1. Since beating then No. 1 Arizona, Cal is beginning to reemerge as an elite contender? What has suddenly sparked the winning ways, and can it continue?
Boomtho: I wouldn't say anything "suddenly sparked" Cal or caused a great change. Rather, this has been a pretty inconsistent team all year, and the Arizona game happened to be a game where Cal played well for most of the game (Brandon Ashley getting hurt also unfortunately helped Cal).
When Cal is playing well, there are a number of scorers capable of contributing (Cobbs, Solomon, Kravish, and to a lesser extent Matthews, Bird, and Kreklow), a team playing solid man defense, and two elite big man holding up the back end. The issues that have plagued Cal have been inconsistency, listlessness (especially on the offensive end), and poor defensive communication. Cal has the talent to beat anyone in the conference - they just have to put forth consistent effort for a 40 minute stretch.
Nick Kranz: A weaker schedule? Cal is an overtime win over Wazzu away from having lost five of seven, and the Arizona win certainly looks like a bit of an outlier compared to other recent performances. That said, the only 'bad' loss was to USC, so it's not like there was necessarily a fundamental flaw to the team. Cal mostly just needs to keep up their focus and effort level on defense. If they do that and make enough shots they'll be fine.
2. What makes Justin Cobbs such an effective leader, and where do you think he ranks among the best PG's in the Pac-12?
Boomtho: I think Cobbs is probably the 2nd best point guard in the league behind Kyle Anderson (if he qualifies). That is in no way a slight on Cobbs - he's been great this year and throughout his Cal career.
Tactically, Cobbs has a great handle and a unique combination of strength and quickness which allows him get into the paint, where he both has pretty good vision and is a good finisher as well. His outside shooting is inconsistent, though when his midrange jumper is on, he's nearly impossible to guard. He's also developed a nice ability to "flip the switch" and change from a facilitator to a scorer, which has saved Cal at the end of many games.
Defensively, he's reasonably good as well. He has good quickness and generally stays in front of his man. He's by no means a shutdown defender, but he's always a plus on that end.
Nick Kranz: He's a very very well-rounded player. He can score, he can distribute, and he's quietly a pretty good on-ball defender as well. I would say that he is the best pure point guard in the conference with Spencer Dinwiddie injured, (Kyle Anderson is a better player, but how you classify him can be complicated) because his game is a little more well rounded that T.J. McConnell. I'm willing to hear arguments in favor of Jahii Carson, I suppose.
3. Tyrone Wallace has come alive in the last few games, scoring 20+ in three out of the last five games, how important do you feel his contributions have been to Cal's play this season?
Boomtho: In my opinion, Tyrone Wallace is probably the X-factor for this Cal team. You generally know what you're getting with Cobbs and Kravish (Solomon is somewhat inconsistent), but if Wallace has it going this team is very hard to guard. Offensively, he's got a good slasher's instinct, moving well without the ball (both on curls and on back cuts). He's especially dangerous in transition where he's got a variety of crafty finishes he can use. If he's shooting 3's well, he's very difficult to guard given his quick first step. Defensively, he's very talented though somewhat inconsistent. He prefers to play physically and this has gotten him into trouble in stretches, but overall he's a defensive plus as well.
Nick Kranz: He's a key wild card for Cal's offense. Cobbs, Solomon and Kravish are all consistent scorers - for the most part, you know what you're going to get out of them from game to game. Ty can go for 20 or 4, and when he's on his game Cal is a very tough team to defend. When he's not, the offense can get bogged down and static.
4. Who will work to slow down Nikola Jovanovic, who went off for 23 points last time these teams met?
Boomtho: Hopefully someone! More seriously, Jovanovic's performance took Cal fans by surprise given the great play of Solomon and Kravish this year. I think Solomon will get most of the minutes against Jovanovic, though both are capable defenders and should be able to stop him from exploding again.
Nick Kranz: Hypothetically speaking, Richard Solomon and David Kravish should be able to slow down just about any interior scorer with their length and shot blocking ability. They obviously were unable to do it last time, and they occasionally have trouble with players who can match or better them in terms of pure size and athleticism. I would expect a much better showing in part because they should be aware of the threat Jovanovic poses, and because it's unlikely Jovanovic plays that well again.
5. In order to defat USC this time around, Cal must ____ which they were not able to do on the road?
Boomtho: Cal must win the interior battle to beat USC. This has been a strength for Cal this year which is why it was so shocking (as previously mentioned) how easy Jovanovic scored and rebounded over our bigs. I have faith that Solomon and Kravish will be fired up to atone for their struggles last game.
Nick Kranz: Control the paint
6. Richard Solomon continues to dominate the glass this season? Can he stand out this week against Oraby and Haley, and what should Bears fans expect from him once Pac-12 Tournament play comes around?
Boomtho: Solomon has the talent to dominate against most big men in the country - he has great footwork, can drop step over both shoulders, a decent midrange jumper, and good athleticism. However, he doesn't always seemed to be mentally engaged - he'll go through long listless stretches where he kind of floats without impacting the game.
Even though I'm a pessimist, I think Solomon is going to put together a great run through the end of the season. He's got a ton to play for (playing himself into the draft conversation, for one) and I really believe either he or Monty will find the right motivation.
Nick Kranz: Richard Solomon is talented enough, and Cal's defensive rebounding scheme is solid enough, that he should be able to pull down 10 defensive rebounds against pretty much any team in the country, assuming a reasonable amount of playing time. That's pretty much the minimum Cal fans expect from Solomon: 10 boards. It's a high standard, but a standard he has reached consistently.
7. Fixed between two tough games against UCLA and Arizona, why will Cal not overlook the Trojans?
Boomtho: Cal won't overlook the Trojans because the last time that happened, the Trojans manhandled them on the way to unexpected victory. It's true that the USC game is between two really tough contests, but given that every game is critical at this time of year, I just don't see Cal making the same mistake this time around.
Nick Kranz: Because USC embarrassed Cal like no other team has this year. Giving USC their only conference win of the year may well cost Cal a chance at the Pac-12 title.
8. Do you feel Cal has done enough (to this point) to make the NCAA Tournament, and what should they do moving forward to secure consecutive bids to the tournament this March?
Boomtho: I do think Cal has done enough to make the tournament, though given our tough stretch to end the season I'd have loved to taken care of business against either USC or Stanford at home. It would obviously help a ton if Cal was able to upset UCLA or Arizona, but I think we're in even if we just beat the teams we're supposed to. (knock on wood!)
Nick Kranz: I think if Cal plays the rest of the year like they have played so far, then yes, they will make the NCAA tournament. It won't be enough for a particularly high seed, but the Bears will be there. What they need to do is beat the teams they are supposed to beat, which basically means win the home games (USC, Utah, Colorado) and whichever team they draw in their first game in Vegas. Do that and Cal will be dancing, even if it means an 8/9 seed of death.