Thursday night, Washington State will play host to the Cal Bears in Pullman, WA. Tip off is scheduled for 7pm PST on the hardwood of Friel Court.
The Cal Bears have somewhat quietly begun this season with an impressive 10-3 start under new head man, Coach Mike Montgomery.
Few experts predicted success for Cal this season. Yet Coach Montgomery's troops defended their house perfectly to open the Pac-10 season. The Bears dealt to losses to Arizona and Arizona State last week.
For those who think Cal is not one of the top five teams in the Pac-10, perhaps you should open your eyes and take a second look.
Though the Bears aren't a one-man show, Jerome Randle is one of the top guards in the conference and is the standout player on this seasons team. Randle is a skilled, talented player who is fast, fast, fast. He's leading Cal in scoring, assists and steals. It's a well known fact that Cougar Taylor Rochestie has one of the best assist to turnover ratios in the nation, but Randle is efficient, too. His ratio is about 2-1, assists to turnovers.
Theo Robertson is a fine player that commands the attention of opposing defenses. He is off to a terrific season shooting from behind the three-point arc, knocking down a eye-popping 62 percent of his attempts.
The Bears have all the earmarks of a well coached team. They are averaging 78 points a game while holding opponents to just 64. Those numbers a the result of shooting 50 percent from the field and 73 percent from the charity stripe. Coach Montgomery has Cal playing sound, fundamental basketball. He isn't doing that on his own either. When Montgomery accepted the chance to return to the Pac-10 after a terrific run at Stanford years back, one of the first staff appointments made was the selection of long-time OSU coach John Jay.
What adjustments does Coach Tony Bennett have to make for his team to earn their first conference win?
Coach Bennett needs to find a combination of players that will score points. He told reporters during a conference call on Tuesday that some of the WSU young guns will see more playing time against Cal.
The Cougs have been playing strong defense all season, but have yet to find their rhythm on offense. That was expected after losing the offensive leaders from last year's team.
Look for DeAngelo Casto, Abe Lodwick and Mike Harthun to see more minutes tomorrow night. All three have made strides learning how to play Bennett Ball and have plenty of talent. Yes, this trio are still learning what Pac-10 game-speed is all about but they have the tools to give the Cougs some offense.
The key to this game may well be the play of Casto. When he is in the game with senior Aron Baynes, WSU has a front line that is formidable at both ends of the court. Casto leads all Pac-10 freshmen in blocked shots. The new and improved Baynes is more mobile yet still has the size to clog up the middle. His hook shot has become a thing of beauty as well.
Both Lodwick and Harthun can fill up the basket from outside. They simply have to take their shot when it's open. That comes with the confidence gained through additional playing time. If these two contribute significant minutes, there's no question that the talented freshman, Klay Thompson, will score. Hit him with a pass to spot up behind the arc and you'll see a Klay-Trey just about every time.
When Cal and WSU face off Thursday night, it's a match up of two teams the experts don't expect much from this year. While experts might ignore the Bears and Cougs, take some advice. If you enjoy college basketball played at the highest level, don't miss this game. It's going to be a good one.