With Ricky Kreklow out after breaking his right hand California entered Sunday night’s game at Creighton shorthanded, and things would get even worse in their 68-54 loss to the Bluejays. Late in the first half freshman Jabari Bird, who moved back into the starting lineup in place of Kreklow, went down with a right ankle injury and did not return. Without those two perimeter options the game became a struggle for the Golden Bears offensively, as they shot 36.4% from the field and 5-for-24 from beyond the arc.
Now Creighton certainly deserves credit for this, as their work defensively in the half-court and on the boards made life difficult for Cal. Greg McDermott’s team not only posted its best points allowed per possession number since their win over Arizona State on Sunday night, allowing Cal to score just 0.87 points/possession, but they also completed many of those defensive possessions as they rebounded 76.3% of Cal’s missed shots.
Creighton’s defense helped them navigate a slow start offensively, and by the end of the game Doug McDermott tallied a double-double (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Austin Chatman (11 points) and Grant Gibbs (ten) reached double figures as well.
As for California the offensive struggles reveal the fact that for all the talent at Mike Montgomery’s disposal, this team is still a work in progress due to the youth of many of those pieces. And if injuries become a major issue the process becomes even more difficult. Guards Justin Cobbs and Tyrone Wallace combined to score 25 points, but they did so shooting 8-for-23 from the field.
It can also be argued that senior center Richard Solomon (six points on 2-for-3 shooting) didn’t get enough quality looks inside, and Cal needs offensive balance in order to be at their best. David Kravish can provide offense as well for the Golden Bears, and this tandem will be need to be productive consistently when Pac-12 play begins.
While Sunday’s result certainly represents a missed opportunity for Cal from a resume standpoint given their losses to Dayton, Syracuse and UCSB, with their “best” win coming against Arkansas, the bigger concern is this team’s health. Kreklow’s going to be out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, and that was known entering the game. But if they lose Bird as well, the growth of the other freshmen and Cal’s interior play become even more important.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.