As we approach the end of the first trimester of California Golden Bears men's basketball, I decided to take a look and answer some of the most pressing questions on the minds of Cal fans. Feel free to chime in on the comments with your own answers or your own questions.
1. Should Nigel Carter get a look at the starting position over Gary Franklin?
It's not that easy to find a good sample of Carter's play this season (over nine games he's only taken 16 shots), but he's been getting progressively more productive as he gets more comfortable with his shot. He's made some big plays against UC Davis, nailed a huge three against Iowa State, and came off a 16 point performance against Southern Miss. In his limited minutes, he has an offensive efficiency of 117.5, highest on the team. A few more minutes given his way, and who knows how far he can go?
Franklin, on the other hand, is a runaway train, and right now he's been careening off the tracks. Right now he's shooting the most of any player on the team, and shooting the worst of any player. He's 24 of 89 from the field, 17 of 62 from downtown, 7 of 27 from two point land, and 9 of 18 from the line. Those stats would land most two guards on the bench or in a, but Montgomery has decided to let Franklin play it out and hope there's some progression back toward the mean. He can't shoot under 30 percent forever; even Monty points out that his looks against Southern Miss looked better than the ones he took earlier this season. The improvement is coming, step-by-step.
While I don't think his confidence will ever be shattered if we bring him off the bench, I can see the merit to Montgomery's madness. He's not thinking short-term by thinking about trying to win every game on the schedule. He's thinking long-term; this team is probably not a tournament squad right now, but with enough mental reps they'll be ready next year, and more so the year after that. Cal is not winning anything major with Carter starting major minutes; Franklin needs those reps to develop into the player we all think he's capable of being.
2. Is Jorge Gutierrez a capable point guard?
The question isn't whether he's a natural point guard--Kim Kardashian is a more natural human being than Gutierrez is a more natural point guard. But can he run the offense on the college level? Sure can. It's a bit of an adventure, and he does make some bad decisions, but the numbers reflect this:
30.2 assist rate (110th), 21.7 turnover rate (which is on par with Jerome Randle from last season), 3.2 steal percentage (323rd), 64.1 true shooting percentage, 107.8 offensive rating.
All quite capable numbers. Gutierrez can hit a few timely threes and jump shots, and he's very capable of creating contact and getting to the line (he draws 6.5 fouls a game, which could come in handy when we play a number of big Pac-10 games). It's like watching
Really, Cal doesn't have a lot of real point guards this season--Brandon Smith comes the closest, although no one respects his shooting stroke, so it limits his effectiveness. At the best we have combo guards like Franklin and Emerson Murray, and neither of them are going to be entrusted with handling the rock this season barring major foul trouble.
Of course, Cal's offense is always going to be a bit of a mess with Jorge being the primary ball-handler, so a starting point becomes essential next season. Based on what I've seen and heard, Justin Cobbs is probably going to be our guy handling the rock down the road, and Jorge can slide over and be our secondary ball-handler and . And we'll be a much better team. But that's a year away.
3. What's the most impressive part of this team so far?
Defensive rebounding, unquestionably. Although San Diego State and Southern Miss finally took advantage of us a little bit more, they're two of the few teams in the country that have the size and athleticism to bang with us down low. You know the thing about the Pac-10 teams we face down the road? Not many of them are big.
Cal currently gives up an offensive rebound percentage of 25%, 9th in the country. We're boxing out exceptionally well. If a team isn't shooting the ball well, our ability to rebound will give us a chance to win games we probably wouldn't (like Temple and at Iowa State). Holding teams to one-and-dones are critical.
It's not only Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp. Bak Bak and Richard Solomon have shown they're capable of getting to the boards. Solomon might end up being one of the best pure rebounders in Cal history once he rounds into that body--he's already putting up phenomenal numbers with his length. Solomon is in the national rankings already in both offensive and defensive rebound rate, and he could challenge every year at this rate.
4. What's your grade for the first trimester?
B. This would probably be a solid B+, maybe even an A- if we didn't have some horrid offensive performances and some foul-ridden games. Unfortunately, that's the way this team will roll to a lot of their victories this season--Kamp and Gutierrez, creating contact, and getting to the foul line will be so crucial on nights our shot isn't falling.
At the moment we're right on pace for a .500 season, which is about where we'd like to be. We're going to have a brutal stretch to kick off Pac-10 play (losing six of our first seven isn't out of the realm of possibility). But if we can win a couple of those games, I think we'll end up in a very pleasant spot.