We got together with our blogger brother bears Kodiak and NorCalNick over at California Golden Blogs to exchange some questions and answers as we both get ready for Saturday afternoon's match up between the Beavers and the Bears.
You can read Buildingthedam.com's answers to some Golden questions here.
Here are our questions, and CGB's answers.
1. How do you recommend the Beavers defend Jorge Gutierrez? Lock him in his motel room?
Seriously, everyone expected Gutierrez to progress a lot from last year to this, and more during the season, but he has to have exceeded all reasonable expectations. What do you attribute his improvement in all areas to?
Kodiak: Most of Jorge's improvement is attributable to hard work and desire. I know you hear that cliche all the time, but he takes basketball more seriously than most of us take eating. You'd also have to believe that Mike Montgomery knows a thing or two about teaching basketball and developing tough-minded guards. Monty has done a nice job adapting his sets and system to accentuate Jorge's strengths. As far as guarding him goes, I'd back off, sit on his right hand, play him for the drive, and give him the open outside shot. He might make a few here or there, but I'd play the odds with his streaky jumper beating me instead of letting him get into the lane.
NorCalNick: Well, a large percentage of his success is because he's spectacular at drawing fouls, getting to the line, and hitting his free throws. He'll typically add 8 to 10 points to his total from the line each night. You'll never mistake him for a great jump shooter, but he'll generally knock down wide open looks. The biggest leap in his game has been finishing near the basket. He's always been a recklessly attacking type of player, but over the last few weeks he's shown an improved ability to finish those reckless drives, and that's really added a huge dimension to his offensive game.
As for slowing him down, I think a zone will do a better job on him, at least in comparison to UCLA's man-to-man defense. The Bruins never figured out how to stop him from penetrating off of screens at the top of the key against the man-to-man defense, and Jorge attacked the basket with ease. UCLA briefly showed a 2-3 zone and that slowed Cal down, but they inexplicably went back to a man-to-man and Jorge went right back to gashing them. He'll still attack when he can against a zone, but he'll probably focus more on facilitating for Harper Kamp, Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Allen Crabbe against a zone.
2. Cal went through a very difficult stretch, losing three heart-breakers, plus the blowout at Washington. That could have been the beginning of the end for a lot of teams, especially ones with as many inexperienced players as the Bears have. How did coach Mike Montgomery prevent that from happening, and keep Cal on track?
Kodiak: I don't know, honestly. Monty is very good at what he does. (understatement) Although we don't always play good basketball, we tend to give a decent effort and are pretty tough-minded. Somehow, he's molded this team into a bunch of scrappers. Also, I think the players understand that we likely would have won another game or two with Crabbe in the lineup.
NorCalNick: Man, that's a tough question to answer. I'm sure Monty had something to do with it, but I think a lot of the credit has to go to Gutierrez, who's the type of player who would be taking charges with 30 seconds left in a 20 point blowout. During Cal's losing streak he nearly forced ovetime against WSU, willed the team back against USC after a miserable first half, and then single-handedly beat UCLA. I also think getting Allen Crabbe back healthy probably provided a boost of confidence for the team that may have helped them against the Bruins.
3. The Bears have used their bench to very varying degrees this season. Is is more correct to say that Coach Montgomery will go to the bench only as far as he has to, or has he been trying to play depth, but not been in a position to take the chance in some games?
Kodiak: Coach Montgomery has said before that as much as he'd like to give the young guys more time, he wants to win games. Right now, he's playing the guys that give us the best chance to win. That means a 6 or 7 man rotation on most nights. And, it's pretty clear that when we're forced to go to our 8th or 9th guy, that there's a huge drop-off because they're not quite ready yet.
NorCalNick: Very much the former. Cal got a few nice games from bench players in the non-conference schedule, but at this point I think that says more about the competition in those games than anything else. During Pac-10 play it's almost been a six man rotation with freshman Richard Solomon the only player to get significant minutes off the bench. Whenever anybody past that is on the court it's because of a very specific matchup advantage, foul trouble, or injuries, and it's usually nervous time for Cal fans.
4. Given the extensive number of top players lost off last year's team, do most Cal fans still consider this season acceptable, given that next year looks, with everyone probably back, like the year the Bears could make a run at the Pac-10 title? Or will an NIT bid be more than a minor disappointment?
Kodiak: I think most Cal fans consider this season to be acceptable. Before Crabbe got hurt, we were in 3rd place when we had been projected to go 7th. Since we need to win 2/3 to even have a chance at the NIT, I think we'd all see an NIT bid as a minor success instead of a disappointment. Quite honestly, we knew we would take our lumps this year. Many of us see this team as having over-achieved. I know the wins/losses are disappointing, but in some ways, this team is just as enjoyable to watch as last year's. These guys play really hard and their persistence as well as their continued improvement is just fun to see.
NorCalNick: I think most Cal fans have been thrilled with this team, particularly since the shock transfer of four star guard Gary Franklin. Most Cal fans aimed at the NIT as a realistic goal for the season, but there was a point when it looked like the Bears were in a position to steal an NCAA spot. That was before a crazy triple OT loss to Arizona and losing Allen Crabbe for two games, but the fact that we were even in a position to think about that kind of accomplishment after losing eight players from 2010 was crazy.
5. Cal hasn't been a consistent threat from 3 point range, but it appears that the reason for that is a preference, and ability, to get penetration, and shorter shots. Do you consider outside shooting to be a area of concern should it be needed, (especially against zone defenses)? Or do you feel the Bears are better than their numbers indicate from outside, should they need to be?
Kodiak: That's a great question. I actually like the fact that we're not so reliant on the 3-pointer this year. I think our overall ball movement is better and we're more consistent with attacking defenses regardless of man or zone. I'm not overly concerned with our outside shooting. Crabbe is probably the only guy who I would want looking to shoot open 3's whenever he gets them. Smith, Jorge, and Powers are guys who can hit them, but I'd rather that they shoot wide open shots within the flow of the offense - especially after we've worked the ball inside-out first.
NorCalNick: Allen Crabbe is an excellent 3 point shooter, but he's really the only major threat from deep. And since their opponents know that going in, they usually work very hard to not give him open looks. So no, Cal isn't at all a team that can rely on the 3 ball to bail them out of tough situations.
But I don't think it's a big concern, because Monty has done a great job of maximizing what Cal is good at on offense. Players seem to know their roles and play within that, and the result is that Cal usually gets a pretty good shot or gets to the line. I'd much rather we get the ball inside to Kamp and Sanders-Frison, or to Crabbe for an open jumper off a screen. And if all else fails we can just let Jorge charge into the key like a bull in a china shop.
6. Finally, it's off the basketball subject, but what is the mood at Cal about the end of the baseball program, especially now that several other sports have been reinstated? And is there any reasonable hope in the foreseeable future that baseball can still be saved? Or is that all dreamworks?
Kodiak: I think that we're all saddened. You could argue back and forth forever about whether this was fair, justified, or whether the athletic department/administration handled it correctly. The bottom line is that our athletic department needs to do a better job of being financially efficient as well as paying attention to fund raising and alumni outreach. I could see that baseball might still be saved. It would require enough donations that are properly handled to create a sustainable endowment. And, the whole culture of fiscal responsibility needs a serious upgrade.
Thanks to the California Golden Bloggers for sharing their insights.
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