The hype for tonight's game is obviously muted given the Isaiah Taylor injury news, but the Texas Longhorns still have a tournament to win. The Taylor-less Horns take on the California Golden Bears in tonight's 2K Classic championship game.
This offseason, Cal hired Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin to take over for the retired Mike Montgomery. Luckily for Martin, Montgomery recruited well in his final years in Berkeley, leaving a cupboard of talent.
Cal has a trio of guards with professional potential. 6' 5" junior Tyrone Wallace is the team's primary ballhandler and scorer. He has moved to the 1 following the graduation of Justin Cobbs. Early on, Wallace leads the team in assists (17), but also in turnovers (10) and shots attempted (37). 6' 4" sophomore Sam Singer is the backup 1.
Wallace is flanked by two sophomores who were top 100 recruits. 6' 3" Jordan Matthews is a dynamite scorer who has posted Jonathan Holmes-esque shooting numbers thus far: 12-17 (71%) from 2, and 8-15 (53%) from 3. 6' 6" Jabari Bird is a former McDonald's All-American. The tandem combined to average 19.6 PPG last year, but have upped that to 33.0 through three games.
Cal starts 6' 10" senior David Kravish and 6' 8" junior Christian Behrens in the frontcourt. Kravish is a glue forward in a similar mold to Connor Lammert. He doesn't stretch the defense, but is a capable rebounder and good passer, posting a 12 point, 9 rebound, 5 assist game against Syracuse. Behrens is getting his first meaningful playing time since arriving at Berkeley.
7' 1" freshman Kinglsey Okorah is an interesting backup, if only for his size. He played at Westwind Prep and had committed to Tennessee before following Martin to Cal. Backup forward Dwight Tarwater is a 6' 6" senior transfer from Cornell. He averaged 7.1 PPG and 5.5 RPG last year for the Big Red.
Cal's operational advantage exists in its backcourt. Prior to the Taylor injury news, I expected Barnes to heavily rely on 3-guard sets, with Kendal Yancy playing significant minutes. With Taylor out, go ahead and write Yancy's PT in ink. Combining Holland and Yancy on the perimeter is Texas' best shot at stymieing Cal's dynamic, slashing backcourt. Even with a height disadvantage, Texas' guards have the peskiness to take the Bear guards out of rhythm.
On offense, the Horns have to take advantage of its interior size and skill advantages, particularly without Taylor's dribble penetration. This would be a great game for Cameron Ridley to post a 16-10 statline. I'd keep feeding Ridley in the post, Turner at the elbow, and Lammert in the high post until Cal collapses its defense. When that happens, Texas will need Felix, Holland, et al, to provide a credible shooting threat from the perimeter.
It'll be tough for Texas to immediately pivot its offense sans Taylor's leadership and dribble-drive, but hopefully the Horns are energized to win one for their injured comrade.
The game will be televised on ESPN2, with a tentative tip of 6:00 p.m. (following the consolation game).