Did a little Q&A with the good folks over at our fellow SBN site Cal Golden Blogs. Here are the answers to some questions about the Golden Bears
1. How much has the Harper Kamp injury hurt this team?
In a number of subtle ways, quite a bit. To begin, one less player simply means less depth, so players like Jamal Boykin and Omondi Amoke have to play more minutes, and players like Max Zhang and Markhuri Sanders-Frison are perhaps thrust into roles they aren't quite ready for. According to the coaching staff, Kamp is the team's best interior defenders, so Cal's overall defense suffers without him (See Reeves Nelson's performance when Cal lost to UCLA for an example). And although he wasn't a big scorer, Harper was an excellent passer as a big man, a skill that Cal is lacking. Were he healthy Cal would probably have significantly more success breaking down zone teams, a particularly valuable skill this year in the Pac-10.
2. What does Cal need to do to punch their ticket to the dance?
Win the Pac10 tourney to get the autobid? The Pac10 is SO bad this year. Blame it on graduation, blame it on regional insecurities, blame it on whatever you want. It's undeniable. But Cal is in a better situation than most. They have a fairly good RPI:
According to Ken Pomeroy, they have a RPI of 17.
According to CBS, they have a RPI of 25.
And according to ESPN, Cal has a RPI of 26.
A BCS conference producing just one NCAA tournament team would be unprecedented since the field expanded to 64 teams, but the Pac-10 is going to put that to the test this year. Through Feb. 7, the conference rates No. 8 in the RPI -- behind the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West. Only one Pac-10 team -- the California Golden Bears (No. 26) -- ranks inside the RPI Top 50, and just four others within the RPI Top 100. One of them, USC, is ineligible for the NCAA tournament.
The picture just isn't pretty. Washington has an RPI of 56, with one nonconference Top 50 RPI win (over Texas A&M), and the Arizona Wildcats, they of a No. 67 RPI, have zero nonconference Top 50 RPI wins. Arizona State defeated San Diego State (RPI of 39), but owns an RPI of 77 itself.
So, Cal is the only team that could really make it as an at-large. However, Cal fans hope to avoid even considering that possibility. Win the Pac10. Win the Pac10 Tourney. Let's take the decision out of the hands of the Committee, because the Pac10 might not even get a second team besides the automatic qualifier.
3. The Huskies want to play a fast tempo on offense and a pressure defense. How will Cal deal with that style?
Cal also plays a relatively up tempo style, so I would expect a track meet. Hypothetically, Cal should be a pretty good team against a pressure defense - the Bears are filled with veteran, senior ball handlers with Randle, Robertson and Christopher on the court. But that didn't stop Cal from turning the ball over 22 times in Seattle - something that triggered the excellent Huskie transition offense. Perhaps some blame for Cal's performance can be placed on injuries and fatigue after a draining game in Pullman two nights before. We'll see if the earlier game was the rule or the exception on Thursday.
4. If you had to draw up a defensive gameplan for Randle Christopher and Robertson, what would it look like?
You need to have quick, disciplined guards who can prevent open three pointers as well as dribble drives. Cal is at their best when they get points inside, thus opening space for 3 point shooting. If you can take away Jamal Boykin (Cal's only consistent scorer inside) you'll really put the pressure on Cal's guards to create on their own, which doesn't always happen. And if you can frustrate Jerome Randle with pressure defense (something Isiah Thomas did a good job of earlier in the season) he can try to do to much and turn the ball over.
It's tough to shut Cal down entirely simply because they're a good shooting team, but if you can fluster them into a bad shooting night with pressure defense or a well-run, unusual zone Cal can have off-nights.
5. With a senior heavy team this year, what do the next couple seasons look like for Cal?
Next year will be rough. The Bears are going to take a step or two back, and the rest of the conference will almost certainly get better (they pretty much have to, right?). They've got a pretty good recruiting class coming in, which should hopefully help, but relying on freshmen, however good, is always a dicey proposition. We do get Harper Kamp back, which will be nice, but even if some of our 'project' players keep improving (7' 3" Max Zhang, Bak Bak), we're losing too much scoring, ballhandling and experience to seriously stay in the top third, or even half, of the conference.
However, if next year is a development year, 2011-12 looks good, as the Bears will have just one senior next year, center Markhuri Sanders-Frison. What will be another 5-man senior class that year (Kamp, Zhang, Jorge Gutierrez, Omondi Amoke and D.J. Seeley) could be pretty competitive, especially if they're complemented by some talented underclassmen. There's no question Mike Montgomery can coach 'em up, and while Cal looks to take a step back next year, I'm confident that we'll be back in competition soon enough.