second half. During the second half, DePaul shot 70 percent (as a team!), while holding Cal to 26 percent. Sure, the Bears lacked much inside and committed too many turnovers, but the real problem has to be fatigue. No team shoots 70 percent from the floor if they’re up against any sort of defense. That’s just embarrassing. Granted, they’re shorthanded and had a long flight to Chicago, but this team must have just been gassed. Braun’s got to find a better way to pace his team if they’re going to compete in the Pac-10.
I’m not giving up on this team, but I’ve definitely gone from ‘cautiously optimistic’ to ‘fearing the worst’. This team needs to show it can play 40 minutes without DeVon Hardin, and their next opportunity isn’t an easy one, next Thursday at Arizona. Good luck, Bears.