This is the winter of Cal’s discontent. The Wyking Jones era has begun with a 2–30 conference record, a series of humiliating losses and no discernible improvements. In a conference filled with disaster stories, the Golden Bears are on another level entirely.
If this continues, the 2018 Cal squad could make a case for worst major conference team of the 21st century (or the kenpom.com era, if you will). This is a subjective ranking, of course. However, Cal sits at No. 284 on kenpom, the lowest of any team since Utah finished at 302 in 2012. But that Utah team is excusable, as they won three conference games and were transitioning into a new league. The last team to go winless in the Pac-12, the 2008 Oregon State Beavers, finished at No. 246 on kenpom and made it to six wins.
The other contender, the 2016 Rutgers Scarlet Knights, ended the year at No. 279, picked up one conference win, and six other wins throughout the year. If Cal loses the rest of its games, it will finish with just five wins, the lowest of this group. By NET rating, Cal is 275th, behind Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Western Michigan and Sacramento State. Cal Baptist, a team that is playing its very first season in Division I basketball, is 99 spots higher at 176. Things have gotten better of late. A competitive 84–81 loss to Stanford and an overtime loss to UCLA is somewhat reasonable, but Cal reverted back to normal with an 89–66 mauling at the hands of rival USC at home and, on Thursday night, a 25-point loss to Arizona that snapped the Wildcats’ seven-game losing streak.
What makes Cal’s case for “worst team of all time” more compelling is the disastrous state of the Pac-12. Even without Cal, this has been a historically awful year for Pac-12 basketball. The Pac-12 is going to be, at most, a two-bid league. The failure to win a game within one of the worst high-major conferences in recent memory would be astounding. Cal is also not playing that many close games, mostly due to their No. 336 defense on KenPom, only 17 spots higher than rock bottom and behind quite a few SWAC and MEAC teams—and those conferences rank the lowest, out of 32, by kenpom rating. Cal has allowed opponents to score at an eFG% of 58.3, which is 352nd out of 353 Division I teams.
It’s not for lack of trying—or maybe it is. Fixing Cal’s defense this year has been a Sisyphean effort. Before the first game with Washington State in mid-January, Wyking Jones tried to inspire his team with some tough love, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Cal lost 82–59 to Washington State the next day and 71–52 to Washington in the game afterward. Contrary to Camus’s hypothesis about Sisyphus “being happy”, Bears fans are not pleased. A petition demanding a coaching change has been launched on Change.org, with over 150 signatures thus far.
Obviously, this shouldn’t happen for any team with Cal’s resources. Cal was a No. 4 seed in the 2016 NCAA tournament and a No. 1 seed in the NIT in 2017. When Cuonzo Martin left for Missouri at the end of 2017, a rebuilding project was expected under Jones. But this is Jones’s second year, not his first year. Cal is, by any metric, significantly worse than last year.
The Golden Bears have one winnable game left, a home matchup against Washington State. Unless they beat the Cougars, Cal is very likely going to lose out, will likely get bounced in the first round of the Pac 12 tournament and will fall even further into the history books.