Stanford visits Haas Pavilion tonight (5:30 p.m., FSN) with a chance to pull even with the Bears in the Pac-12 race and keep pace with surging Washington. I chatted with NorCalNick and Cugel of California Golden Blogs to learn a little more about Mike Montgomery's troops. You can find my answers to their questions here. Enjoy.
Cal played San Diego State tough, but got rocked by Missouri and UNLV during the nonconference season. Say Cal is carrying the torch for the Pac-12 as the conference's lone representative in the NCAA Tournament. What will prevent this team from making it to the second weekend?
NorCalNick: The simple answer is that Cal will probably be playing a 1 or 2 seed in the 2nd round, which means they could play really well and still lose to a great team. But if you mean 'what are Cal's weaknesses that might be exposed in the tournament?' then the answer is that the Bears have depth problems and aren't especially athletic, so deep, athletic teams can give them problems. Missouri and UNLV both used their athleticism to bother Cal on offense and force turnovers, then score in transition.
Jorge Gutierrez's rebounds and shooting percentage are up from last season, but most everything else is about the same. What's your assessment of him this season?
NorCalNick: Jorge's jump shot has looked better this year, and I think he's taking more jumpers relative to his suicide drives that tended to end in fouls (for Jorge or his defender). Other than that, he's more or less the same player but with a bit more experience. I think that experience means that he's better about avoiding foul trouble and better about conserving his energy and picking his spots rather than going all-out on every play and then burning out. This team has to have him on the court and playing his best to beat decent teams. The simple answer is that he's Cal's single most important player. He makes everything go on offense and he makes things happen on defense. Cal's roster is thin enough that pretty much everybody is indispensable, but Jorge is REALLY indispensable.
It looks like Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs has fit right in. For Stanford fans like myself who haven't had a chance to see him play much, what should we expect?
NorCalNick: He's an excellent all-around player. There isn't one thing about his game that stands out, but he does everything well. He's a good shooter, a good passer, a good defender, he can occasionally break down his defender and he's a decent finisher. He's not the focal point of Cal's offense, but he's a key facilitator and when he's on the court he'll handle the ball about as much as Jorge Gutierrez does.
In Cal's two Pac-12 losses, Oregon State and Washington State shot a combined 58%. Granted, those are two of the better shooting teams in the conference, but what gives? Defensive lapses? Faisal Aden's newfound awesomeness?
NorCalNick: We can't comment much on the OSU game because only a few thousand people in Corvallis saw it. Cal's play-by-play guys implied that OSU hit an inordinate number of circus shots, but you don't allow a team to shoot around 60% without problems on defense. I think the simple answer is that nobody on Cal's roster is fast enough to stay in front of Jared Cunningham, but that's just conjecture on my part. WSU was just weird. Cal looked shockingly slow and tired. Guys who aren't usually driving the lane with much success (like Mr. Aden) were blowing by defenders. Monty leaned on the starters hard to hold on against Washington, then leaned on them hard against Wazzu. Lots of high intensity minutes combined with some challenging travel and weather issues probably made for a lethargic defensive performance. Unfortunately for Stanford, you would expect Cal's limited roster to be plenty rested for Sunday's game.
Cugel: I'd guess we win 82 - 75