After beating Texas Southern in round one of the NIT, next up for Colorado is future Pac-12 conference foe California. The Bears beat Ole Miss Wednesday night to advance to the second round.
We were fortunate enough to have a little Q&A session with the great Cal blog, California Golden Blogs, to learn a little about the Bears, how they like to play, a key injury to their front court and the future prospects of the team.
Thanks to NorCalNick, Kodiak and LeonPowe from CGB for answering our questions
1. How do Cal fans assess this season finishing at 18-14? It looks like they were a streaky team where they would win four, lose four, and win four more. Thoughts on Montgomery?
NorCalNick - Before the season the NIT was the realistic measure of a successful season because we lost 8 players out of 10 who saw the court in any meaningful way. This team was a huge unknown because we lost 90% of our scoring from 2010, so we really had no idea what to expect. The result has been a really fun (if flawed) team that some have argued is Mike Montgomery's finest coaching job ever.
The four game losing streak was a bit of a downer, but one of the loses was to Pac-10 champs Arizona in triple OT and the other two losses came when Pac-10 freshman of the year Allen Crabbe was out with a concussion, so we took the losses in stride. Mostly Cal fans just wanted to see a team that would compete game-in, game-out, and we got just that.
Kodiak - I think the majority of Cal fans are quite happy with 18-14 and feel like the team over-achieved. Considering we lost 4 senior starters from last year who represented 90+% of our scoring/rebounds/assists and were relying this year on two big guys coming off of injury, a former walk-on to run the point, a defensive specialist without much offensive game, and two true frosh, it was a pleasant surprise to be competitive in most of our games. The win/loss streaks are a little misleading. Some of the losses are related to our best perimeter scorer, Allen Crabbe being out with a concussion. Some of them are more due to the schedule than anything to do with the game - in the Pac-10; it's a pretty good bet that playing the better teams on the road are going to be losses. And, some of the losses are simply due to an inexperienced team that doesn't shoot free throws or defend the perimeter well not knowing how to close out games. Coach Montgomery is likely a future Hall of Famer and this year might arguably be his best job because he did so much with so little. We feel we're in good hands although we might greedily wish that he'd bring in a younger assistant that specializes in recruiting.
LeonPowe - After losing 4 starters and the Pac 10 player of the year off last year's team, in addition 2 transfers, one early pro declaration in China, one senior bench player, one top recruit out with injury and freshman transfer getting any wins out of this group was a master coaching job. Montgomery is a great coach - a master of tactics and getting his team to play hard. The only slight criticism would be he's not the world's greatest recruiter, but he brought in Alan Crabbe and Jorge so it hasn't been terrible either.
2. What do we need to know about Cal basketball? Style of play, zone or man, best player, under the radar guy?
NorCalNick - Cal plays almost exclusively zone even though nobody (Monty included) wants to do it. But they do because it's necessary to protect our bigs from foul trouble and our entire team from exhaustion because we ride our starters so hard. I mean, Harper Kamp played all 55 minutes in that triple OT loss to Arizona! We've got a *very* thin bench. The zone has huge holes at the perimeter, and opponents have shot *very* well from 3 (Cal is 260th in the nation in 3 point defense).
On offense Cal is successful because we've got essentially two point guards on the floor in Jorge Gutierrez and Brandon Smith. Jorge makes everything go. When he's on Cal will compete in games you'd expect them to lose badly, and when his jumper isn't falling things get ugly (see: Pac-10 tourney loss to USC).
Hmm, we don't have many under the radar guys - we rely pretty heavily on the Jorge-Kamp-Crabbe trio (particularly with Sanders-Frison out). Brandon Smith is a walk-on sophomore who came out of nowhere to play huge minutes this year and really saved the season when Gary Franklin transferred. He's not a great shooter yet but he'll punish teams that haven't gotten an updated scouting report and ignore him.
