With Oregon St. headed for the Bay Area for the weekend, and facing the California Bears, who have been only variably Golden so far this season, after being picked third overall in the Pac-12 preseason poll, on Thursday night, we got in touch with a couple of the Golden Bloggers that cover Cal on a daily basis to get an update on the state of affairs in Berkeley.
Allen Crabbe is the conference's leading scorer, but another guard, Justin Cobbs, is #2. Describe the typical California offensive game plan for us. Is it basically get the ball to Crabbe and let him create? At least of late, in scouting the Bears, it appears the inside offensive game plan appears to mostly be try to get put-backs off missed shots.
[LeonPowe] Crabbe, as good as he is, isn't much of a creator. We run a lot of crack down action on the wings, with our bigs setting high angled screens for Crabbe and Wallace/Cobbs/Powers to run off of, and whoever has the ball at the top of the key (Cobbs/Wallace/Smith) hitting Crabbe in stride for a layup off the curl or jump shot off a two dribble drive or a 3 if they run under the pick. With the emergence of Tyrone Wallace as a somewhat reliable back-up option at the 1/2 and Brandon Smith's return from injury (concussion) we've been running Cobbs as a scoring wing as well, so that we have Crabbe running off a pick one side with Cobbs on the other side.
Our basic offensive game plan is to hit Crabbe so he's catching off the pick with the idea to go to the rim or shoot the jumper, if it isn't there, we may run a flex action to free someone up baseline, or more often than not, throw it back to Cobbs at the top and have him try to penetrate to create something (usually out of desperation). We don't have a post game, since we don't have anyone you can throw it into and ask them to get two points (or even get to the line). Kravish is clever and can find his way to some putbacks, 14 foot jumpers and Robert Thurman can catch lobs and one-step dunks, but we don't exactly have Pete Newell's Big Man Camp operating down low for us.
[LEastCoastBears] I don't think I can explain the Cal offense better than what LeonPowe said. I'll just add that there were times this season, where the Bears tried to establish an inside game, but the Bears are just not very good. Our best post player is unfortunately Robert Thurman, and his best moves only work against the lesser conference and equally undersized foes.
Following up on that, what's the situation with David Kravish? It seemed like he was destined to be the next Harper Kamp, and later last season, it appeared that plan was falling into place. But that hasn't eventuated. We've also heard about his right ankle being a problem, and he looked better at times than other in the Colorado game. Is this really indirectly at the root of a lot of the problems Cal has been having?
[LeonPowe] I think that's a bit unfair to Kravish to compare a thin sophomore to old man Kamp (who was around for 5 years and spent his red-shirt year defending and practicing against a better-than-you-remember Jamal Boykin. Kravish has a physical problem in that he's a pretty skinny dude. I'm not sure how the ankle is looking, but we've been awfully thin up front for the past few years and this is no different.
[LEastCoastBears] Given Coach Montgomery's track record with Big Man back at Stanfurd, I think most Cal fans are a bit disappointed that Kravish didn't take a bigger step forward this year. He certainly has the skills to have a nice mid range game, but is still not yet a very dominant scoring force inside. Defensively, Kravish has some good skills but he is just way too light, especially against someone like a Joe Burton.
Crabbe has a tremendous number of touches in the course of a game, but nearly no assists, just a full shot chart. Is no one else getting open?
[LeonPowe] When Crabbe catches the ball, his job is to get buckets. I don't think he's particularly selfish, but the lack of scoring on this team and lack of ability to even hit stand still jumpers means that if he has any opening at all, Crabbe needs to take a shot. It might be a lot different if we could roll out a healthy Ricky Kreklow - which would mean a fantastic outlet for cross court 3 point bombs. Alas, the ankle.
LeastCoastBears] Cal is just not a very good shooting team this year. Crabbe actually has a decent shooting percentage but there are just not enough help. Cobbs is our next best scorer but he doesn't get his point via catch and shoot. Instead, Cobbs would dribble drive and take either difficult pull up jumpers or layups.
