Sunday, March 19, 2017

Cal Football and Men's Basketball--Bleak Future

These are dark days for Cal sports fans--and getting darker by the moment..

The fans were still adjusting to the football mess when the men's basketball program
nosedived. After many decades as a Cal fan, I can't remember when both the football and men's basketball programs were both in crisis at the same time.

Football hit rock bottom last fall when the team stumbled to a lousy five-win season. Athletic director Mike Williams.finally had enough of head coach Sonny Dykes, whose ridiculous, one-dimensional approach (all offense, no defense). had been dragging the program down for years. So Dykes was replaced by Justin Wilcox, a former Cal assistant who had lately been a first-class defensive coordinator at Wisconsin.

Regrettably, Dykes left the cupboard bare. The two best offensive players, QB Davis Webb and WR Chad Hansen, turned pro, and there weren't any good defensive players leftover from the Dykes regime Wilcox will be starting from scratch. So fans will be stuck with a team in radical rebuild mode for at least two years. Cal fans were just getting used to the bleak football future when the men's basketball program crashed and burned.

After being shut out of the NCAA tournament, Cal joined the also-rans in the NIT, opening at home against a featherweight Cal State Bakersfield team that the Bears should have destroyed, even with its two top players, Jabari Bird and Ivan Rabb, sidelined with injuries. Yet Cal trailed badly, 44-19, at the end of the first half and went on to lose 73-66.

Pin this loss on head coach Cuonzo Martin, who announced the day after the CSB debacle that he had signed a seven-year contract with Missouri. Obviously he had been in talks with the Tigers while he was supposed to be coaching the Bears in post-season play. No doubt the players knew the coach was bailing out on the team. Clearly, with this coaching change looming, their heads and hearts weren't in that CSB game. So this season ended with an embarrassing, frustrating loss, similar to last season's ugly finale--getting booted out of the NCAA tournament in the first round by an inferior Hawaii team.

At the moment, next season doesn't look promising for men's basketball. There is no head coach and the roster boasts no big-time players, since Bird is a senior and Rabb will likely turn pro. Unless something changes drastically, this team is headed for the bottom of the PAC 12, down there with the football team.

Dark days, Cal fans, nothing but dark days ahead....


Saturday, March 11, 2017

UCLA Basketball Team Crashes Back To Earth

The  UCLA men's basketball team did it again. Building up hopes sky-high, giddy fans had visions of the Final Four dancing in their heads. But, once again, the Bruins won't deliver.

UCLA in the Final Four? Not happening.

The way they've looked in the PAC 12 tournament, they'll be lucky to make it to the Sweet 16. Suddenly they don't look like the team that finished the season in the Top Five, steamrolling the opposition, excelling on both offense and defense. They even beat tough Arizona in Tuscon, something no visitor had done in years.

But that was during the season. In the PAC 12 tournament, the Bruins have come crashing back to earth. They opened the tournament Thursday barely escaping the USC game with a two-point win, a game the Bruins should have lost. With lazy defense and spotty offense, they kept the door open for the Trojans, who consistently stumbled at the entrance and never made it through that door. What really killed the Trojans was their own blunders, not UCLA's skills.

The Bruins continued that downward spiral on Friday, getting pushed around by Arizona. The Bruins were ice-cold from the three-point line and shockingly soft in the middle. The Wildcats owned the paint, often embarrassing the Bruins with easy layups and dunks, winning 86-75. That score is misleading. It wasn't that close. The UCLA offense crumbled and the team doesn't play defense well enough to compensate for a massive offensive breakdown.

So which is the real Bruins, the heavyweight that was throwing knockout punches at the end of the season or the lightweight that wobbled through the PAC 12 tournament? It's hard to predict how the Bruins will do in the NCAA tournament. A favorable draw and some upsets could pave the way for them to make it to the Elite 8. That's possible but not likely. The real Bruins are probably the unit that under-performed in the tournament in that hostile, unfamiliar Las Vegas environment

Once again the primary problem  is coaching--that demon Steve Alford again. Particularly in the Arizona game, Alford was blown away by the Wildcats' head coach Sean Miller. The Bruins weren't well prepared for either SC or Arizona--the coach's fault, of course. Though the Bruins improved on defense late in the season, they still don't play it with the kind of skill and ferocity needed to win championships..

Given how they raised fan hopes, there is going to be some real fan grumbling if UCLA doesn't reach at least the Elite 8. Some fans will be ready to give Alford the boot. He may already be looking for another job. According to rumors, Indiana coach Tom Crean may be headed to Missouri and Alford, a former Hoosier star, may be considering returning to his alma mater, replacing Crean,

So far it's just grapevine chatter. Getting rid of Alford would be complicated and costly, but if the Bruins have a quick, ugly exist from the NCAA tournament, fans may be happy to show him the door, no matter how expensive and will be..