As we did with football we had a chance to exchange a quick Q&A with the SB Nation Cal representatives over at California Golden Blogs. Warden handled the answer's on our end and they should go up over at California Golden Blogs sometime today. As a return favor, here you have five quick ones on the Cal Bear basketball squad with two authors from the other side. Enjoy!
Editors Note: Open thread will be up early tonight. Yes ours is an obscenely late game but there is a lot of good basketball to watch tonight. Mizzou v Illinois and Texas v Michigan State are tops on my list before we tip.
How is Cal different this year from last year? A year ago Cal wins the Pac10 and had a nice little run. What's changed?
Kodiak: We graduated 90+% of our scoring/rebounding/assists. Last year, we had a guard-oriented team with a bunch of veteran guys who were tough as nails at the free-throw line, knew how to play together, and had four different guys who could go off on any given game and carry the load. This year, our defensive specialist(Jorge Gutierrez) is being asked to run the point and provide more scoring. This has been hit or miss. We have two big guys(Harper Kamp, Markhuri Sanders-Frison) back from injury who have become our most reliable scorers. They are also pretty solid defending the low post and covering the defensive glass. We're being forced to rely on true freshmen wings (Franklin, Crabbe) for perimeter scoring. Another true frosh is our most athletic big (Solomon) who can rebound/block shots, but is raw offensively. And, we have a walk-on (Nigel Carter) wing and a soph (Bak Bak) big who are x-factors with regards to their contributions on any given night. Our backup point (Brandon Smith) has really struggled, particularly when matched up against superior size/strength/athleticism.
atomsareenough: What's changed? Pretty much everything. 4 starters graduated, and 3 other guys who got pretty big minutes are gone for various reasons. We did get 6'8" forward Harper Kamp back from knee injury, and he's been a major contributor this year, as has Markhuri Sanders-Frison, our 6'7" center. However, Sanders-Frison has been hobbled significantly by plantar fasciitis in both feet, as well as tendinitis. The fact that he's been able to play at all, let alone be a major presence, is a testament to his grit. We also get guard Jorge Gutierrez returning this year, and he steps up from being a 6th man defensive sub to running the team. He may look like a pretty boy, but he's tough as nails and plays a very hard-nosed style of basketball. It'll be interesting to see him match up with Selby. Nobody else on the team has really played a major role before for Cal, and we have several talented but raw freshman who are seeing a lot of action this season, and they've still got a steep learning curve ahead of them.
Kansas has had trouble with Pac10 teams this year. Is the conference back on the rise after a bad 09-10 and where does Cal fit in that?
Kodiak: Sadly enough, we're probably in the bottom third while our young guys learn how to play. It's probably a little premature to say that the conference is back. Unlike previous years where we had several ranked teams who would be considered dangerous at tourney time, this year we've got UW as the flag-bearer. It's uncertain whether Arizona or WSU are ready to make that next step. And while 'sc and ucla have played some teams pretty tough, they'd still have to considered more in the unproven/dark-horse category.
atomsareenough: I'm sure it would be comforting to you to have us answer in the affirmative, but if I'm gonna be honest, I don't think the conference is really back to full strength, so Kansas' struggles against Pac-10 opponents may not bode particularly well for the currently #3-ranked Jayhawks. That said, as far as the conference goes, Arizona and USC are pretty solid teams, and while UCLA has been inconsistent, they do have some talent on their team. I'd put Washington and Washington State at the top of the class, Arizona right behind, and then probably USC/UCLA and maybe, hopefully Cal after that. We're expecting to be solidly in the middle of the pack, and if we finish anywhere from 4th to 7th, it wouldn't really be surprising. I expect the Jayhawks to win handily on Wednesday, but I want to see the Bears put up a good fight.
Who are the players to know for Cal? If you had to pick one that's going to have that out of his mind game against the Jayhawks who is it?
Kodiak: Harper Kamp (PF), Markhuri Sanders-Frison (C), and Jorge Gutierrez(PG) are our best players. It will be interesting to see how Kamp and MSF fare against your superior height and athleticism. I saw that you aggressively doubled-big on big against 'sc and shut down their low post tandem. Jorge is a physical, tenacious defender who is streaky offensively. The guys who have to rise to the challenge are Franklin and Crabbe. My guess is that Franklin will either play out of his mind and keep us around...Or, he's going to dribble into trouble, turn it over repeatedly, and shoot us into a deep hole.
atomsareenough: Apart from the three players I mentioned already, you'll need to know:
Gary Franklin, a fearless freshman guard who's never met a shot he didn't want to take. He's got great confidence but he needs to play a little more under control and within the flow of the offense. He saw some time at the point in the last game and that seemed to make him a little more disciplined.
Alan Crabbe, another talented freshman who looks pretty polished most of the time, but seems to disappear for several minutes at a stretch, at least on offense.
Richard Solomon, a very athletic freshman forward who is exciting to watch and seems to be developing quickly.
Brandon Smith, diminutive backup point guard who has made a lot of progress from last year, but needs more confidence in his shot, because he's not getting any respect as a scoring threat from opponents at this point.
This is really the Jayhawks first true road game of the year. What is the atmosphere like in Berkeley and can it play a factor in the outcome?
Kodiak: The atmosphere in Berkeley has been tepid at best due to disinterest and the fact that many of the students have gone home at break. However, there seems to be more buzz with a ranked team coming to town, so that might draw out some bandwagoners. At its best, Haas Pavilion can really rock and that energy can help keep a young team hanging around.
atomsareenough: Boy, I wish you guys had come to Berkeley last year. It was absolutely electric at times, and I really think we could've taken one from you. Right now, it's winter break, and the team is still finding itself, so I wouldn't expect it to be packed or particularly raucous, though having a well-known program like the Jayhawks come to town is always an attraction for the casual fan. I wouldn't expect the crowd to really be a big factor in the outcome, though.
This is a little off topic but what's your take on the newly formed Pac 12 and how does it play into the basketball landscape for the conference?
Kodiak: It's hard to worry too much about the expansion when it's a rebuilding year in basketball, and the worst football season in the last eight years. I suppose that long-term it's a good thing if we can use the additional schools as leverage for a new television network. Right now, the Pac-10 doesn't get a lot of visibility and that hurts us with regards to revenue and recruiting.
I'm not sure if it affects basketball too much for now. Utah was formidable under Majerus, but I don't know too much about their current squad. Similarly, I don't remember CU being much of a basketball power. I doubt that the addition of those two teams will alter the balance of power.
atomsareenough: We're generally pro-expansion, but I think it's clear that expansion was driven pretty much purely by football. I don't think it will really change the basketball landscape, unless the conference moves will have some unexpected major impact on the Colorado and Utah basketball programs. But who knows, maybe it will open up more fertile recruiting territory for them. I definitely agree with Kodiak that at the very least, having a network will improve the conference's profile nationally with the additional exposure and clout that it would bring.