Analysis: Men's BB Heads into the Pac-10

If you thought that the eleven game non-conference portion of the schedule would provide answers to many of the questions about the 2007-08 California Men's basketball team, you were wrong. Heading into conference play with a 9-2 record tonight at home against USC, we know more that we did in October, but the jury is still out on this team.

A major unanswered question is the status of junior wing Theo Robertson. Robertson missed the first eleven games following hip surgery in April, and has now been cleared for full court participation in practice.

Barring a setback, it seems increasingly likely that Robertson will be playing by the trip to the Oregons in week two. At Wednesday's media session, Coach Ben Braun indicated that Robertson had a "big, spirited" practice on Monday, and would be practicing again during the afternoon's closed session.

Called the "missing link" by Ryan Anderson, Robertson is said to "provide the glue" for this team to keep things together. He can defend, rebound, and knock down open shots.

The other area of great concern coming in to the season was point guard play. Cal planned - hoped - to replace senior lead guard Ayinde Ubaka with the tandem of Jerome Randle and Nikola Knezevic. To be charitable, their performance has been less than consistent.

Randle was just named Pac-10 Player of the Week for his superb performance during the two games of the Golden Bear Classic. The sophomore hit 13 of 22 on his field goal attempts (9 of 13 on threes), and had just 2 turnovers in the Classic. On the other hand, Randle struggled with the pressure defenses of Missouri and Kansas State, recording 19 turnovers in those two games. He had a poor game at both ends of the floor against Utah. A Christmas visit home to Chicago may have been the medicine that Randle needed. Fans will soon find out whether the lightning quick sophomore has turned the corner.

Knezevic is the better defender, and did a solid job handling Missouri's pressure, but his shot has been inconsistent at best. The return of Robertson might well mean that Randle and Knezevic would share point guard responsibilities, rather than playing together so much.

The team's success will ride on the play of the two point guards. If they can take care of the ball, initiate the offense, defend and knock down the open shots, Cal is capable of exceeding the expectations of the pundits.

The third question mark is the play of senior center DeVon Hardin. On Saturday night against an undersized North Dakota State team, Hardin somehow managed to secure no rebounds in the first half. Cal needs the big man to rebound and defend; whatever points he scores will be a bonus. Hardin needs to avoid the unnecessary fouls to stay on the court. He needs to play with effort, but not foul. The improved frontcourt depth should enable Hardin to do that.

The glass is really half full. There have been many positives. Ryan Anderson, terrific as a freshman last year, has been even better this year. Anderson has improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. He has rebounded well and has been consistent. His defending is still a work in progress.

Patrick Christopher is one of the most improved players in the Pac-10 Conference. After averaging 5.2 points per game as a freshman, the sophomore wing is hitting for 17 per game this season. On Saturday night against North Dakota State, he accepted the defensive challenge of guarding Bison star Brett Winkelman in the second half, and was outstanding. Christopher needs to pick up his rebounding.

Harper Kamp has been superb off the bench. The freshman is an efficient player at both ends of the floor. At times he has been the best post defender, and he knows how to score the ball around the basket. The southpaw has a bright future with the Bears.

Jamal Boykin has provided energy off the bench. The transfer from Duke knocked down a couple of treys against Long Beach State, and has shown ability to defend and rebound. He provides needed frontcourt depth.

Senior Eric Vierneisel has struggled shooting the ball, but has shown signs of emerging from the slump. He has defended well, and has taken care of the ball. His assist to turnover ratio of 3.4 to 1 is by far the best on the team. Unfortunately, he's just 5 for 30 on three-pointers, and 8 for 13 at the free throw line.

The emergence of Kamp and Boykin has impacted the playing time of Jordan Wilkes. Coming back from a knee injury last year, Wilkes has shown a nice skill set but still lacks strength. He's hit a couple of threes, and made some nice passes from the high post in his limited minutes.

Finally, walk-ons Nican Robinson and David Liss have provided minutes backing up the point guards, and have had their moments.

