This is a special edition of a preview, because this time, I will let some more qualified folks do a lot of the previewing for the game against the California Golden Bears. My colleagues have hooked me up with some Cal basketball experts, allowing me to ask five questions about their team.
Throughout this session I'll chip in with statistics and what not to further your understanding of our opponents. My questions, their answers, and much more after the jump. And of course, all the thanks to the California Golden Blogs as a whole, NorCalNick and LeonPowe for answering my questions.
For our answers to CGB's questions, go here.
Me: Congrats on being atop the Pac 12 standings so far. But there are some head-scratching losses on that record against Oregon State and Washington State, both teams below .500 in Pac 12 play so far. Where did Cal falter in those games?
NorCalNick: Our defense faltered. In both games Cal scored plenty of points, but Oregon State &Washington State respectively had eFG percentages of 74.5 and 61.2. The OSU game wasn't televised, but against WSU Cal looked slow on defense and the Cougars penetrated seemingly at will. Fatigue may have been a factor because Cal lacks depth and had to travel through some nasty weather on that northwest road trip.
So were I a Sun Devil fan I'd root for Arizona to tire the Bears out on Thursday and hope for a sluggish defense on Saturday.
My input: Well, my statement is inaccurate now, as Washington is now atop the Pac. But to the Bears' defense, they are still really good defensively, forcing opponents to shoot 43% from the floor. They are also a really good defensive rebounding team. But their 3 point defense is suspect (37% from 3), and they don't block too many shots or rob the ball. That lackluster defense and lack of forcing turnover could be a good weakness to exploit. As for their style, they play a man defense with a lot of help side, sometimes leading to wide open shots.
2. Harper Kamp
had a monster year last year, averaging close to 14 and 6 in last year's campaign. But this year his points have tailed off quite a bit (around 9.6 ppg this year). Some say it's because of the reduced minutes in order to preserve his knee (he had knee issues), but is that a good minutes-production tradeoff? Do you think his minutes will start increasing as the season wears on?
LeonPowe: A really big issue is the graduation of Markhuri Sanders-Frison
, a round body 4/5 who was a fantastic rebounder and low post presence who allowed Harper to play high post and not take as much punishment and also both were fantastic passers, so the high-low sets we used to run last year are missing, since our bigs aren't quite as skilled as MSF was. I don't know how much more Kamp's minutes can increase - but we don't have depth - our bigs are skinny and young (Behrens, Kravish, Bak).
My input: Kamp is a more prototypical 4; a big who scores inside and in the midrange. A smart basketball player who uses his smarts to find a way to put the ball in the basket. However, he is not a top notch rebounder for his position.
3. Coach Montgomery, back in his days in Stanford, was always known for that big physical presence inside who can get easy baskets underneath. But Cal's last NCAA tournament team had a bunch of guys who can shoot the 3 (Randle, Christopher, Robertson etc) without a good post. What's the offense like for this year's Cal squad?
LeonPowe; Actually our last tourney team was last season's which featured a round post guy (MSF), Jorge, Kamp and Crabbe as the main options, so we're only missing Sanders-Frison, and we've added Justin Cobbs
as a legit option. Between the two "generations" of Montgomery's team's at Cal, there's been one defining thread and that's consistent half-court execution. His teams have been unselfish, move the ball for the good shot and run our sets very well. We're missing a guy we can throw the ball to and say "go get points" - but we are very multiple. Good shooters - Jorge, Cobbs and Crabbe - two guys who can put it on the floor in Cobbs and Guttieriez, a post option in Kamp.
My input: Cal is a really efficient offensive team. They make 49% from the floor and goes to the line often, hitting 75% of their freebies. They are also a low turnover, high assist team. An above-average offensive rebounding team. About the only thing they can't do as a team is shoot the 3 (32%). Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe are the best gunners (over 43% from the 3).
4. Describe Cal's second unit. I know the starting 5 is a great core to start a good team, but the only legit bench players are Brandon Smith and Richard Solomon. Other than that, everyone is an unknown outside of Cal circles. What are those unknowns like as players?
LeonPowe: Unfortunately, we've lost Solomon for the year due to academics, so our bench is really Robert Thurman
, Christian Behrens
, Bak Bak
and Emerson Murray
(with David Kravish
slotting into the starting lineup to replace Solomon). Thurman is an athletic big guy, but he isn't really skilled. He'll dunk any ball around the post, but gets all his points off being hit on a drive and dish or offensive boards. He is a big dunker though. Behrens has only been playing for the last few games - so we're not really sure what we have in him - he's got long arms, seems like a smart player and is another big. Bak Bak is a Sudanese junior with a pretty baseline jump shot, some athleticism and not much else at this point. He has shown flashes, but nothing more. And at this point, Murray has only show flashes as well - Jason Kidd a couple of years ago said that Murray reminded him of Jerryd Bayless
, but he hasn't been able to put together a consistent game yet. Monty has been shortening his bench as we've gotten deeper into the season as well.
My input: Their starting 5 is a really good, experienced core. Justin Cobbs is a high assist, long range gunner point guard. Jorge Gutierrez is the leader, do-it-all player. Crabbe is the smooth shooter but is not terrible scoring inside the arc either. Second leading rebounder after Solomon. I've talked about Kamp, and David Kravish is the second leading shot blocker after Solomon and a good rebounder.
5. Give me an X factor for Cal coming into this game.
LeonPowe: The headliners are Crabbe, Jorge and Kamp - and with good reason, but I really like what Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs is bringing to the team. He seems to be good at a lot of things - a deadeye 3 point shooter, good defender, willing passer, can get into the lane. With him here, Jorge doesn't have to be the initiator of our entire offense and can help save his legs for late in the game/season.
Cal has the talent, home court advantage. For ASU to pull the upset. a lot has to go their way. Everyone has to show up and play; when this happens we can compete with anyone. Anything less than that will get us beat in a hurry by anyone (see Utah, Stanford). We'll also need to force Cal to shoot 3, focusing especially on Crabbe and Cobbs, so a matchup zone doesn't sound far fetched. As mentioned earlier, ASU might need to consider taking advantage Cal's bad 3 point defense and inability to force turnovers.
A hard game, certainly, but at the same that this is a great upset opportunity. Go Devils!