Preview & Prediction: By Blake Hofstad
In both teams’ Pac-10 opener, upstart California (11-2, 0-0) takes on Arizona (9-3, 0-0). The Golden Bears have turned some heads. Projected to be a bottom three Pac-10 team, Cal has jumped out to their best start since 2001. They are led by hot-shooting guard Jerome Randle. Randle hits 56% of his three pointers, and dumps in around 20 points a game. As a team, the Bears are over 50% from three-point range, and are actually better from beyond the arc then inside of it. When they knock down the long ball, they become a very difficult opponent for any team. The Wildcats are one of the few squads who can shoot with Cal, they are number 2 in the country in 3-point percentage behind the Golden Bears. Led by Chase Budinger, Arizona drills 43.5% of their three balls. The key to this game will be shooting, as well as who forces the other team into turnovers. Both teams rely on top notch ball handlers, Randle for Cal and Nic Wise for the ‘Cats, to minimize turnovers.
Cal has really come out of nowhere early this season. An afterthought in the Pac-10, they garnered national attention by smacking UNLV in Vegas. They lost a close one to fellow surprise team Florida State, and were annihilated by Missouri, but the Golden Bears have been quietly building a steady resume. The California backcourt accounts for much of its offense. Alongside Randle, wingmen Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson shine. Those three are the only Bears averaging double-digits. All three get over 3 rebounds a game too, making up for the height deficiency on Cal’s squad. Only two players stand taller than 6-8, only one gets significant playing time, and none score over 5 points per contest. Jamal Boykin is a 10 and 6 guy in the low post. Behind him, Jordan Wilkes, Jorge Guttierez and Omondi Amoke provide solid minutes in the paint. But the heart and soul of this team is the backcourt, and the trio of Randle, Christopher and Robertson will have to lead this squad to victory, because the frontcourt is not capable of doing so.
On paper, Arizona has just as much talent as anyone in the Pac-10. With Jordan Hill commanding the low post, Chase Budinger on the wing and Nic Wise at point, they go toe to toe with the likes of UCLA. But talent does not always translate to victories for this ‘Zona team. They proved they could play with the nations’ best in their upset of Gonzaga, but came back the next game to get blown out by a good but not great UNLV team. Arizona is stronger in the low post than California by a wide margin. Hill is among the best in the country, and is good for 19 and 12, to go along with 3 blocks a game. Budinger and Jamelle Horne are very good rebounders. After those three, the ‘Cats don’t have anyone who can bang in the post, but luckily neither do the Golden Bears. The battle between Nic Wise and Jerome Randle will be a game inside a game. Both players are superior ball handlers who lead their respective teams in assists and rarely turn the ball over. Kyle Fogg has played very well in Arizona’s last two games, averaging 12 per against Kansas and Weber State. If he continues to elevate his play into conference season, the Wildcats have an opportunity to win the Pac-10. Zane Johnson and Garland Judkins are solid role players who play a lot of minutes.
The Wildcats perennially win their conference opener, and that won’t change. They have too much talent for the undermanned Bears, and although Cal has been impressive so far, they shouldn’t play a huge factor in Pac-10 play. The ‘Cats win this one by a healthy margin.
Winner: Arizona Margin 10-14 points
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About Blake Hofstad
An avid sports fan, you can nearly always find Blake Hofstad playing, watching, writing or just talking sports. His favorite team is the Wisconsin Badgers, and he is a huge Big Ten and Missouri Valley fan. The two things he hates about college basketball are Duke and the love Duke gets from most media members. You can find more of Blake's work on Onlinesportsfanatic.com.