TAMPA — Now that it's finally sinking in that USF is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years, we offer a quick cram session on the Bulls' first-round opponent: The California Golden Bears.
"I know they're in California," coach Stan Heath said, joking Sunday night when asked what he knew of his next opponent. "And I know Mike Montgomery's a heck of a coach and we'll be watching a lot of film … to figure some things out."
Cal (24-9, 13-5 Pac-12) meets USF about 9:10 p.m. Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio. Cal lost three of its past four, twice to Pac-12 tournament champion Colorado and once to Stanford. The Golden Bears have an RPI of 37, a full 15 spots ahead of USF. Much like USF, Cal had a 17-1 home mark, but 7-8 away from home.
Four in double figures
Cal has four players averaging more points per game than USF's leading scorer. It starts with 6-foot-6 sophomore guard Allen Crabbe, who averages 15.3 points; 6-3 senior guard Jorge Gutierrez is next at 13.1, followed by 6-2 sophomore guard Justin Cobbs (12.9) and 6-8 senior forward Harper Kamp (11.3). Like USF, the Bears are arguably stronger on defense, ranking second in the Pac-12 in points allowed at 61.8 a game; they score 71.7 a game, fourth in the league.
Cal led the Pac-12 in both field-goal percentage (47.9) and free-throw percentage (74.6). The Bears led the league with 16.1 assists per game but were last in the conference at 4.7 steals per game. They don't rely heavily on 3-point shooting, hitting just 4.6 per game, second-lowest in the Pac-12. Five players average at least five rebounds per game.
Who has more?
You should know Montgomery from his Stanford days at least — to put the 65-year-old's career in perspective, he has a career record of 635-290 as a head coach; USF as a program has an all-time record of 561-621. Yet USF faced two coaches this season who have more career wins in Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and West Virginia's Bob Huggins. UConn's Jim Calhoun also has more but did not travel with the Huskies for their game against USF this season.
The teams have met twice, splitting a home-and-home series in 2000 and 2001. USF lost 79-69 at Cal in 2000 then won 59-56 in Tampa. USF is 2-4 all-time against Pac-12 schools. Heath knows what it's like to face a Pac-12 team in the NCAA Tournament; his last appearance, at Arkansas in 2007, ended with a 77-60 loss to USC.
Been there before
The Golden Bears went 18-15 last season and made the NIT. In 2010, they went 24-11, beating Louisville 77-62 before losing to Duke in the second round. In 2009, Cal went 22-11 and lost to Maryland in the first round. Of Cal's key players, Gutierrez played in all three NCAA games, while Kamp only played in the Maryland game as a freshman.