The formula for this team is straightforward. They must put together 40 minutes. There have been too many games in which the Bears came out flat, or didn't sustain their effort. They need to improve defensively. In the Kansas State game, they were hurt by dribble penetration, and they have had a tendency to give up the baseline. They must rebound more consistently. Kansas State destroyed the Bears with 21 offensive rebounds, and North Dakota State has 10 offensive boards in the first half Saturday night.

On offense, they need to be strong with the ball. Turnovers against pressure defense will prevent the Bears from getting the ball to their accomplished scorers. They shot exceptionally well from behind the arc against Long Beach and North Dakota State after a poor 4 for 21 effort against Utah. They're not going to hit 50%, but they need to be more consistent. Because of their inside strength, they should continue to get open looks on the perimeter.

Cal is playing an entertaining brand of basketball. They are averaging 81.5 points per game, shooting 50% from the field, and looking to take the good opportunity shot in transition. Utah took away Cal's running game, but they are unquestionably a better team when they get easy baskets early in the possession.

With the conference schedule starting, we will find out about the Bears quickly. 22nd ranked USC will be the opponent in the Pac-10 opener tonight (Thursday) at Haas. The Trojans come in 9-3, and are led by highly touted freshman O.J. Mayo.

Of Mayo, Braun said, "(He) is as good as advertised. He's explosive with the ball, he can get his own shot, he's great in transition, he can defend, he's got good size and he competes."

Mayo is averaging 19.5 points per game, and fellow freshman Davon Jefferson is second in scoring at 13.0. USC is holding opponents to just 38% from the floor, second in the conference to Washington State. Said Braun, "They've got great quickness, and they use their quickness defensively. And they're long in the post and at the guards."

The game may be determined by which team can take advantage of the match-ups. USC starts three 6-5 guards, and will present a difficult match-up for Jerome Randle. On the other side, the Trojans will have to deal with Cal's size in the post. It's not clear how the visitors will defend Anderson.

Said Braun, "USC presents a big challenge because they do so many things. They can get the ball inside, they can beat you in transition, they can penetrate and knock down shots off penetration and they can post you up."

Cal will need to handle the Trojans' defensive pressure, and get the ball inside. Keeping their turnover number in single digits will go a long way to winning this game.


©Copyright 2008, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.


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","mobileBody":"

A major unanswered question is the status of junior wing Theo Robertson. Robertson missed the first eleven games following hip surgery in April, and has now been cleared for full court participation in practice.

Barring a setback, it seems increasingly likely that Robertson will be playing by the trip to the Oregons in week two. At Wednesday's media session, Coach Ben Braun indicated that Robertson had a \"big, spirited\" practice on Monday, and would be practicing again during the afternoon's closed session.

Called the \"missing link\" by Ryan Anderson, Robertson is said to \"provide the glue\" for this team to keep things together. He can defend, rebound, and knock down open shots.

The other area of great concern coming in to the season was point guard play. Cal planned - hoped - to replace senior lead guard Ayinde Ubaka with the tandem of Jerome Randle and Nikola Knezevic. To be charitable, their performance has been less than consistent.

Randle was just named Pac-10 Player of the Week for his superb performance during the two games of the Golden Bear Classic. The sophomore hit 13 of 22 on his field goal attempts (9 of 13 on threes), and had just 2 turnovers in the Classic. On the other hand, Randle struggled with the pressure defenses of Missouri and Kansas State, recording 19 turnovers in those two games. He had a poor game at both ends of the floor against Utah. A Christmas visit home to Chicago may have been the medicine that Randle needed. Fans will soon find out whether the lightning quick sophomore has turned the corner.

Knezevic is the better defender, and did a solid job handling Missouri's pressure, but his shot has been inconsistent at best. The return of Robertson might well mean that Randle and Knezevic would share point guard responsibilities, rather than playing together so much.

The team's success will ride on the play of the two point guards. If they can take care of the ball, initiate the offense, defend and knock down the open shots, Cal is capable of exceeding the expectations of the pundits.

