The climb to the NCAA Tournament is steeper for the Cal men’s basketball team in the wake of its 74-64 loss to No. 16 Creighton on Saturday.
The Bears finished second in the Pac-12 Conference at 13-5 last season, but they didn’t pick up a single win against a ranked opponent. As a result, Cal was assigned to the tournament’s First Four round when the selection committee drew up its brackets.
Right now, Cal is 0-2 against Top 25 opponents with only one game remaining against a team that is currently ranked (at No. 8 Arizona on Feb. 19). If Oregon, Arizona State, Colorado or UCLA don’t become ranked at some point, the Bears will lack the opportunity to register a signature win for their résumé.
The Pac-12 is 3-14 against nationally ranked teams this year, so it will be tough for any conference team to join Arizona in the Top 25.
Cal is now 3-12 against ranked opponents since coach Mike Montgomery took the helm in 2008. The team’s last win against a Top 25 squad was on Nov. 25, 2010, against No. 20 Temple. The Bears will face UC Santa Barbara (Tuesday), Prairie View A&M (Saturday) and Harvard (Dec. 29) before kicking off conference play at UCLA on Jan. 3.
One of them nights: Allen Crabbe is often criticized for not asserting himself in the biggest games. On Saturday, he tried to do too much against No. 16 Creighton.
“I guess I sped up a little bit and that’s what caused me to miss my shots,” Crabbe said. “I apologized to my team after the game, told them I took some questionable shots and I’ll change that for the betterment of the team.”
Crabbe missed his first 12 shots and didn’t sink his first field goal until early in the first half. He finished 6-for-26 on the night for 14 points.
“I guess it was just one of them nights,” Crabbe said.
Learning process: An unfortunate aspect of the Pac-12’s recent struggles in nonconference play is that teams develop and improve as the season progresses, but the selection committee doesn’t always recognize the growth.
By February, the Bears could be a much better team. But if the Pac-12 doesn’t improve its standing, Cal won’t be able to flex its muscles with a signature win. Likewise, a team like UCLA could start clicking in January and if the Bears beat the Bruins, they won’t receive as much credit because UCLA lost to Georgetown on Nov. 19, Cal Poly on Nov. 25 and No. 23 San Diego State on Dec. 1. In conferences like the Big East and Big Ten, teams that waffle through November and December will get more opportunities to beat credible teams.
Montgomery acknowledged that his team is still learning how to play together after Saturday’s game.
“We’re not good enough yet,” he said.
But even if things come together, will anyone notice if they’re beating a string of nonranked teams in the Pac-12?
UC Santa Barbara vs. Cal
WHEN: Tuesday, 8 p.m.
WHERE: Haas Pavilion, Berkeley
TV: Pac-12 Networks
RADIO: KNEW (910 AM)