As a preview for the Cal Game, we did a Q&A with Cal Golden Blogs. I'll do more of a statistical based post later today.
1) Who are the best players on the team?
Well, our best player is senior point guard Jerome Randle. He ain't big, but he's very, very quick, he's got NBA range on his jump shot (and then some), and he's money at the free throw line. He'll get to the line, too, using his quickness to get around defenders and drive into the lane. His biggest weakness has always been his decision-making as point guard, but under Mike Montgomery over the past year+, he's really improved that part of the game. Just about everything you'd want from a senior point guard.
Senior shooting guard Patrick Christopher is also worth mentioning. Getting him back after a brief flirtation with the NBA this past spring was big for the Bears, and while P-Chris (or LeBron James, Jr. -- the resemblance is definitely there) has struggled with consistency -- he's tended to disappear against tough defenders -- when he gets going, dropping 25+ isn't out of the question.
Finally, I should mention power forward Jamal Boykin. Another savvy senior (sensing a trend?), he's not incredibly talented, but has a great ball fake towards the basket and a nice 15-foot jump shoot. Plenty of hustle and guile are his defining characteristics, and even if he's not scoring (probably because he's letting other players shoot), he'll affect the game in dozens of little ways.
2. Your take on the season thus far. Has it been disappointing?
I think for a lot of fans, it has been disappointing. But that is due to the fact that Cal scheduled some VERY hard teams to play. And the losses against those teams have been disappointed. During the Braun era, there was much criticism of the easy early season schedules. About how wed just steamroll a bunch of Directional State Schools and then not be ready for the competition Pac10 play. Now, the Pac10 might be having a down year, but Cal has scheduled some REALLY hard schools. Syracuse. Ohio State. New Mexico. Now Iowa State. And even Kansas (!). So far, against Syracuse, Ohio State, and New Mexico, Cal is 0-3 with varying states of losses ranging from heart-breaking to respectable to national humiliation.
While some might say "Tough Losses To Good Teams Aren't That Bad" most depressed Cal fans are already depressed. In a recent post about whether Cal was already on the bubble, over 40% of poll-responders believe that Cal is either "kind of" or already firmly on the NCAA bubble. Before January.
3. Strengths and Weaknesses of the team.
One of Cal's biggest strength this year (like last year) is their shooting. Cal is really efficient offensively (12th last season, 14th so far this season according to Pomeroy); they look for their shots, they're patient in their selection, and they eventually get good looks at the basket. Not much has changed from last season; many of our starters like Randle, Robertson and Boykin also seem to have improved offensively in their various games (Boykin with his post moves, Randle with his dribble-drive, Robertson with savvy 3s).
They're also a very good passing team. Randle, Jorge Gutierrez, Christopher, Boykin, even true frosh Brandon Smith, all are pretty good at handling the ball, keep the ball moving and make sure players get good looks. The shots haven't been falling as well as last year, but hopefully with time it'll get easier.
Its biggest weakness is its inability to break down good zone defenses. The Bears have either been very tentative at attacking good defensive squads, and sort of settle for jump shots. Right now we're really missing Theo Robertson. Although everyone's improved offensively, Theo's absence due to a foot injury has hurt us against bigger competition. They can zone in on Randle and Christopher, and the Bears really don't have anyone that talented offensively behind them that can get the role players better looks, leaving them with jump shots they're not as comfortable with shooting or drives that don't have enough finish to them.
It isn't helped by our lack of good bigs that can get inside and get easy points. Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Max Zhang feel like they could post and seem to be pretty aggressive, but they're both kind of a mess offensively and can be exploited defensively (Sanders-Frison seems to get 2 fouls in almost every game in the first three minutes). Harper Kamp, our primary big backup last season, could be redshirting this season recovering from a knee injury. That means heavy minutes for Boykin, who has played very well but isn't big enough to contend with true centers.
4) Your take on the Pac 10. Preseason the perception is that it is the worst "BCS" conference
Well, it is certainly tough to maintain your skill level when your league is in the NBA Draft green room each year. To quote Ragnarok, who answered this question previously:
"Actually, rated the Pac-10 as the #1 conference last year (despite no elite teams, 90% of the league went to the postseason), and #2 the year before that. Heck, the league did produce 13 NBA first-round picks over the past two seasons, 9 of them in the lottery. Just because we play past your bedtime doesn't mean we're not any good out here.
That said, this year looks to be a down year for the Pac-10. All those NBA draft picks have come at a price, leaving the league relatively bereft of talent. While I'm sure at least one team in the league will surprise, right now it looks like the league title will come down to Cal and Washington. Out West, there's always the worry over UCLA as a lurking juggernaut, but the Bruins lost a lot of talent since last year, and just this week lost to Cal State Fullerton at home; not an auspicious beginning. While I might favor the Huskies some, finishing between second and fourth in the Pac-10 has historically been plenty to get into the tournament.
As for the non-conference schedule, it definitely has some teeth to it. I think Cal would do well with even a split in New York, and our game at Kansas is basically a no-lose proposition. This is a senior-heavy squad that shouldn't slip up against lesser competition, and if they can beat and Iowa State, I should think they'll have no problems with the NCAA Tournament committee this season."
5) Anything you want to add about the team, university, or what fans should expect to see.
First of all, get prepared for some awkward camera angles. Haas has the camera placed up in orbit, so it sort of looks like you're getting the view from purgatory (not quite God's view). Hopefully you guys don't get too disoriented watching.
Cal is currently experiencing a mini-activist renaissance due to student fee hikes. (I'm not sure how many of these activists even go to our school, but I do know it's tough) So right now we're starting to worry we're on the verge of becoming a mini-Stanford, i.e. everything we despise and stand against. Not the happiest times on the college side of the Berk. Surprisingly our athletics might be on the verge of self-sufficiency, which has academics grumbling. Good feelings all around!