The fine gentlemen at California Golden Blogs have exchanged interviews with us for tonight's marquee Pac-10 matchup between the Golden Bears and the Sun Devils. Without further ado...
1. How do you feel about the coverage the Pac-10 has been getting so far in 2010? Are we deservedly a "one bid" conference?
It would be nice that when journalists (accurately) bash the Pac-10 for lacking a marque, top-10 team, they also acknowledge the Pac-10's depth, with 1st in the conference only 3 games ahead of last. But the Pac-10 just has too many embarrassing non-conference performances to change the storyline: Arizona vs. BYU, Oregon St. vs. Seattle, Stanford vs. Oral Roberts, Oregon vs. Montana, UCLA vs. anybody with a pulse, Cal not beating a single team that would impress the selection committee - all of this looks really bad...because it is.
If a few teams separate themselves from the rest of the conference (Cal, ASU, and potentially Arizona) that would at least cement multiple bids. Washington's surprising struggles have damaged the Pac's chances of multiple bids, and USC's self-inflicted postseason ban really hurt - they had the best non-conference win (vs. Tennessee) and look likely to finish in the top 4. Every win they get hurts the chances of the Pac-10 getting more bids.
Still, let's say Cal or ASU wins the regular season title and has an at-large bid in the bag. The chances of another team winning the conference tournament would be high. I could easily imagine a scenario with a team that isn't even on the bubble getting hot (UCLA, Oregon, even Stanford if Landry Fields and Jeremy Green get hot)
Cal is still very much a favorite to win the Pac-10, but they are by no means going to run away with anything. The Bears have probably the best starting five unit (with the four seniors and an interchangeable big) in the conference, but behind them lies a very thin bench."The Bears really have to stay healthy and stay rested. There's no other way for them to do anything noteworthy if they keep on running their starters into the ground. Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Jamal Boykin, and Theo Robertson are all good at what they do, but none of them a are complete gamechangers. They work great when complete and work haphazardly when they're not."
And let's not even talk about March, since we don't know if our destiny lies with the Big Dance or a revisiting of the NIT.
3. Jerome Randle. Is this guy any good? Only 18.7 ppg? Psh.
Yeah, the scoring is nice, and seeing Randle hit from waaaay downtown (seriously, he routinely takes shots almost recklessly behind even NBA distance, the sort of shot selection that would drive a coach mad if he didn't hit them so often) is a special thrill I'm going to miss after this season, but I think what's really made Cal fans (mostly) happy is his (mostly) good decisions with the ball on offense. His first two years showed mercurial flashed of brilliance, but 'The Bulldog' has really blossomed under Mike Montgomery into a dependable point guard and team leader.
As a senior, his assists have gone up as his turnovers have gone down. He's almost automatic from the free throw line, he routinely uses his quickness to push the ball up the floor for easy transition buckets, and when his jump shot isn't falling, he can still break down almost anyone trying to guard him and get to the hoop for a lay-in, or at least a trip to the charity stripe. In short, he's good.
Still, you may be catching him at a good time. He injured his knee near the end of a 39-point performance at Washington State, and was frankly awful the following Saturday at Washington. Though Cal managed to sweep the Oregon schools at home last week, Randle was still limping somewhat, and his jump shot was uncharacteristically off. I don't know if he's had a chance to fully heal up for this week's crucial road trip, but if he hasn't, that really plays into the Sun Devil's hands.
The Bears were the better team in every aspect against Oregon, and laid the smackdown. The Oregon State win impressed me more because Cal did just enough to avoid a huge, backbreaking upset; they showed the senior mettle that eluded them last season in their second half run and with Theo's huge points down the stretch. With Randle playing banged up and Jorge slowly working his way back into the rotation, the Bears will have to rely a lot on their experience and savvy as a unit rather than winning one-on-one battles.
Since some of these guys have been playing with each other for almost three years running, they have a sort of working synergy you don't usually see from younger Pac-10 squads. Those teams may play out of their heads one night, then come back and get blown apart the next. Other than a letdown in Seattle (when Cal ran their seniors into the ground two nights before in Pullman), the Bears have been able to maintain a pretty level consistency based on who they have to go that night. Hopefully Cal can stay healthy, because they're fun to watch when they're whole.
Unfortunately, I think the defining moment so far is the most painful moment of the year. Cal fans are a depressed bunch, after all. Cal v. UCLA. Cal up by 1 at the tail end of the OT. UCLA comes down the court and immediately throws the ball away when a Cal player gets a hand in on it. The ball bounces wildly................to another UCLA player who steps up and hits the game winning shot. WHAT!??!?!
Ai! Cal has been tormented by UCLA for years now and finally, this is our chance for revenge. For home court revenge and they beat us on a lucky, freak shot! Cal was something like 1 for 3,000 on 3s, while UCLA was hitting 90% of their 3s that game. ASU is known for having good 3 shooters, too. So, if ASU is hitting its 3s and Cal is ice cold, this could end VERY poorly for Cal.