Cal basketball: Where did everything go wrong?

Christian Petersen

If you could diagnose what has gone wrong with Cal basketball the last year, what would you say are the biggest factors?

Scott Chong: This has been one of the more confounding years of Cal bball. Taking the macro view, Monty has the guys competitive and relevant. 'Can't say that over the Braun era and before.

But looking at the players themselves, senior PG, C, veteran PF and swingman...best recruiting class of the Monty era...and you'd have to say that the team has underachieved relative to expectations.

Jason Kidd was 5* McDonald's All-American. So was Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Can you say that Jabari Bird had the same impact as a frosh? Sadly, no. The ankle injury will forever have us wondering "what if?"

Pulling off the bandaid, our senior leaders didn't get it done. Cobbs was +/-, did the best he could, and sometimes had to press to carry an underachieving team. Solo might go down in Cal history as the poster child for "what might have been." The coaches weren't able to mesh young talent with veterans into a cohesive offense or defense. Too early to panic and blow everything up. Still, you have to take a hard look at the coaches and expect a more competitive team next year.

Nick Kranz: This team never found any kind of identity. Early in the season, when things were going well, we were excited about how versatile and balanced the team seemed. But when the defenses got tougher, it was unclear who was supposed to step up and carry the load. Obviously there have been a few games where nobody stepped up.

Are we a team that tries to get the ball into the post on every possession? Are we a guard oriented team? Are we a layup and 3s team, or do we work the high post and get lots of open mid range jumpers? I don't know. It changed from game to game.

There's value in having an obvious alpha dog like Allen Crabbe or Jorge Gutierrez or Jerome Randle. Pretty much every Monty season at Cal has had a player in serious contention for conference player of the year. There wasn't a player like that this year, and it showed.

Avinash Kunnath

1. Losing Allen Crabbe (our best outside shooter and most athletic perimeter defender) and Robert Thurman (our best banging big man) have caused drop-offs on both offensive and defensive efficiency. We have never surrendered so many easy baskets at the bucket and have settled for too many difficult jumpers. We have missed so many attempts at the rim this year it kind of makes you realize how many steps back Monty's offense takes without a true back-to-the-basket player that can settle us down with easy two-pointers.

2. Our wing players lean a little too strongly to either offense or defense. So Tyrone Wallace will spend 20 minutes playing decent D but totally be off on his shot on the other side. Or Jordan Matthews will knock down a few jumpers or get lost in zone. Or Ricky Kreklow brings the defensive effort but is an adventure everytime he drives. Or Jabari Bird will just struggle. It's tough.

3. Without depth, our bigs look far more tentative for fear of picking up those fouls that put them on the bench. Additionally, Kravish can only play in the post for awhile before wearing out and Solomon never really developed the post game to be an effective college center.

4. The Kreklow and Bird injuries were killers. Bird was starting to come in his own as a serviceable Crabbe replacement for this season, but he just doesn't trust himself right now. Kreklow reminds me of Jorge his first year or two--solid for a few minutes here and there but really difficult to keep on the floor if he isn't contributing offensively. Their struggles have filtered onto everyone else...

5. ...particularly Justin Cobbs. Cobbs is either aggressive and looking for his shot or is passive and looking to get everyone else involved. He can't find the balance of running plays and flowing within the offense. I put him pretty low on this list because I feel Cobbs's struggles are more a manifestation of all the other little weaknesses plaguing this team.

6. The Pac-12 is just better. Monty feasted on terrible conferences the last few years, but this season the Pac-12 will probably send seven teams to the Dance. Arizona is a title contender and I wouldn't count out another team or two to make a Sweet 16 run. We could get away with these weaknesses in previous seasons (particularly last year, when we grinded out seemingly every win in the final minutes), but this year it's a real grind.

boomtho: First, I'd argue that the question is overwhelmingly alarmist :) We're still tied for 4th in the conference with a decent chance to make the tournament.

That said, I think there are a few reasons why we're a definite step below Arizona (and half-step below UCLA) for challenging for the conference title. My first reason may be shifting the blame a bit, but I think UCLA and Arizona being strong at the same time makes it very hard for Cal. Both schools have fantastic basketball pedigree, so when they're able to put together a strong team (and recruit LA/California well), it makes it that much harder for Cal to hold down the fort in state. Sean Miller has obviously done a fantastic job the last few years and I think Alford has done a good job maximizing talent (especially offensive) this year.

Secondly, Solomon and Kravish haven't developed as much as I'd hoped. They are both solid, mostly dependable defenders and pretty versatile offensive players - but they're still a good step below where I thought they'd be, challenging for first team All Pac-12 teams.

The third reason I'd cite is our struggles defensively. Reef has done a good job covering a lot of this stuff in previous articles, but we've really struggled to communicate, especially on the perimeter (I still don't quite understand Monty's 'switch everything' insistence). We're also just losing the one on one battle too much - guys aren't able to square up and stop dribble penetration, which is leaving a lot of 'drive and kick' lanes open.

Last, I think we've lost our way a bit offensively. Monty's best Cal teams had nice balanced scoring (which we do mostly have), intelligent spacing, crisp ball rotations, and purposeful screens. I think we're running a lot of the same stuff as years past, but everything is just not quite as in sync. So, for example, in one of our frequent sets: if the flex screener doesn't make good contact along the baseline, the cutter is not as open, which means the help defender doesn't have to shade to the middle as aggressively, which means the backside down screen for a jumper isn't as effective.

Ruey Yen: The only reason why there was high expectation of this year's team (mostly within CGB that is not really shared by the mainstream media) was how we have a nice blend of veterans (seniors in PG Cobbs and C Solomon) and good youngsters (All American in Jabari Bird, solid freshmen in Jordan Mathews and Kameron Rooks). While the rest of the Pac is much improved this year over the past few, a consistent problem for the team all year round has been the lack of consistency. The biggest culprit for the lack of consistency is senior Richard Solomon. While Solomon was averaging nearly a double double for much of the season, he has allowed both foul trouble and the opponent to take him out of dominating the paint - which the Bears need him to do to have success.

The other senior on the team, Justin Cobbs, was expected to be the next Cal basketball player to make a run at the Player of the Year title. Without a doubt, Cobbs is the best player on the team, but he was not quite able to raise his game to that next level to take over games when necessary.

To make things worse, one would have expected now to be the time when Jabari Bird has effectively graduated from a freshman to a sophomore. Unfortunately, Bird's injury that forced him to miss the first half of conference play and prevented him from his original trajectory shown early in the season meant that the team is not peaking at the end of the year, when all the other contenders are peaking.

With all that said, the Bears have basically taken a weird path to where most people thought they would be at the beginning of the year. Barring an upset loss at home at the worst possible time (always possible given the team's inconsistency), the team should be back in the tournament as a low seed with a terrible draw.

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