Arizona just finished taking care of business against Harvard, and Oregon is well on its way to a decisive victory against Saint Louis. Following a flawless Thursday by the Pac-12 schools, the two teams who played on Friday (Colorado and UCLA) could not beat their competitors from the Big Ten. Cal will serve as the nightcap as the West Coast’s major conference tries to go three-for-three in the second, er, third, round and bring some honor and respect to collegiate basketball on this side of the country. Of course, the Golden Bears face the toughest test, as they’ll play the 4th-seeded Syracuse Orange.
Though the players were completely different, Mike Montgomery and his squad were invited to play at Madison Square Garden in the 2009 2K Sports Classic also featuring North Carolina, Ohio State, and yes, Syracuse. This was the coach’s second year at the school, and I distinctly remember being happy that the Bears were included in a group like that. Cal, of course, did horribly, finishing fourth after drawing Syracuse in its first game and losing control relatively early.
Now, he’ll get a chance to avenge that loss on a much bigger stage, with much bigger stakes at hand. Unfortunately, the task still seems as large.
This is a horrible matchup for the Golden Bears, as they are in the lower-echelon of teams when it comes to three-point shooting, and a staple of Jim Boeheim’s tenure at Syracuse has been their 2-3 zone defense. Though the offense runs from the outside with Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, Montgomery will have to draw up some of his best offenses, allowing the duo to find the bigger guys cutting through the zone and finding the rim through the back door.
Still, in order for this to be really successful, the two guards have to be lights-out from the outside. The duo is certainly capable, but they have been far too inconsistent, leading to the sub-par numbers. Crabbe was touted as one of the best shooters in the West when recruited at Cal, so we’ll find out tonight if he can bring it. Either way, in this one-and-done situation, Montgomery hopefully lets the shots fly, because that will be the way to win.
On the other end, Cal did a fantastic job employing their own zone to stifle the UNLV attack. They did a tremendous job against Anthony Bennett, but Syracuse has their own big man in C.J. Fair. As we saw, though, the Bears handled their lack of athleticism by properly designing a strategy to compensate. But Syracuse has been through the Big East gauntlet, holding everyone’s favorite Louisville at bay until Peyton Siva decided to win the game.
The mountain is large for the Bears, but this is madness, and something crazy can always happen.