It's time for one of CougCenter's longstanding traditions: A question and answer post with our esteemed Cal brethren at SB Nation, California Golden Blogs.
So, without further ado, here are NorCalNick's A's to our Q's in advance of today's matchup with the Golden Bears today at 3 p.m. I'll link to mine when TwistNHook gets around to putting them up over there.
Cal is odd quandary. Pomeroy thinks very highly of the Bears, rating them 16th thanks to dominant wins over lesser opponents. But the national media doesn't think much of them, thanks to blowout losses to the good teams on the schedule. Which team are they?
As usual, the truth is somewhere in between. Missouri and UNLV were two teams that a) all things equal, are probably marginally better than Cal and b) a bad matchup to boot. I wonder if the national perception of Cal would be different if Richard Solomon had played against San Diego St. and Cal has earned the road win, but c'est la vie.
It's a shame that Cal's national reputation was sealed based on the result of three road games and a down Pac-12. I think (hope?) most Cal fans have focused on the conference title as the major goal of the season, as tournament success is a fickle mistress not worth agonizing over.
(By the way - it's no wonder Cal fans are fatalistic, and it's not just because we turn top-10 recruiting classes into smoking craters of despair. Cal might win its 2nd conference title in 3 years, our only titles in 50 years - and get an 8 seed both times!)
Jorge Gutierrez seems to have picked up where he left off in the second half of conference play a year ago. Tell us why he's so awesome.
The hair. The eyes. The way he walks, with confidence and direction. Just looking at him, you know he's a bad . . . Oh wait, did you mean that in a basketball sense?
We've marveled every year at how Jorge comes back with improved skills. Three years ago he was just a defensive enforcer off the bench, and now he's the unquestioned leader of the conference favorites. Each year he comes back with a better jump shot, with improved handles, with better court sense.
It's the experience that helps the most now. In the past, Jorge would play with 100% insane abandon, throwing his body around, harassing opponents, and generally killing himself to win. But it seems to me that he's learned to pick his spots, save his intensity, avoid silly fouls. Instead of charging through the lane like a mad man and hope to draw a foul but instead earning a charge, he pulls back and nails a jumper. Rather than mugging a defender and picking up a foul, he'll funnel his man towards a help defender. Jorge has four years of training from Monty now, and it allows him to focus his insane workrate.
Allen Crabbe is one of the most efficient players in the conference. So why do people seem to think he hasn't lived up to expectations?
If it seems like Cal fans are being harsh on Allen, it's because we've seen what he can do when he's playing his best - i.e., we're spoile. It's hardly that Allen is playing poorly - it's just that we see what he can do when he plays his best. He can score 20 points in 20 minutes, or he can go an entire half with 3 points on 3 shots.
If there's a knock on him it's that he has trouble creating his own shot, which is why teams can scheme defensively to slow him down. Kenpom lists him as a 'significant contributor, but I think Cal fans would prefer if he were a 'major contributor.' And next year, when Harper Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez are gone, he might need to be a 'go-to guy.' But if he's getting the type of looks he prefers, look out, because he's liable to go off.
Tell us about the dimension Justin Cobbs has brought to Cal.
He brings added versatility. There isn't one area of Justin's game that jumps out at me. He's a good shooter, he's a gifted passer, he's a good defender, he can play the 1 or the 2 . . . he really does everything well. I'm still a Brandon Smith fan (who was an underrated passer and saved the season last year after Gary Franklin transferred) but Cobbs brings more length and athleticism and shooting touch to the point.
In three of Cal's losses four losses, shooting was the major issue. What sorts of defenses tend to give the Bears fits, and do the Cougs have a prayer of inducing them into one of those days with their inconsistent 2-3 zone -- and thus, a prayer of actually winning the game?
The way to beat Cal is controlled pressure. Cal's offense thrives when they create shots for each other. We basically always have two point guards on the floor. Harper Kamp is a gifted passer for a big man. We score based on ball movement. If opponents have the speed and tenacity (Hellooooooo Missouri and UNLV) to constantly harrass the Bears both on and off the ball and make passing difficult, Cal's offense can stagnant, and players try to break down the defense by themselves.
I don't think a zone is the way to go. I can't say I recall many teams using it against Cal, which may tell you something right there. Crabbe and Cobbs are of course excellent outside shooters, but I think Jorge's ability to penetrate and dish is what I would fear most against Cal. For what it's worth, the Bears did pretty well against the ASU and OSU zones last year, though I'm not sure if that's a decent comparison to WSU's zones.