The Ralphie Report sat down with the great Cal blog on SBNation, California Golden Blogs, to discuss this week's game in Boulder. Thanks to NorCalNick for the answers.
Our answers to their questions are up at California Golden Blogs.
Recalibrate your expectations for California this season. An NCAA Tournament berth looks very likely, but it's certainly not yet a lock. Where do you expect the Golden Bears to finish in the Pac-12 regular season and conference tournaments and do you see them making a splash during March Madness?
Conference wise, nothing has changed since the beginning of the year - we expect the Bears to win at least a share of the conference title. The conference tournament is a little dicier, but I think most fans would be OK with a run to the title game, particularly assuming Cal ends up with the #1 seed and doesn't have to face Washington until the final.
As for the NCAA tournament, that very much depends on the draw. Give us an 8 or 9 seed and nobody will expect more than 1 win. Move us up or down, give us the right matchup . . . the team is experienced enough to stick around to the 2nd weekend. Please, selection committee, we beg of you, just don't make us play a team like UNLV or Missouri again.
Since defeating the Buffs in a close game in Berkeley on January 12th Cal has gone 8-2 with two close losses at Washington State and home against Arizona. How were those two teams able to defeat the Bears? What did they do better than others?
They shot the lights out. In all three of Cal's Pac-12 losses, the winner finished with a FG% better than 60%. In fact, only one team has beaten Cal this year without shooting at least that well - San Diego St., by one point, at home. Cal wins when they play good to great defense, and they usually do so.
That said, the WSU loss came on the 2nd day of a difficult road trip, and the Bears looked slow and tired. They couldn't stay in front of anybody on defense. It wouldn't completely shock me to see them look slow in Boulder on their 4th day away from home in the mountains.
Do you believe the Buffaloes defense will be able to slow down Jorge Gutierrez as successfully as they did in the first meeting, especially with this game being in Boulder?
Yes and no. Cal's offense has changed somewhat since that game. Jorge is still hugely important to Cal's success, but on offense Justin Cobbs has taken a much larger role as ball-handler and distributor. Early in the season it was hard for Cal to win without Jorge scoring. But he's been forcing the ball less in the 2nd half of the conference season, and Cal's offense has been more balanced. Teams have focused on taking away individual players with some success, but few teams have slowed down Cal's offense as a whole.
One of those teams was Colorado, in Berkeley.
As the season has gone along and Cal has won some blow-out games has Mike Montgomery been able to go pretty deep into his bench? Has their been improvement among the role players during the season?
Not especially. Richard Solomon's academic ineligibility has forced former walk-on Robert Thurman to play more, and Cal fans have been pleasantly surprised by his solid production, but he's not a player that creates his own offense at this point. He relies on penetration and passes from guards, or just plain getting ignored by defenses that didn't expect an unknown walk-on to dunk on them.
In terms of the guard rotation, Crabbe, Cobbs and Gutierrez will all play 35+ minutes if the game is close and they stay out of foul trouble. Brandon Smith is really the only guard off the bench that will get anything close to meaningful playing time against above average Pac-12 teams.
Harper Kamp killed the Buffaloes in the first match-up with 14 points and 8 rebounds. Has his strong play continued or was that a flash in the pan type game?
8 rebounds is more than Harper will typically have, but the 14 points isn't a big shocker. In Cal's increasingly balanced offense, he's one of 5 players that can score if defenses don't respect him. Mostly, he's just really smart. If he has an opening his footwork and positioning will allow him to exploit it, and if there isn't an opening he's one of the best passing big men in the conference. He won't force shots, he rarely makes mistakes. He's the prototypical senior leader.
I've gone back and forth on this one over and over, and I basically think the game is a coin flip. I firmly believe that Cal is the best team in the Pac-12, and they have all of the motivation in the world to win this game and win the conference.
But Boulder is probably the toughest road venue in the Pac-12 this year, with a sold-out crowd awaiting, and Colorado held the Bears to their 2nd worst offensive effiency of the season in Berkeley. I'm writing this Thursday, prior to Cal's game with Utah and Colorado's game with Stanford, and I honestly believe the results of those games will have an impact. If Utah plays Cal tough, forces the starters to play 30+ minutes, that's bad (for Cal). If Colorado beats Stanford, putting the Buffs in a position to stay in the title race, that's bad (for Cal).
The easy prediction: A game that tests the cardiovascular fitness of both the players and the fans.
The harder prediction: Cal by two, in overtime