ASU basketball is back in Tempe, and has a crucial weekend ahead of them. The Sun Devils will face California on Thursday night and Stanford on Saturday night. To help Arizona State fans get acquainted with the Golden Bears, we've exchanged questions with California Golden Blogs, a group of Bear connoisseurs that are here to tell you everything you need to know about Cal.
Tyler Nickel answered their questions, and you'll be able to see his commentary on the Sun Devils over at CGB right now. Here's the link!
HoS: Cal has played a relatively tough schedule, with all eight of their losses coming to teams in the RPI top 100. Tell us which two of those losses you wish you could have back the most.
NorcalNick: Cal's loss to UNLV is the obvious answer because it was the game Cal was closest to winning. UNLV hit a buzzer beater when they rebounded their own airball for a layup. If the final shot had just been a normal brick Cal probably would have won.
The 2nd loss . . . well, none of Cal's other losses were especially close. From an emotional standpoint, Cal's loss to Stanford was the most painful just for the rivalry aspect, so I'd love to have that one back. But the most valuable win that got away was Creighton. I thought the Bears actually played reasonably well, but Greg McDermott had a brilliant game and wasn't going to be denied. Not much you can do to stop it, but it would have been a great win.
LEastCoastBears: The UNLV game is an easy one. Cal just about had the game won at home against a top 25 UNLV, up one and got the Running Rebel to miss the shot. Too bad the airball (which probably would have been grabbed by a Bear had it hit the rim/backboard) fortuitous went to a UNLV player who made the short basket with a second left. As for another mulligan, I would say the Stanfurd game just because it's Furd.
HoS: Tell Sun Devil fans about the type of team you have this season.
LEastCoastBears: Without real interior presence, both of our main bigs David Kravish and Richard Solomon has okay midrange game but not the size or post moves to be your typical post players, this year's Cal team is yet another perimeter team that doesn't shoot the 3's particularly well at all.
NorcalNick: Frustrating. The perception prior to the season was that the Bears had the talent to make some noise, but perhaps not the depth. But Cal hasn't really gotten the type of play to complement the abilities of Allen Crabbe, which is why the Bears lost essentially every non-conference game against high value opposition, and it's why the Bears will likely remain a .500ish team in Pac-12 play.
HoS: How's life without Jorge Gutierrez? We won't mind that he's gone, I am sure.
LEastCoastBears: We definitely miss the intensity that Jorge brings to the game. We also really miss having another guy who can handle the ball, as the Bears really struggled when our backup PG Brandon Smith missed quite a few games with a concussion earlier this year. Some of us was hoping that Ricky Kreklow could be that energy guy - hitting key 3's and getting key steals, but he has been hurt most of the year. We miss Harper Kamp as well since sophomore David Kravish has not develop as much as we would have like yet.
NorcalNick: Jorge's absence is a one man argument for the value of intangibles. Cal just seems to lack a certain toughness and effort that he (and Harper Kamp) brought each and every game. Of course, saying that diminishes his production, which was very tangible. It was easy to see what he meant to Cal's defense, and it was easy to see his value as a guy who could create on offense. Cal misses him badly.
HoS: Cal is only shooting 31.1% from 3 point land this season. What's the deal?
NorcalNick: Some of it is random variation, some of it is teams knowing that if they can stop Allen Crabbe, they stop Cal's offense. Crabbe and Cobbs are both generally above average shooters, but Tyrone Wallace and Brandon Smith probably aren't quite on their level. So when defenses take away Crabbe, and to a lesser extent Cobbs, then the Bears are forced to either abandon the three point shot or force bad ones.
I also think that Crabbe has missed an unusual number of open looks, but I wouldn't chalk that up to anything other than random variation.
LEastCoastBears: There was a pretty awful streak where the Bears missed 30+ straight 3's in basically 2.5 games spread out over the course of 3 week. Other than Allen Crabbe, we really don't have that many other good shooters. Tyrone Wallace has been willing to jack them up, but until recently, he hasn't been making them.
HoS: Tyrone Wallace is a freshman that seems to play a big role on your team. What have you seen from him that gives you hope for his development?
NorcalNick: He has athleticism and court vision, two things that are hard to teach/acquire. There's no denying that he's rough around the edges at times. His drives can get a little out of control and his finishing has been consistent. But you can clearly see his talent when he's on the court, and the sense is that he just needs a little bit of polish to become an excellent starter in the Pac-12.
LEastCoastBears: When Brandon Smith went down, Wallace had to take up more of a responsibility being the point guard (in addition to Justin Cobbs who is also more of a combo guard than a true point). Given how short the Cal rotation is, Wallace is a huge part of the lineup. Now, if he can just start shooting much more efficiently and consistently (currently < 33% from the field, < 27% from 3's, and < 56% from the line)...
HoS: What do you need to do to win the game?
LEastCoastBears: Bears need to avoid having another long stretch where no one can make a shot. This has basically happened in every Cal games, including the wins over Oregon and Oregon State, but obviously it's not the formula for success. I would say that Tyrone Wallace, who did make 3 3's in the Oregon game, is the key. The Oregon win was also keyed by the Bears taking advantage of plenty of Ducks turnovers. I'm not completely comfortable giving most of that credit to the Bears, however.
NorcalNick: Hold our own inside. That means rebounding, that means fouls, that means scoring. Jordan Bachynski terrifies me, less as a rebounder and more as an interior prescence on defense who will disrupt what Cal wants to do. The Bears beat Oregon in part because they got much improved performances from forwards Richard Solomon and David Kravish. Those two will need to do it again to beat ASU.
More specifically, Cal needs to stop ASU from making shots. That's a pretty obvious point, but right now ASU leads the Pac-12 in shooting during conference games. Cal isn't going to force a ton of turnovers and they don't usually lock down the defensive glass, so they have to force misses to keep teams off the scoreboard.
HoS: What does ASU need to do in order to beat you?
NorcalNick: Pressure Cal on defense, especially our guards. When Cal can run their sets on offense without much disruption, the offense tends to be pretty good. But when teams harass Crabbe and Cobbs, provide lots of ball pressure, and otherwise disrupt our basic sets, Cal can struggle. Both Cobbs and back-up Brandon Smith can be turnover prone at times, so if you bother them and prevent Crabbe from getting the type of looks he craves.
LEastCoastBears: ASU has a very good FG% for the season. If they can keep that up for the entire game, it would be tough for the Bears to match it. Bears have had been getting plenty of offensive boards, but I do think plenty of that has to do with the great opportunities (missed baskets). Jahii Carson can possibly really overwhelm the Cal guard combo of Cobbs/Wallace.