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MBB Game 26 Preview and Open Thread: Oregon Ducks at California Golden Bears

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Oregon Ducks (18-7, 9-4) at California Golden Bears (20-6, 10-3)

7:30 PM :: Haas Pavilion :: Berkeley, California

TV :: CSN Northwest, CSN Bay Area

Pomeroy Ratings :: Oregon (89), California (16)

Pomeroy Prediction :: Cal 76-63

Our hardwood heroes travel to the Bay Area where they take on the sturdy Golden Bears of California in what stands as the biggest Oregon basketball game in four years. The Ducks sit at 9-4 in conference, one game behind co-leaders Cal and Washington. Furthermore, this marks Oregon's last chance to impress the NCAA selection committee and get something that resembles a quality win. Win this game, and the Ducks keep within reach of first place while knocking Cal down a peg. Lose, and any chance of a conference title or at-large tournament berth is toast. Oh, and Cal is 15-1 at home this season. It won't be easy.

In the first matchup between the teams this season, the Ducks were competitive for about a half, before Jorge Gutierrez started locking down the Oregon guards and Allen Crabbe hit five second half threes to turn the game into a blowout. Oregon is a different team now, with Devoe Joseph and Carlos Emory more established in their offensive roles, and Oregon's problems shouldn't be on the offensive end, despite Gutierrez' defensive prowess.

Cal is very similar to Oregon in that their best players are perimeter Oriented. They have Harper Kamp, who is dangerous on the inside, but their best three offensive players are Crabbe, Gutierrez, and Justin Cobbs, all guards. Oregon has not been good against elite guards this season, and California has three of them. I really expect the story of the game to be which team's big three on the perimeter can best stop the other. In the first game, that was clearly Cal. Both trios are very good, but Cal's guards play much better defense. In fact, Cal ranks 15th in the country in defensive efficiency (88.8 points/100 poss, an obscene number), in large part because they don't give up a lot of open threes, they don't foul you, and they never give up offensive rebounds. Offensively, they also have three players that can penetrate, whereas Sim isn't really a penetrator, and Joseph can penetrate, but doesn't really finish at the rim.

The advanced stats all favor Cal. They are elite defensively, but also rank 39th in the country in offensive efficiency (110 points per 100 poss) and 47th in eFG% (52.8). Oregon is also very good, ranking in the top 60 in both categories (108.1 points per 100 poss, and an eFG% of 52.1), but their numbers still pale in comparison to Cal, and comes without the elite defense (Oregon ranks 129th in defensive efficiency, at 98.1 points per 100 poss). Cal never turns the ball over. And while the Ducks get to the line more, the Bears almost never foul on defense. The advanced stats predict a comfortable Cal win, but Cal has underperformed their stats all year (much like Oregon has outperformed theirs).

It won't be easy. Oregon needs to play its best defensive game of the season tonight, while playing a crisp, efficient offensive game. Singler, Sim, and Joseph need to be on. Carlos Emory needs to continue his improved play. And if Olu Ashaolu could have one of his big games, that would help too. Cal is such a good team defensively that Oregon needs all five of those guys to be on their game to win tonight. If the Ducks pull it off, it opens up a world of possibilities.

We've waited four years, since the last tournament loss to Mississippi State, to be in a really big game. We brought in Dana Altman to get to the point where we were in games with conference title and NCAA tournament implications. Well, here we are. As the calendar inches closer to March, the excitement for college basketball in Eugene is still growing. After the depths that this program has experienced, that's a really nice feeling to have back.