Its' almost time for another showdown between California and Oregon St., as the Bears are coming to Gill Saturday afternoon to help Joe Burton and the Beavers celebrate Senior Day, so it time for another question and answer session with our friends over at California Golden Blogs, who are on top of everything Bears, Golden or not.
Here's what CGB was wondering, and Robert and my thoughts.
Nick and Leon were good enough to catch Beaver Nation up on everything from the shove felt around the bay area to the current state of affairs with Oski.
Despite the over-reaction, was the dust up between Coach Montgomery and Allen Crabbe the best thing that's happened to Cal basketball in the last year? It sure seemed to get the point across to Crabbe that defense is not optional, and looked like the last touch on a team that's come alive in the last month?
NorcalNick: Without being able to crawl into the mind of the players, it's impossible to say. Having said that, my eyes told me that Cal looked even more disorganized in the immediate aftermath of the incident, and it took a little bit of time for the team to refocus. The Bears were lucky that enough time was left on the clock for Crabbe to go nutty from three.
LeonPowe: I don't think so - I wasn't a huge fan of the incident personally, and while everyone seems to have moved past it (including me), I don't think it was a watershed moment for the team, Crabbe or Montgomery. I do think the best thing to happen to the team over the past year has been how Crabbe has really become the MAN - his games against Arizona and UCLA have shown that he's the front runner for Pac-12 POY honors.
For his first couple of years the knock on Crabbe has been that he's been talented, but not always - motivated isn't the right word, but he hasn't always been . . .engaged. I guess the shove sort of indicated that this behavior hasn't been cleared out of his system all the way yet, but the way Crabbe has played in the last three weeks has been really impressive.
Starting with the that first game against the Beavers, the Bears have suddenly turned Golden, and are again playing with passion and energy that meets or exceeds their talent. Richard Soloman and David Kravish are seemingly suddenly playing much better, and Justin Cobbs appears to have notched up the intensity of his game as well. In turn, Crabbe can't be double teamed, and is going off on a regular basis. What made the difference? Was it just a matter of getting enough experience to put it all together? Or Kravish getting healthier? Or has Monty been "challenging" others as well, just not with tv cameras trained on him at the time?
NorcalNick: It sure seemed like multiple switches went off at once. Kravish and Solomon have both improved their play, particularly on the glass. The entire team has shown a renewed focus on defense. Cobbs broke out of a month long slump. Crabbe finally got used to the attention he's been receiving from defenses all season.
I don't really know why this has all happened - sometimes it feels like a feedback loop, where an improvement in one player's game allows another player the chance to improve in another area and so on and so forth. Either way, it's been a joy to watch, and it's always fun when your team proves your own pessimism wrong.
LeonPowe: For reasons unknown to me this team got into a funk right before Christmas. Even winning a few games from the loss at Harvard to the Oregon game a couple of weeks ago, the team just seemed to be playing out the string and not able to put the ball in the bucket. I think - and I have no inside knowledge to back this up - that a combination of back-up point guard Brandon Smith recovering from his concussion and freshman combo guard Tyrone Wallace being able to expand his game and responsibilities - have been able to free up everyone.
With two new ball handlers/offense initiators, this then allows Cobbs to run as a 2 and move Crabbe to the 3. The two wing scorers playing on opposite wings then allow the big men (Kravish, Thurman, Solomon) to receive much less attention as allowing them to rebound more freely as well as score off dishes and lobs. A small thing as adding an undersized point guard has been able to have a knock on, domino affect on the whole team. The oddest thing is, I don't even think Brandon Smith is that good. But he fills a role.
When we last chatted, I asked about Cal's defense, and Leon indicated solid man was the theme. But watching the Bears last night against the Trojans, I saw both 1-2-2 and 2-3 zone, and it was very effective. Was that thrown in because USC has repeatedly struggled notoriously against zones, or has it become a regular part of the plan for Cal?
NorcalNick: We saw it plenty against Arizona and USC, though honestly, I thought USC did a pretty good job against the zone, or at least Byron Wesley did. Monty will always prefer man-to-man defense, but if the Bears are struggling to execute the man-to-man, or if there's serious foul trouble, or if he's worried that the team doesn't have the depth necessary to keep their intensity up, he's certainly willing to throw zone. It tends to make me nervous because most teams with a functional offense can find open looks from three against Cal's zone whenever they want. But open looks don't always go in, and when they don't the zone works.
LeonPowe: It's now a regular part of the Cal defense! Obviously against some teams it'll be pulled out less, and others more, but its definitely in the rotation now.
With their recent resurgence, Cal is hanging on the verge of getting into the NCAA tournament according to most projections. How confident are you that the Bears can maintain this? If they do make the big dance, can they make a run from what will probably be a 12-16 seed? Looking big picture, and with all but 2 bench players coming back, would Cal be better off making a deep run in the NIT this year, and maybe getting some home games, rather than taking a risk of being a 1 and blown out in the NCAAs? (It worked well for Colorado and to a degree, for [shudder] Stanford.)
NorcalNick: I think this weekend in Oregon is the critical stretch. If Cal can at least split, then they come back home for their last three games against beatable teams. And although Cal's non-conference resume is mediocre, they have avoided any bad losses. A final conference record of 11-7 or better would be pretty hard to shut out of the NCAA tournament.
The NIT? It's fun in that I get to watch more basketball, but I don't think it has a ton of meaningful value.
LeonPowe: I think the remaining schedule is favorable for the Bears, but it would still require a hot finish down the stretch. I think the goal is always the NCAAs, even an outside seed and single game may be preferable to the a deep run at the NIT. But that's just me.
Has (or had) the fan base gotten squarely behind Monty in the last month? Will there be any lingering fallout from the Crabbe confrontation?
NorcalNick: Nah. Monty has a ton of good will built up for many reasons - his consistent honesty, his long history and reputation, the players he has produced at Cal, and winning Cal's first conference title in 50 years. One error of judgment is easily forgivable, particularly now that he has forcefully apologized both to Cal fans and (more importantly) to Crabbe himself.
LeonPowe: Monty doesn't have a lot of detractors. Winning the Pac-10 title in 2010 and taking 3 squads to the NCAA (even if not very successful once there) has been such an improvement over Braun - additionally, I think the last few teams have been so likeable and well coached, that despite some quibbles (recruiting misses, some transfers and a lack of depth) very few people are clamoring for Monty to go.
What one thing will likely happen that will rekindle thoughts of DOOM?
NorcalNick: Playing Stanford to finish the regular season, with an NCAA tournament bid on the line? That's plenty.
LeonPowe: Any injury to any rotation player.
With all the extra money saved with the Tedford settlement, will Cal buy Oski a new Cardigan? (That old sweater is getting pretty rough looking.)
NorcalNick: All extra money has been donated to the Oski criminal defense fund in case he decides to throw a cake at anybody again.
LeonPowe: We need to save some money to buy Twist NHook a new wardrobe first.
Thanks, guys; its always fun to chat. If we don't cross paths in the conference tournament, there's always baseball, which is already coming around the corner. That was an impressive opening weekend sweep of Michigan by Cal.