To get a California point of view on Saturday's match-up against the Golden Bears in Berkeley we sat down with Nick Kranz California Golden Blogs for a quick Q&A.
Frustratingly, no. Cal has four returning starters from a team that finished top 4 in the conference and advanced to the round of 32 in the tournament last year, plus the best recruiting class that Mike Montgomery has ever secured while at Cal.
This might be the weakest team Monty has had in his tenure in Berkeley, despite the fact that they arguably are the most talented team he has had, at least by recruiting rankings. Cal fans have grown used to top 4 finishes from Monty, so the fact that Cal is now one loss away from finishing tied for 8th place is disconcerting.
Why? Losing Allen Crabbe certainly has something to do with it, as Cal no longer has a player they can turn to when they need somebody to step up and carry the load on offense. A mid-season injury to 5 star freshman Jabari Bird stunted his development. But mostly this is a low basketball IQ team. They struggle to communicate on defense and other than Justin Cobbs they don't pass very well on offense.
Cal has gone 4-8 in the Pac-12 since starting out 5-0, what is the biggest reason for that struggle?
There isn't one big issue, just lots of little things. Poor shooting, inconsistent performances from different players night in and night out, a lack of defensive communication, lots of passing on offense without any particular purpose . . . it's not clear why, but a malaise has hung over this team since a shocking loss to USC, and other than a brief parting when Cal upset Arizona it has hung over this team for the rest of the season.
Who has been Cal's offensive MVP this year?
Easily Justin Cobbs. He's one of the few players who can both score and create for his teammates. Some Cal fans have rightly been critical when he can be too unselfish, and the decline in his distance shooting is a bit baffling, but that doesn't mean that he isn't still Cal's best offensive player.
Who has been Cal's defensive MVP this year?
Probably Richard Solomon, although there hasn't been a player that has really stood out defensively relative to expectations. I'd give Solomon the award mostly because he's been the one guy ending defensive possessions with a rebound, an issue Cal has otherwise struggled with. When he's on his game he alters lots of shots and he uses his arms to disrupt passing lanes.
Do you think Cal will get into the field of 68 and why?
If they beat Colorado and win their 1st round game in the Pac-12 tournament, yes. If they don't, no. Honestly, the team has been playing so poorly of late that it's hard to drum up a ton of enthusiasm either way. A trip to Dayton or a first round exit isn't much cause for excitement; It just doesn't feel like this team is close to putting any kind of a run together at the moment, and there are plenty of other teams in the nation who have done more to earn a spot in the dance over the last month.
What is the key for Cal to win the game?
Interior defense and rebounding. It seems reasonably likely that the battle inside between Richard Solomon and David Kravish vs. Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson will decide the game. Cal has been weak on the glass, especially in the 2nd half of conference play, while Colorado has kept a bad offense afloat with rebounds. If Cal's bigs can play a great game, prevent Colorado from scoring too much inside, and locking down the glass, then Cal should get the home win.
Conversely, if Scott and Johnson (and Wesley Gordon) do what they have been doing to most teams but more so, then they will relegate Cal to the 1st round of the Pac-12 tournament and the NIT. Oh joy.
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