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Men's Basketball Q&A With California Golden Blogs

The Stanford men open Pac-10 play today against Cal at Maples Pavilion. The game tips off at 5 p.m. and will be broadcast on CSN Bay Area. To get you ready for the game, the fine folks at California Golden Blogs took took the time to answer a few questions about the Golden Bears. 

I caught some of the Cal-Temple game, but that's all I've seen of the Bears this season. What's the skinny on this year's squad?

Kodiak: Our best players are returning post men Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison. They're tough, strong, and pretty fundamentally sound. But, they won't wow you with athleticism or jump out of the gym. Our best returning guard is Jorge Gutierrez. He started the year well, but has been in a bit of a funk lately. He's our best perimeter defender, but has been miscast at the point for the first several games. It looks like this experiment is over and he'll play more off the ball.  Although he does a decent job looking for guys, his handle is shaky and he tends to force the action a bit too much which leads to turnovers.  His outside shot has improved greatly, however, so he's no longer just a defensive specialist. The x-factor is the collective group of young guys. Returning sophomores Brandon Smith and Bak Bak as well as talented frosh Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin have all had their moments. Even if the offensive execution varies from awkward to downright ugly at times, we've given a consistent effort on defense and on the boards. We're vulnerable in the transition game, however, especially with our tendency to turn it over.

What player was the most pleasant surprise during the nonconference season?

Kodiak: We really didn't know what we would get from Kamp and MSF. Kamp has been injured for two years, and MSF was limited last year with injury and conditioning issues. It's been really nice to see both of them come back and be able to play so well.

norcalnick: I'd go with Brandon Smith, with a nod to Markhuri Sanders-Frison. Brandon Smith was the backup point guard last year, but he saw incredibly limited action behind Jerome Randle and I think very few Cal fans had confidence in him running the point for meaningful minutes at a time.  But he's become more aggressive and confident on the court, to the point where he earned a start against Hartford and could see more time along side Gutierrez at shooting guard.

As for Markhuri, he successfully lost a ton of weight and turned himself into one of the best defensive rebounders in the conference, in addition to being a consistent low post threat on offense. If only he could stay healthy and avoid foul trouble he could quietly be one of the better big men in the conference.

What's been the biggest reason for Cal's inconsistency this year?

Kodiak: Youth on the wings + a lack of experienced depth + a lack of good point guard play.  We tried Jorge at the point, but he turns the ball over too often.  Lately, we've tried Franklin and Smith at the point, but they're both a work in progress.  Smith is smaller and has trouble matching up with really strong, athletic guards.  Franklin is the better athlete, but tends to play out of control.  Without a steady hand at the helm, the offense has a tendency to grind to a halt as guys settle for contested outside shots.  We just don't shoot the ball well enough or consistently enough to rely solely on jumpers.  Unfortunately, other teams have figured out that we rely on our big guys to help initiate the offense and have been over-playing us to shut down our high-low game.

norcalnick: Probably the same reason that Stanford has been inconsistent - youth and inexperience.  Going in to this season there were pretty much three players Cal fans felt they knew anything about (Gutierrez, Sanders-Frison and Kamp) and two of them came in with serious injury/conditioning concerns.  Everybody else on the roster is incredibly young and/or inexperienced.

Cal's only real chance for consistent success was for their freshmen to come in and play like veterans, and that just hasn't happened. That's not a surprise by any means, and most Cal fans have resigned themselves to an entertainingly ugly, inconsistent team. Hey, love what you've got!

What's your prediction for Sunday's game?

Kodiak: We haven't played really well on the road, nor have we shot it well from distance.  I think it's going to be an ugly game.  Both teams seem like they lean more on their defense and rebounding while the young guys try to figure it out.  Previously, I would have given you a slight edge because of the home court...although there might not be as much of a crowd because of the holidays.  With news that Jeremy Green might have a sprained ankle, that changes things.  If Green can't go, I'd call it a pick'em.