Kodiak - Style of play = ugly. Play #1 is Jorge Gutierrez running into someone. Play #2 is feed the post and either score or work it inside out. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but we tend to do best when we can devolve the game into a slugfest. We'll run opportunistically, but usually play in the half-court. We only have one consistent outside threat, true frosh Allen Crabbe. With Markhuri Sanders-Frison out, we only have one real low post threat in Harper Kamp. He has a variety of moves, but can have trouble when covered by a taller player with hops. Our best play is the high pick and roll with Kamp setting the high pick, Jorge catching the pass off the curl, and then he drives into the middle of the lane to draw the foul or dish. Best way to play it is to either deny the initial pass/catch with an overplay, or sag off and force him to shoot. He can get streaky and hit 'em, but he's a much more serious threat driving to the basket. To protect our legs (we only go 6-7 deep), we'll play a lot of zone. We have matchup
issues when we play man...particularly against quick guards, or athletic bigs that can put it on the floor. Best all-around player is Jorge Gutierrez. More of a scorer than a shooter - when he's under control, he'll be a pest defensively, force the tempo offensively, and draw a lot of fouls by aggressively taking it into traffic. Lately, his outside shot has been inconsistent and flat, probably due to all the minutes he plays. He plays harder than any Cal player I've ever seen...and I've watched over two decades of Cal basketball. The under the radar guys for this game are Brandon Smith and Richard Solomon. Brandon Smith is an undersized former walk-on that runs the point. He was a liability offensively and defensively earlier in the year, but has really settled down to provide steadiness at the point guard position. Most teams double off him, and for good reason - but his outside shot seems to be improving. If he's hitting 3's, it really makes it tough to over-play Jorge and Crabbe. Richard Solomon is a true frosh big man who is starting at center for our injured senior. He needs to get stronger and doesn't have a lot of polished moves yet. But, he's really athletic and makes plays around the basket that most bigs can't. If he's having a good game, he can change things on both ends.
LeonPowe - We're thin. Very thin. We play smart (mostly) with a fiery wing player (Jorge) one smart heady post player (Harper Kamp) and one smooth smooth scoring wing (Alan Crabbe). We would love to play man to man, but due to depth issues and depth issues and depth issues we have played a lot zone down the stretch. Our best player is Alan Crabbe, but Jorge Gutierrez is our heart and soul and most important player.
3. Talk a little bit about Pac 10 freshman player of the year Allen Crabbe. It looks like once he got into Pac-10 play, he blew up? What makes him a special player?
NorCalNick - He blew up during Pac-10 play because that's exactly when Gary Franklin transferred out of the program, leaving behind all of his ill-advised shots for Crabbe. What makes him special is that he's just a really, really great shooter. It's getting to the point where I'm surprised when an open look doesn't go down. He's been well over 40% during Pac-10 play from behind the arc despite being Cal's only credible threat from deep. And particularly in the 2nd half of the conference schedule he's been attacking much more - punishing defenders who bite too hard on the 3 point threat.
Kodiak - We had a ball hog abruptly transfer. All of a sudden, there were more shots available. One impressive thing about Allen Crabbe is that he was very patient about playing within the flow of the offense even though he's the best shooter by a landslide. He's lanky with really long arms and will get a lot of rebounds and some steals from his anticipation. He can flat out shoot the rock. He's best as a catch and shoot guy, but has shown an ability to put it on the floor, shoot the floater, or even take it all the way in. The most impressive thing is his composure. He might miss several in a row, and then hit the game-winner.
LeonPowe - His range, his smoothness and his ability to create shots off the bounce, from deep and getting to the line, he's a natural scorer. He really started blossoming when Gary Franklin transferred mid season and he realized he needed to be more assertive.
4. It looks like the Buffs might get a break as Center Markhuri Sanders-Frison has a dislocated shoulder. How big of a loss is this and does Cal have anyone on the bench to go after the boards
NorCalNick - It's pretty big. Richard Solomon is a dynamic freshman who is a pretty good rebounder, but Markhuri just locked down the defensive glass in a way that nobody else on the team can really replicate. It showed big time against Ole Miss, who kept in the game almost solely because of offensive rebounding.
Cal also will miss him on offense, where I think he might have been the only player with an obvious matchup advantage against Colorado. MSF is huge, a big, 300 pound wide body, and I don't really see anybody on the Buffalo roster that could bruise with him down low.
Kodiak - Huge loss in more ways than one. We really miss MSF on the defensive glass most of all. He eats up space, and is good at blocking guys out. On offense, he was absolutely money (60+ FG %) if you got him the ball anywhere in the low post. Also, he helped free up our perimeter guys by using his big body to set screens. Solomon doesn't do a bad job on the glass - he has better hops/athleticism than MSF, but he's not as strong. Bak Bak does his best, but he doesn't have the greatest hands and still gets muscled around. When Solomon had to sit last game, we got absolutely killed on the boards.
