The crew over at California Golden Blogs was nice enough to answer some questions before tomorrow's men's basketball game at Haas Pavilion. Read on as LeonPowe, Kodiak, and atomsareenough share their thoughts on Cal's current winning streak, Mike Montgomery's lone senior, and the Golden Bears' postseason prospects.
Cal went into a bit of a tailspin after the heartbreaking triple-overtime loss to Arizona. Do you look back at that game and wonder what might've been had the Bears come out on top?
LeonPowe: While losing that Arizona game was tough, we (or maybe its just me) tend to think that our team is mentally tougher than having a tough loss deflate us. Of much more importance was the concussion Alan Crabbe sustained which allowed defenses to concentrate on stopping both bigs (Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp) as well as move a better defender against Jorge Gutierrez.
Kodiak: Strangely enough, I'm not overly bothered by the 3OT loss. It was one of the best college games that I've seen and I feel fortunate that we were able to compete at such a high level. The tailspin was mostly due to Allen Crabbe's injury. We only play a 6 man rotation most nights and he's our best perimeter scorer. Without him to open things up for the other guys, our offense tends to struggle. Also, his contributions on defense and on the glass are under-appreciated.
atomsareenough: I think if 1) we had beaten Arizona and if 2) Crabbe hadn't sustained a concussion against Washington, we would be at least thinking about the possibility of an NCAA tourney berth.
What has Cal done well during its current winning streak?
LeonPowe: Grit, hustle and have different players step up. Brandon Smith has bounced back from a lot of growing pains early in the season - when it looked like he should be at a lower division school to take control of the team, shoot dagger threes and surprise defenders on fast breaks. Jorge has out hustled entire universities to get to loose balls, dive on the floor and play in just enough control to drive opposing defenses and fanbases to the utter anger. Kamp and Sander-Frison continue to play smart hi-low passing games and rebound with authority. And Crabbe has just continued to grow and become more assertive - as the probable Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. In terms of doing things well - we have continued to do two things at an outstanding rate - defensive rebound and get to the free throw line.
Kodiak: Crabbe is healthy and back shooting the ball well. Brandon Smith has continued to elevate his game - besides providing steady ball-handling, he's been nailing clutch outside shots and really playing above his head. Jorge is a one-man wrecking crew. Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison have been consistently productive down low. And we're getting productive minutes off the bench from Richard Solomon.
atomsareenough: We've performed very well in the second half of games recently, which is somewhat surprising considering how thin we are and how fatigued you'd imagine our starters to be at this point in the season. Maybe we're heading to a precipice, but maybe these guys are just that tough and well-conditioned.
How will you remember Markhuri Sanders-Frison?
LeonPowe: A big man. A very reliable left-hand hook. Surprisingly soft hands and good court vision for someone who some critics viewed as "oafish" and "unskilled". Also: this.
Kodiak: Wide-body with a sweet lefty hook. Nearly automatic if you get him the ball in the low post. Pulled off an amazing transformation losing 40-50 lbs and managed to turn himself from role player into a solid starter. Seemed to draw the ire of every Pac-10 official simply because he was a big guy.
atomsareenough: I'll remember him as a tough, intense competitor who developed some nifty moves and a sweet lefty baby hook in his two years here at Cal, and gave us some invaluable minutes at the post position when we really needed it. I'll also remember how much Pac-10 refs seemed to search for any and every excuse imaginable to call fouls against him just for breathing it felt like. I think he fouled a lot last year, but he lost a fair amount of weight and became more mobile this year, but unfortunately hasn't been able to shed his reputation with the refs. Body bias, I guess. Anyway, I wish him nothing but the best.
Who is the biggest threat to go off against Stanford -- Allen Crabbe, Jorge Gutierrez, or someone else?
LeonPowe: Crabbe has the most talent. Gutierrez wants it the most. I'm not betting against Jorge.
Kodiak: Crabbe and Gutierrez are the most likely candidates. Both of them have been playing really well and I don't see anyone on your young team who can play stopper. Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison might have trouble with Dwight Powell's athleticism as well as your overall depth in the post.
atomsareenough: Crabbe is more talented in general, but right now I've gotta go with Jorge. He's seriously carrying the Bears at this point. He's the clear emotional leader of this team.
Would it surprise you to see the Bears make a deep run in the Pac-10 tournament and, dare I say it, maybe even win the thing? Assuming they don't cut the nets at Staples Center, do you like their chances for an NIT bid?
LeonPowe: Yes. We don't have the depth to play and win 3 games in 3 days. Unfortunately we're just not built for short tournament basketball - really only going 6 deep with one contributing big off the bench. I do think we're in good shape for the NIT, but would like at least one more win to certify it.
Kodiak: It surprises me that it actually wouldn't surprise me. As long as we don't face UW, we've been competitive with everyone else, even on the road. However, before I get overly optimistic - the back to back to back tournament format works against us because we lean so heavily on our starters. I think we have a great chance for an NIT bid which is probably what this team deserves.
atomsareenough: I think we've got a legitimate shot at winning it if our guys are healthy, and if someone else takes out Washington for us. We've shown we can compete against every other team in the conference, besides the Huskies. Well, I guess we didn't have a very good game against you guys, but I'm fairly confident that we will at least be competitive this time around.
What's the outlook for next season?
LeonPowe: Improved. I am thinking an outside shot at the Top-3 for the Pac-12, and a 6-8 seed in the NCAA.
Kodiak: This year, we were content to take our lumps and live with some growing pains. Next year, I think we expect to challenge for the upper echelon of the league, with an outside shot at challenging for the Pac-10 title(depending on who stays/jumps to the NBA), and perhaps make a post-season run. We only lose Markhuri Sanders-Frison. With Jorge and Kamp as seniors and Crabbe/Solomon/Smith continuing to improve, that's a nice starting 5. The x-factor is Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs who is rumored to be the best point guard on the team. You'd also expect us to be able to get more bench production next year - having the young guys grow up and be able to contribute will make us a deeper team.
atomsareenough: The outlook is pretty good. We were picked 7th (for what it's worth) this season in the Pac-10, and I'd say we've exceeded expectations by any measure. Since the departure of a certain freshman guard earlier this season, Allen Crabbe has stepped up and shown that he can be an impact player for the Bears. His pal Richard Solomon has also shown flashes of game-changing talent. Bak Bak has been coming along as well. Sanders-Frison is the only player we lose, and we will gain some talented, seasoned players in Justin Cobbs and De'End Parker. Some of the freshmen recruits may be able to contribute off the bench as well. I'm hoping for a top-3 conference finish and an NCAA tourney berth next year.
What's your prediction for Saturday's game?
Kodiak: It's senior night, so the guys will be amped. It really helps our starters that they're able to get a whole week's of rest plus game prep. I don't think that either team will have trouble scoring on the other. We don't match-up well against athletic bigs like Powell and Owens. And we're not very good at shutting down hot shooters like Jeremy Green. However, we've been moving the ball really well offensively and all of our top 6 guys can go off on any given night. I think the home crowd lets us take this one in a tight contest.
atomsareenough: I am constitutionally incapable of believing anything other than that the Bears will justly prevail over the Cardinal.
LeonPowe: Jorge will cause at least one shoving match.
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