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Virginia vs. Cal: The Big Preview

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Virginia heads to the west coast to face off against the Bears in some late night Pac-12 action.

NCAA Basketball: Cal Poly SLO at California
Hoos head west to face Cal.
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The Hoos head out to Berkley for the away portion of the home-and-home against the Bears. Last year, you may recall, the Hoos pulled out a win at home against the Bears despite being outplayed for much of the contest. The game went to OT, and the Bears held a 60-54 lead with two minutes remaining and had a 90% likelihood of winning. A couple of big late treys from Brogdon and Perrantes brought Virginia back, and they survived a last ditch effort to pull out a 63-62 victory. Check out the highlights:

In that matchup last year, Cal had three players in double digits. Unfortunately for the Bears, all three of those guys are gone this year. One was Jaylen Brown, who was the #3 pick in the draft. One was Tyrone Wallace, a senior who led the team in scoring and is now playing in the D-League. The third is Jordan Mathews, a sharpshooter who transferred to Gonzaga for his senior year. That trio combined for 44 of the Bears’ 62 points.

They still have 6’11” Ivan Rabb, a potential top-10 pick, who is one of the top interior players in the country. Rabb currently averages 15 points and nine rebounds per game. Jack Salt will have his hands full, because although Salt is bigger than Rabb (by a good 30 pounds), Rabb will have a the quickness advantage. Mamadi Diakite may have better luck guarding Rabb inside due to his quickness.

The Hoos may have to go big in this one, because alongside Rabb the Bears have 7-foot Brit Kingsley Okoroh (they also have another 7-footer, Kameron Rooks, but he's out indefinitely with a knee injury). Okoroh fouled out in last year’s contest without scoring (Rooks also did not score), but he’s playing better this year. Of course, he doesn’t have to contend Anthony Gill on the inside this year. He will still have to contend with Jarred Reuter, who was the lone bright spot for the Hoos last year. In just 16 minutes of play, Reuter had 11 points on 3-for-4 shooting on the floor and 5-for-6 from the free throw line, single-handedly keeping the Hoos in the game in the first half when nobody else was playing well. His seven first half points were 35% of the Hoos total going into intermission. His physical style was too much for the Bears interior players, something he can hopefully recreate for this matchup.

The Bears are led this year by freshman PG Charlie Moore. Moore is small, (5’11” 170), but he’s very quick. Though he is a PG, he’s more of a scorer than a passer He’s shooting 45% from three this year, which makes his dribble penetration much more effective. However, most scouts didn’t expect him to be so effective from outside (at least not as a freshman), so it remains to be seen if that shooting touch will continue. The Hoos will contest those threes and try to force him into the paint, right into the teeth of the Pack Line defense.

The Bears other threat from outside is Columbia transfer Grant Mullins. Mullens is a 40% career shooter from beyond the arc in his three years in the Ivy League. Mullins comes off the bench at both guard spots, and averages nine points per game. He doesn’t provide a whole lot beyond his outside shooting, though. The starter at SG is Sam Singer, who played 16 minutes last year in this matchup, scoring four points and two assists. He’s not a PG, but he might be the best passer on the team as he’s not far behind Moore in assists, despite playing fewer minutes.

The final threat on the Bears is Jabari Bird. He’s a 6’6” senior who was a five star recruit out of high school. Bird has had problems staying healthy, but has generally played well when his back isn’t acting up. He had 25 points in the Bears latest contest, a win over Cal-Poly. He also had 22 in their loss to Seton Hall. He played 19 minutes in last year’s contest and had five points on 2-for-6 shooting from the field. He hit over 40% of his threes last year, and for his career has taken nearly half of his shots from three, but he’s too explosive to be settling for outside jumpers. He’s shooting only 31% from downtown so far this year, but he missed six games with back spasms.

The Bears are 9-2 this year, with losses in their two toughest games (Seton Hall and San Diego State). Their best win came at home over Princeton. Those three are the only top-100 games they’ve played, as they currently boast the 305th ranked schedule in the nation (the Hoos, for what it’s worth, are 202nd). The Bears have been very strong defensively (8th nationally) and on the defensive glass. They haven’t been very good shooting the ball, or really anything else on offense. Additionally, they are one of the worst FT shooting teams in the nation.

Obviously, traveling 3000 miles to play anybody isn’t easy. And Cal is a good team, but the Hoos have generally been good on the road, and Cal seems to be a good matchup. Cal is a similar team to the Hoos in that they play a slow pace and they play tough hard-nosed man-to-man defense. They have more interior scoring than the Hoos do, but the Hoos are significantly better on the perimeter. This Cal team isn’t as good as last year’s, so if the Hoos can shut down Charlie Moore, they have a good chance of coming out on top.

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