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Hip Hip Jorge! The Cal Men's Basketball Guards In 2011-2012

[Basketball season is right around the corner.  Can you believe it?  Let's ramp up our MBB coverage with a look at the Guards in the 2011-2012 season.  GO BEARS!]

Kodiak:  Will Jorge Gutierrez win Pac-12 POY?  What do we expect out of newcomer Justin Cobbs?  Is Brandon Smith going to still start at point?  What will we need out of the point guard position for us to compete for the league championship and post-season play?

NorCalNick:  I can't help but feel that Justin Cobbs is the key player that will determine how far Cal goes this year.

We have a pretty good idea what we're getting out of Harper Kamp, Jorge Gutierrez and Allen Crabbe, and that's a nucleus that most teams would be envious of.  But what are we getting from our other starters and the first players off the bench?  Of those guys Cobbs is easily the most mysterious after sitting out a transfer year.
His stats were mediocre at Minnesota, but then again he was a low-minute, low-usage player as af freshman on a tournament team that didn't have to force him on to the court, so it tells you essentially nothing.  He's had more than a year of practice under his belt and he was a three star recruit out of high school.  His production could range from 'solid bench player that allows Jorge and Brandon Smith an occasional rest' to 'entrenched starter that is the missing ingrediant in a Pac-12 championship run.'

LeonPowe:  There's reason for optimism based on practice reports and directly from Monty about how Cobbs was dominating practice and really setting up the team and getting to the rim at will, etc. etc. But we know that others have dominated practice or summer league only to fall apart when real game play starts - I do see him beating out Brandon Smith though. Look, I really like the grit Smith brings and his ability to get to the rim and finish as well as an improved jump shot have him as a legit Pac-12 level player - which I had doubted before. But he'll have to convince me again - if we're one of the 3 favorites for the Pac-12 title, either Smith has to improve a lot from where he was as a sophomore, or Crabbe/Jorge/Kamp will have that much more to do.


Kodiak: I'd have to agree that point guard play will go a long ways to determining how realistic it is for us to contend for the Pac-12 title.

I'm not as concerned with scoring or even assists from this position; I worry about our ability to consistently bring the ball up to initiate the offense and I am most worried with our perimeter defense.

We really struggled last year with defending against dribble penetration and gave up too many open 3 pointers. As gritty as Smith is, his size lets other teams shoot over him relatively easily or out-muscled him on the way to the hoop. I'm hopeful that Cobbs might offer a tougher challenge here with his height and athleticism.

Against most teams, Smith is quite serviceable. He's shown improved poise, better handles, better shooting, and perhaps the ability to take it to rim. (The jury is out here until he does it against legit competition.) But, he's had his issues against teams with long, athletic defenders who really like to attack opposing point guards. I'm think specifically of UW, UCLA, and even OSU with Cunningham. Although Cobbs is a bigger and better athlete than Smith, the knock on his game so far seems to be with regards to turnovers.

The one game we lost on the Euro trip was against the Swedish national team who stifled our offense with a 1-2-2 zone. Without seeing the game, it's hard to say what exactly happened. However, that's usually an indicator that we struggled running the point.

It'll be interesting to see how Monty uses his guard rotation. Ideally, Cobbs improves to where we can start him at point next to Jorge and bring Smith off the bench as a steady backup. There's some versatility there with either Jorge switching over to the 1, or Cobbs sliding over to the 2. I'm still not sure if Murray is ready yet to be more of a bit player, particularly with regards to running the team. He shows flashes, but is probably more slated for injury/foul-trouble duty or the end of the half. Where he might earn himself more PT would be if he can pick it up defensively. He's the fastest of the Cal guards and would add another dimension if he can pressure the ball.

Jorge just needs to stay healthy. It's amazing how much he's improved himself from year to year. If the highlight vids of his jumper are a true indicator, he might be a tough, tough cover this year. (it looked darn automatic) I'm fired up to yell "Hip Hip!" for what should be an awesome senior year.

NorCalNick:  I'm glad you mentioned Jorge, Kodiak.  When you preview the season you tend to focus on the questions and uncertainties.  We all know what we're going to get from Jorge, except . . . what if he keeps getting better?

When he was a freshman we said "Wow, he's a great defender and he's so tough.  But will he ever develop a solid handle, the ability to get past his defender and to the rim, or a consistent jump shot?
When he was a sophomore we said "Wow, he's a great defender and he's so tough.  And his handle is reasonable.  But will he ever develop the ability to get past his defender and to the rim, or a consistent jump shot?
Now we might say, "Wow, he's a great defender and he's tough.  He's got a solid handle and he can get past his defender and to the rim.  Could he actually add an improved jumper to the mix?"
The moral of the story:  If at all possible I'm no longer going to be surprised when Jorge does surprising things on the court.


Avinash:  Here are some questions for potential further discussion.

1) Who do you think has the deepest group of guards in the Pac-12? Who has the weakest?

2) Who will test Cobbs/Smith the most on offense and defense in the conference?

3) Ditto (2) for Jorge.

4) What type of plays do you think can be run to best utilize Jorge's strengths?