Replacing Jorge Gutierrez, not just for his production, but for his leadership and distribution skills, was one of the biggest challenges facing California this year. How has Cobbs done in that regard?
[LeonPowe] Comparisons to Gutierrez are difficult to live up to for anybody wearing a Cal uniform. I've been watching Cal basketball for 20 years and there's only one other player I've seen play that hard, and he's a first ballot Hall of Famer and on the very short list of best point guards of all time. Cobbs will be fine, but I don't think he's the same personality as Jorge - no one is, or even can be. We do seem to lack a toughness and smartness that we had with last year's tournament team, but if you look down the list of adjectives for Jorge and Harper Kamp too - toughness and smartness are often the first things listed.
[LeastCoastBears] Against weaker pre-conference opponents, there were some glimpse of how good Cobbs can be. However, starting with the stretch of games against ranked team late in the out of conference part of the schedule, Cobbs has gone cold and stayed cold. Even at his best, he is a different type of player than Jorge. Had Ricky Kreklow been healthy, Cal fans would have expected Kreklow to be the one who bring that all out energy on the floor that Jorge brought. The most Jorge like play that Cobbs did make this year was a key block in the victory over USC where he ran down and blocked what looked like an easy break away bucket.
Discuss the California defensive scheme for us. What do the Bears like to do, what do they do well, and what doesn't work?
[LeonPowe] Solid man to man. Not a whole lot of lane jumping - which made it odd that we accumulated 16 steals in the last two games - per game! We don't have any depth and while we're long at some places (Crabbe, Solomon, Kravish) we're not particularly athletic (or nonathletic either - we seem to just sit in the middle of "athletic enough"). We don't have any real glass cleaners, so a lot of times this season we've given up untimely offensive rebounds that and our depth issues (and foul trouble) seem to be the biggest places our defense doesn't work.
The Bears' defense generally seems to have played ok. In looking at the losses, they've only been really lit up a couple of times, and in a number of the defeats, even some of the lopsided ones, the opponents' point production hasn't appeared to be of glaring concern. Can it be counted on if the offense has a good day?
[LeonPowe] I don't feel our defense is either particularly putrid, or outstanding, it's just kind of meh some days and other days its solid.
[LEastCoastBears] Looking at Cal's defensive numbers, I think they look better than what I remember from watching the games. While the overall result is not super terrible, there are handful of defensive lapses every game that drive Monty and Cal fans mad.
How much does a typical California game plan this year reflect matchups with the opponent, and how much is based on the Bear's base philosophy? And how much does events in 1 game translate to other games this year for California? Do we learn anything relevant to the Oregon St. game from watching the Colorado or Washington St. games?
[LeonPowe] This is a personal opinion here, but I don't think we really change our gameplan that much based on opponent. Part of that is due to depth and part of that is due to our real lack of versatility. We are who we think we are. If someone's going to crown us, then crown us! We don't really possess the players to be really multiple, but if we get everyone going we can be a decent team. Too bad those games have been very rare for us this year.
[LEastCoastBears] This Cal team is so thin on personel that I don't think there are enough players to really play matchups.
At 11-8, and in the bottom half of the Pac-12 at this point, with a 3-4 record, post-season prospects are apparently going to be much more affected by how the Bears do in the Conference tournament than in the regular season. At what point does Coach Montgomery shift the focus toward getting ready to try to make a big run over 4 days?
[LeonPowe] I think at 11-8 with still half the Pac-12 left, you also have to be realistic with the NIT as an option.Unlike a lot of fans, I don't see that much wrong with going to the NIT if you're not really looking like a tournament team anyways. I don't think the focus shifts at all - we still need to win as many of the remaining games as possible and get a .500 record or better. I think a Pac-12 tournament run is a really hard ask for this team anyways due to the thinness of the bench.
