We would first and foremost like to thank California Golden Blogs (@GoldenBlogs) for taking the time to discuss their program and we also expect plenty of offensive firepower once these teams tip off at 8 p.m. from the Galen Center.
1. After suffering tough loses to Syracuse and Creighton in non-conference play, Cal has come out firing in early Pac-12 action. How would you describe the start and can they sustain it?
Scott Chong: Impressed and pleasantly surprised. We didn't look nearly as cohesive on offense or defense earlier in the year. The D is still ahead of the offense, but our young guys are starting to figure it out. With our veterans playing great ball, the real key seems to be focus and effort. When we come out like we did against Oregon, we're playing good ball. The sleep-walking against Wazzu could trip us up.
Nick Kranz: It's been fun. We expected this team to put the pieces together eventually, but it happened very suddenly and spectacularly. Assuming the Bears continue to get healthy, there's no reason they can't continue to compete at the top of the conference. Cal is veteran enough, and has good enough coaching, that you would expect consistent high performance for the rest of the year.
2. Richard Solomon continues his outstanding year of dominating the boards and blocking shots on defense. On a team that lacks front-line depth, what type of impact does Solomon play on Cal's overall success?
Scott Chong: Huge. He's turned into a reliable low post scorer which really changes the nature of our offense. Because he and Kravish are such strong defenders, we don't have to double the post and we can get away with switching on screens.
Nick Kranz: The title probably goes to Justin Cobbs, but you could make an argument that Solomon is Cal's most important, irreplaceable player. He anchors the defense, and the threat he poses inside on offense (and his ability to get the other team in to foul trouble) opens things up for everybody else.
3. Losing Allen Crabbe would seem like a drastic blow to Cal's offense, but the team actually seems to be clicking on all cylinders as younger guys step up. What do you think of this current offense without Crabbe?
Scott Chong: Unlike last year, we have an inside game. Kravish/Solo weren't nearly as effective at getting position and finishing last year. The young guys on the wing, Wallace, Mathews, and Bird are a bit inconsistent from game to game. But on the plus side, any one of them could go off for a big game.
Nick Kranz: It's so much more balanced. Solomon and Wallace have both taken big steps forward offensively, and the additions of freshmen Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird add another two player capable of scoring at any time. Cal can start an entire lineup of double digit average scorers if they want, and that makes it so much harder for opponents to game plan.
4. Do you feel the Golden Bears can finally take the next step and go deep into the tournament with senior point guard Justin Cobbs leading the charge?
Scott Chong: If our young guys keep developing, this team has a lot of potential. Christian Behrens and his knee may be a big factor. Before it started swelling up again, he had been playing better and better as our third big man. Getting Kreklow and Bird back healthy gives us depth and scoring on the wing. Best part is that Monty's teams usually peak towards the end of the year.
Nick Kranz: As is often the case, it's all about the draw. But this team shouldn't flame out from overuse the way they have in the last few years, because they're actually deep this year. If Cal can excel in conference play and grab a 5 or 6 seed, I'd be pretty optimistic.
5. When these teams met last season, Mike Montgomery infamously shoved Allen Crabbe prompting a massive comeback win over USC. What do you expect from this year's USC game, and how much credit does Montgomery deserve for building the program into a Pac-12 Title contender?
Scott Chong: Shoves are for the playground. This year, I expect to see Monty put someone in an arm bar. He deserves all the credit for making Cal basketball relevant and competitive in the Pac-12 again. We've had great players like Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Leon Powe, and Ryan Anderson. But they weren't always on great teams. Monty makes the most out of what he has.
Nick Kranz: Every single year, Cal is picked lower than they finish, as if everybody just forgets that Monty ALWAYS has a competitive team in this conference. Why they forget it is beyond me, but when the media picked Cal to finish 5th in the conference, I just laughed. He's the best talent developer, game planner and in-game coach I've had the privilege to watch on a day-to-day basis, and now he's finally adding decent recruiting to the mix.