The Arizona Wildcats take on the California Golden Bears in Berkeley, Calif., tonight at 9. We exchanged a Q&A with California Golden Blogs to see what's going on with Mike Montgomery's surging team that leads the Pac-12 field, their chances in the NCAA tournament and how they'll fare against the Wildcats.
Arizona Desert Swarm: This is the only time these two teams will play in the regular season, so I'll ask it now. Do you feel like the Golden Bears could make a deep run in the NCAA tournament?
Probably not. Because the Pac-12 is so lame, and because Cal lost their three most important non-conference games, Cal is unlikely to get a very good seed in the tournament. A 2nd round matchup with a 1 or 2 seed looks like the most likely March scenario.
Beyond a likely bad seed, the non-conference schedule revealed that Cal doesn't match up well against teams that are athletic enough to constantly bother Cal's guards on defense and penetrate on offense. The Bears will have to get lucky on the draw to advance past the first week. Also, Cal has serious depth issues that could hinder their March chances.
LeonPowe: I'd like to say yes, but to be honest, its difficult to envision without the match-ups being favorable. Cal has been blitzed by some bad match-ups - teams that are athletic and run a lot. Granted one of those teams was top-5 Missouri, but they didn't just blow us out, they blew us off the court. We love Jorge and Kamp and Crabbe and Cobbs, but I personally don't think we have the horses to make a deep deep run. But, then again, who knows nowadays in the recent tournament runs of VCU or Butler - I mean I don't think we're less talented than those teams - and we have a strong tournament coach who has had Final Four experience.
AZDS: What's the identity behind this year's Cal team that's led them to a 17-5 record and put them atop the Pac-12?
NorCalNick: Steady, unspectacular, unremarkable execution. The Bears rarely make spectacular plays on either end - they don't make a ton of blocks or steals, they don't dunk the ball much or rain down 3s. But they do force tough shots, pass the ball really well, and consistently rebound the ball. Cal beats teams by not making mistakes, and punishing the mistakes their opponents make.
LeonPowe: Hard nosed, tough, smart. We move the ball on offense and run efficient half court sets with lots of assists which lead to good open shots. We try to play hard nosed man defense - not always successfully, but that's our defensive identity. Our two senior leaders are smart, tough grinders who maximze their talent - and the rest of the team follows them. Not to say they're scrubs, not at all - but Kamp and especially Guttieriez do not take plays off and work work work.
AZDS: Justin Cobbs looks like he's having a breakout year after playing a little bit his freshman season and then sitting out last year. What's the scouting report on him?
NorCalNick: He's a very well rounded player. I wouldn't say that one aspect of his game stands out, but he does most things equally well. He's a good shooter, he's fast enough to get around defenders and he's a solid defender. If I had to pick one thing that he's best at, it's probably passing/distribution. He came in as a combo-guard, but he's played like a true point guard and has allowed Jorge Gutierrez
to play off the ball more.
LeonPowe: I'm a huge fan of Cobbs. He does a good amount of everything - and is an excellent three point shooter. A guy who can score from outside, get into the lane and finish or drop passes off, a pretty good defender, a good ball handler who can initiate the offense. He and Crabbe should be the Pac-12's best backcourt next season.
AZDS: Arizona's lack of size up front has hurt them this year. With Richard Solomon back from injury, do you expect that he and Harper Kamp will be the key to the game?
NorCalNick: While Richard is healthy, he won't be playing the rest of the year because of academic issues. So for that reason Arizona probably won't lose because Cal dominates on the inside. Harper Kamp is the only big that consistently creates his own shot, but I'm sure you're all aware of what Harper can do. True freshman David Kravish
is the other post that starts, and former walk-on Robert Thurman
is generally the first big off the bench. No matter the combination Cal seems to do well locking down the defensive glass, and Kravish and Thurman will both score points when they get set up by passes off of guard penetration.
LeonPowe: Unfortunately Solomon is lost for the year due to academics - so we have Kamp and a couple of freshman and former walk-on bigs to throw at you. But these are actually a decent option. David Kravish - a freshman from Kansas City has been a revelation. While not a world-beating freshman, he has shown a savvy game, good hands, and can score around the basket with some creative moves and is a very good offensive rebounder for his experience and size (very skinng). Robert Thurman is our first big off the bench, and is a former walk-on. But he's been coming on strong lately with a couple of double digit games. He's not super skilled, but he can jump, is a big body and will finish around the basket with authority. He is our best dunker. Our last big would be Christian Behrans, who has only recently started to play. He hasn't had a lot of opportunity to demonstrate his game yet, but he's already shown at least some long arms and some defensive savvy in his first couple of games.
AZDS: Allen Crabbe had a tremendous freshman season. Are there any new wrinkles to his game?
NorCalNick: I would say that he generally plays and scores like he did as a freshman. The main difference is how other teams view him. Many opponents are scheming specifically to try to stop him, while Cal is scheming specifically to get him shots. The fact that Allen has managed to maintain a similar level of efficient production despite increased attention from defenses is a sign that his game has progressed, even if it's not very obvious when you watch him.
LeonPowe: Outside of a scoring flurry at Oregon, I think - how do I put this - we love Alan Crabbe, but I think we were expecting more growth to his game over the summer - especially with reports of how he was playing at the USA Basketball camp (got his nose broken and didn't make the team). We want him to be more assertive and selfish and take aggressive shots. He had shown signs of a one/two dribble pull up and some game at the rim - but it hasn't been consistent enough. We really need Crabbe to play up to his massive potential. I think he'll get there, but he's not there yet.
AZDS: Final prediction for this one?
NorCalNick: Cal by 5. I just don't think Arizona doesn't have the offense to beat Cal at home, but I do think their defense will be enough to keep the game exciting throughout.