The Cal basketball team may have blown its best opportunity to produce a conference win in 2018-19 with a 75-67 overtime loss to UCLA Wednesday night. The defeat was the 13th straight for the Golden Bears, one which dropped them to 5-19 on the season and 0-12 in the much-maligned Pac-12.
It’s also a defeat which allows us to ask the question: Is Cal the worst power conference team in the history of college basketball?
On the surface this seems like a hyperbolic overreaction to something happening in the present. Do a little digging, however, and Wyking Jones’ team is putting together a pretty compelling case.
The only team to go 0-18 in the history of the Pac-12 is Oregon State, which achieved imperfection in 2007-08 when the Pac-12 was still the Pac-10. Not that it excuses the Beavers’ complete futility, but ‘07-08 was a banner year for Pac-10 hoops. Six of the league’s 10 teams made the NCAA tournament, including two — Oregon and Arizona — that finished the regular season with conference marks of .500 or worse. UCLA, Washington State and Stanford all made the Sweet 16 of the Big Dance, with the Bruins eventually crashing the Final Four for the third straight year.
If Cal goes winless in league play — it figures to be an underdog in each of its six remaining regular season games — it will have done so despite playing in one of the weakest power conferences college basketball has seen in years.
At the moment, the Pac-12 is flirting heavily with becoming the first single-bid power conference since the NCAA tournament expanded in 1985. Washington, which sits atop the league standings by a full three games at 11-1, is the only Pac-12 team currently in the top 60 of the NET rankings ... and the Huskies are only No. 31. The league embarrassed itself during the non-conference portion of the season, dropping contests against fellow power conference foes and unrenowned mid/low majors alike. No team had reached double-digit wins once league play began in 2019. UCLA fired Steve Alford on New Year’s Eve, Oregon lost star freshman Bol Bol to injury, and Arizona and Sean Miller have been dealing with one off court distraction after another all year.
If ever there was a time for a projected middle to bottom of the pack Pac-12 team to seize the moment and overachieve, it would be now. Instead, Cal has been the unquestioned worst of the worst, and is now on the brink of going winless against the least intimidating conference slate the program has ever seen.
Non Pac-12 teams that have defeated Cal this season:
Yale (by 17)
Saint Mary’s (by 13)
San Francisco (by 19)
Fresno State (by 22)
Seattle (by 9)
The Bears’ five wins this season have come against 10-14 Hampton, 13-12 Santa Clara, 15-9 San Diego State, 5-17 Cal Poly (by 1), and 3-20 San Jose State.
Even if Cal does break through and taste victory at least once more before the end of the season, its current 13-game losing streak is the longest in the 115-year history of the program.
Cal hasn’t just gone 0-12 in arguably the worst power conference of all-time, more times than not, the Bears have been throttled by these average teams. Their 12 defeats have come by an average of 13.3 ppg. Half of those losses have come by 14 points or more, and just one — an 84-81 home loss to Stanford on Feb. 3 — has come by fewer than eight points.
Despite playing just the 80th-toughest schedule in Division-I, Cal registers as one of the worst defensive teams in the country. Out of 353 D-I squads, the Bears rank 333rd in adjusted defensive efficiency. They are allowing opponents to produce an effective field goal percentage of 57.8 percent, the worst of any power conference team since Ken Pomeroy began tracking the statistic in 2002, and the second-worst of any team in the country. Only Incarnate Word, which is 2-18 against Division-I opponents this season, is worse.
The Bears are allowing opposing teams to shoot 58.4 percent from inside the arc (also good for 352nd in Division-I), and 37.9 percent from beyond it (329th). They haven’t held a single opponent below 65 points in a game this season, and have held just four below 70.
I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted anything more than for this team to win the Pac-12 tournament next month in Las Vegas.
That’s not a piece of evidence, but it needed to be said.