[LEastCoastBears] I don't think there is anything that Monty can do to try to prep the team for a 4 day run. The dropoff in talent after the starting five is pretty drastic, so even as Monty allows more of the bench to get PT, Cal is only as good as how the starting five is effective.
California can be a tough place to play when the Bears are playing golden, but not so much when there's a lot of tarnish. This season seems to be somewhere in the middle, overall results wise. Will Haas be hopping Thursday night? Or is a feeling of impending DOOM beginning to permeate the Old Blues?
[LeonPowe] Unfortunately Haas really hasn't been a difficult place to play because of the crowd. The early Montgomery records and winning streak and dominance at home have come because he's had tournament level teams and Jerome Randle and Jorge Gutierrez - not because our fans are loud and rocky and rowdy. We can certainly get there at times, but we're not even selling games out in a small stadium and we only get noisy at certain times. This hasn't always been the case at Cal, nor should it always be the case, but it currently the case.
[LEastCoastBears] Between the dismal football season and the inability of the Cal team to pull off an upset against ranked team back in December, the fanbase can only be so excited about the team. The Bears have dropped way too many home games this season, even though part of it has to do with the quality of some of those opponents.
In a season with mixed results, some of which have definitely been disappointing compared to recent seasons and pre-season predictions, Monty is obviously making some decisions about players, games, and the whole season, and some have worked out better than others. While obviously disappointed, are the Blues upset with Monty, or do they see this season as a blip, and still feel comfortable overall with their program?
[LeonPowe] I think if you ask 5 different people, you'll get five different answers. I think, in general, that despite some successes recruiting (Jorge, Alan Crabbe, Jabari Bird) there's a sizable population of fans/alums who are disappointed we haven't been able to pull as many Bay Area blue chippers as we feel we should. I don't think anyone has any large issues with Monty's coaching, but the player turnover combined with a lack of recruiting success has had every single Montgomery team at Cal thin thin thin which is a big issue come post season time as our guys are run down and subject to foul or injury trouble in the tournament (even if that tournament is the NIT). There's not going to be a consensus opinion on the coach, but I think in general people love him, just wish he'd recruit better.
[LEastCoastBears] I think the general concern over the continual lack of depth and enough impact recruits being brought in by Monty is justified. Nonetheless, Monty's team has yet to finish out side the top half in the conference (prior to the current season) so until he struggles to do that for consecutive seasons, I personally would give him the benefit of the doubt.
Bonus football questions:
How do you feel about the hiring of Sonny Dykes? And probably more importantly, the staff he's hired?
[LeonPowe] I was in a wait and see mode, but I will say one thing - he's been very good at the initial part of being a football coach at Cal. He's said all the right things ("We pitch the academics here" "I want to live in Berkeley" "This team should be part of the community"). However we end up record wise, he's already done a lot of things to convince some skeptics about how he's approaching the job.
[LEastCoastBears] Cautiously optimistic. Even if the team's record is not super good next year, I hope to be entertained by Bear Raid.
How much time does Dykes have to turn things around in a very tough division?
[LeonPowe] I tend to be pretty patient (APOLOGIST!!!) with coaches, but again as I mentioned with Tedford's last season, for me the way the team is playing is a lot more important than actual W-L. If we're playing with our pants on fire and flying the ball and playing fast and hard and entertaining but lose, the leash gets longer. If we lose and look stale and error prone and don't even look competitive, the leash shortens up.
[LEastCoastBears] He has some job security simply because the University can not afford to make another coaching change that soon.
When Oregon St. makes their first visit to newly remodeled Memorial Stadium in mid-October, how high will the stakes be for that game?
[LeonPowe] I think Benny the Beaver and Oski the Bear will bet a meal of salmon on the game!
[LEastCoastBears] That's the 4th conference game of the season, with 2 road games for the Bears at Oregon and at UCLA. I hope the Bears are still in conference contention at that point.
Thanks, guys! It should be an interesting evening.