LeonPowe - Huge loss. Cal does two things really well - defensive rebounding and get to the free throw line. Markhuri was our best rebounder, as well as a reliable post offensive threat. Losing moves our raw but talented freshman center into the starting line-up, Richard Solomon.
5. How has Cal fared on the road this season? Any concern about playing in Boulder after a close victory Wednesday night?
NorCalNick - Cal did decently on the road this year - wins over USC, Washington St., both Oregon schools and Arizona St., plus two point losses to UCLA and Arizona. So I'm less concerned about the road specifically as I am about the altitude + the quick turnaround. Cal was already thin before Markhuri's injury, plus Kamp was in the hospital with an IV before the game. Maybe he's 100% better, but if he's not a trip into the Rockies on two days rest probably isn't the best way to mask his illness. It basically forces us to use a bench that just isn't that great.
Kodiak - Cal has played well on the road for the most part. We upset 'sc and should have upset UCLA in LA. We swept the Oregon's on the road. Beat ASU and should have beaten AZ. Probably would have beaten WSU if Crabbe had been healthy. I don't think the road part bothers the guys much. They're pretty tough-minded. However, the fatigue/illness/injury and altitude issue on the short turnaround is a bigger concern. Kamp was hospitalized with the flu and required multiple IVs. Jorge looked really tired and Solomon was nicked up. It doesn't look promising.
LeonPowe - Not fantastic. Very concerned.
6. Who is the #1 player on defense for the Bears that CU fans should be worried about?
Kodiak - Either Harper Kamp, Jorge Gutierrez, or Allen Crabbe are capable of going off on any given night. If you have tall/athletic bigs, you probably don't have to worry about Kamp. If you have guys who can play really tight defense, then don't worry about Crabbe. But no matter what or who you have, worry about Jorge. He doesn't care about the matchups. It's not the prettiest basketball, but he finds ways to take over the game. Unless he's really off and playing a bit out of control, of course.
NorCalNick - Easily Jorge Gutierrez. It's a shame that Cal doesn't have the depth to play man-to-man defense, because Jorge is a true terror playing straight up. Even in the zone he's the guy to watch because of his instinct and effort. Such was his reputation that he made the Pac-10 all defense team despite Cal's zone.
For what it's worth, Cal might throw a man-to-man at times, and it's really effective. Monty lets them play it when he thinks they have the energy, and it's been really effective (holding UCLA to 18 points in the first half in Berkeley, holding Stanford to 21 points in the first half in Berkeley) but they just don't have the horses/fouls to do it for 40 minutes.
LeonPowe -Jorge. He plays really hard.
7. Always looking towards next year, it looks like everyone returns with the exception of Markhuri Sanders-Frison. Is this a team that > competes for the Pac-12 title next season? How do you feel Colorado will transition from a basketball perspective?
NorCalNick - I think Cal is one of a handful of teams that will think that if things fall right they can win a Pac-10 title in 2012. Cal's offense was really good in Pac-10 play, so if they can get enough depth to play the man-to-man defense that Monty prefers they could do some serious damage. UCLA and Arizona will absolutely be in the conversation. Washington usually has the talent (though probably not the coaching) and Washington St. will be mentioned if Klay Thompson doesn't go pro.
My feeling is that Colorado's chances to compete will depend on Burks' decision to stay or go. If he leaves then Colorado would be facing a situation like Cal faced this year - losing their 4 most important players all at once. It seems like Tad Boyle knows what he's doing, and he left behind a program good enough to make the tournament, which speaks well to his talent development. The Pac-10/12 isn't all the way back yet with struggling programs like Stanford, Oregon St., Arizona St. and (probably) Utah - so if he brings in a good group of recruits they can certainly compete. And if Burks does come back? Well, that won't be fun for us coastal folk.
Kodiak - It depends on point guard play, defense, and rebounding. We either need Brandon Smith to step up or to get an upgrade from transfer Justin Cobbs. And, we'll need some of our young players to provide more of a consistent contribution off the bench. We could compete, but it will require some key defections to the league and we'll need Solomon/Bak Bak to get stronger in order to protect our defensive glass. It sounds like you're likely to lose a senior guard and your best player to the NBA lottery. This league is won with seniors or NBA-talent, particularly at the guard spots. It might take a year or two for you to rebuild/reload. Otherwise, you should fit in just fine.