The third question mark is the play of senior center DeVon Hardin. On Saturday night against an undersized North Dakota State team, Hardin somehow managed to secure no rebounds in the first half. Cal needs the big man to rebound and defend; whatever points he scores will be a bonus. Hardin needs to avoid the unnecessary fouls to stay on the court. He needs to play with effort, but not foul. The improved frontcourt depth should enable Hardin to do that.

The glass is really half full. There have been many positives. Ryan Anderson, terrific as a freshman last year, has been even better this year. Anderson has improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. He has rebounded well and has been consistent. His defending is still a work in progress.

Patrick Christopher is one of the most improved players in the Pac-10 Conference. After averaging 5.2 points per game as a freshman, the sophomore wing is hitting for 17 per game this season. On Saturday night against North Dakota State, he accepted the defensive challenge of guarding Bison star Brett Winkelman in the second half, and was outstanding. Christopher needs to pick up his rebounding.

Harper Kamp has been superb off the bench. The freshman is an efficient player at both ends of the floor. At times he has been the best post defender, and he knows how to score the ball around the basket. The southpaw has a bright future with the Bears.

Jamal Boykin has provided energy off the bench. The transfer from Duke knocked down a couple of treys against Long Beach State, and has shown ability to defend and rebound. He provides needed frontcourt depth.

Senior Eric Vierneisel has struggled shooting the ball, but has shown signs of emerging from the slump. He has defended well, and has taken care of the ball. His assist to turnover ratio of 3.4 to 1 is by far the best on the team. Unfortunately, he's just 5 for 30 on three-pointers, and 8 for 13 at the free throw line.

The emergence of Kamp and Boykin has impacted the playing time of Jordan Wilkes. Coming back from a knee injury last year, Wilkes has shown a nice skill set but still lacks strength. He's hit a couple of threes, and made some nice passes from the high post in his limited minutes.

Finally, walk-ons Nican Robinson and David Liss have provided minutes backing up the point guards, and have had their moments.

The formula for this team is straightforward. They must put together 40 minutes. There have been too many games in which the Bears came out flat, or didn't sustain their effort. They need to improve defensively. In the Kansas State game, they were hurt by dribble penetration, and they have had a tendency to give up the baseline. They must rebound more consistently. Kansas State destroyed the Bears with 21 offensive rebounds, and North Dakota State has 10 offensive boards in the first half Saturday night.

On offense, they need to be strong with the ball. Turnovers against pressure defense will prevent the Bears from getting the ball to their accomplished scorers. They shot exceptionally well from behind the arc against Long Beach and North Dakota State after a poor 4 for 21 effort against Utah. They're not going to hit 50%, but they need to be more consistent. Because of their inside strength, they should continue to get open looks on the perimeter.

Cal is playing an entertaining brand of basketball. They are averaging 81.5 points per game, shooting 50% from the field, and looking to take the good opportunity shot in transition. Utah took away Cal's running game, but they are unquestionably a better team when they get easy baskets early in the possession.

With the conference schedule starting, we will find out about the Bears quickly. 22nd ranked USC will be the opponent in the Pac-10 opener tonight (Thursday) at Haas. The Trojans come in 9-3, and are led by highly touted freshman O.J. Mayo.

Of Mayo, Braun said, \"(He) is as good as advertised. He's explosive with the ball, he can get his own shot, he's great in transition, he can defend, he's got good size and he competes.\"

Mayo is averaging 19.5 points per game, and fellow freshman Davon Jefferson is second in scoring at 13.0. USC is holding opponents to just 38% from the floor, second in the conference to Washington State. Said Braun, \"They've got great quickness, and they use their quickness defensively. And they're long in the post and at the guards.\"

The game may be determined by which team can take advantage of the match-ups. USC starts three 6-5 guards, and will present a difficult match-up for Jerome Randle. On the other side, the Trojans will have to deal with Cal's size in the post. It's not clear how the visitors will defend Anderson.

Said Braun, \"USC presents a big challenge because they do so many things. They can get the ball inside, they can beat you in transition, they can penetrate and knock down shots off penetration and they can post you up.\"

Cal will need to handle the Trojans' defensive pressure, and get the ball inside. Keeping their turnover number in single digits will go a long way to winning this game.


©Copyright 2008, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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