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Cal Basketball Still Looking Like The Pac-12 Favorites

The California Golden Bears aren't going to wow people under Mike Montgomery. They possess some extremely skilled players who are very good at executing his gameplan on both sides of the court. They are very good at moving the ball around while motioning off of it, and then getting guys in position to make and convert high quality shots.

Still, when they get cooking, they are pretty hard to stop.

Jorge Gutierrez was once the guy Monty stuck on the best offensive player, as he was a guy that was all hustle and desire and scrap while lacking all the fundamentals. No longer. He's way more now. Jorge is a baller, and he really gives teams trouble on both sides of the court. Gutierrez is able not only to play defense, he can run the point, has an excellent mid-range game, he's able to create off the dribble and either attack the basket or find his big rolling with him, and do other little things. Gutierrez is the glue, the engine that makes this Cal team go.

Allen Crabbe has struggled fitting into the second role all season, but he's undoubtedly a better player than he was when he won the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award. He's just had to work to putting it all together and getting more comfortable in the new offense, but also prove he can be just as effective on the defensive end of the floor one-on-one. Crabbe's performance against Oregon last night (raining threes in a matter of minutes to crush the Ducks, but also a team-leading 12 rebounds) could be a promising sign of things to come.

Justin Cobbs was the wild Bear going into the season, and he's proven that he's capable of running the starting point with an excellent assist-turnover ratio and an ultra-efficient shooting record up to this point. With likely a couple more years left in the program, Cobbs is likely to be the main point man for the next few years.

Cal has other contributors, particularly the savvy David Kravish (who seems to have an uncanny feel for the game as a freshman) and the always underrated Harper Kamp (who's taken on almost a Chuck Hayes role having to go up against centers that are about an inch or two too big). But Richard Solomon is ultimately the X-factor among the bigs, as he brings raw athleticism that can really make him imposing to deal with in the paint. Solomon's rebounding rate and free throw rate are crucial for a team that doesn't get to the line much to help slow the pace of the game down and get Cal in the halfcourt game they love playing.

This team isn't quite as offensively efficient as the 2010 team that ended up winning the Pac-10 title, but that team with Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson excelled at hitting shots from all over the place. They were very good at that, and they used those scoring bursts to charge them to victory after victory. They picked up the defense for stretches (particularly during their 9-1 run down the stretch that clinched the conference and wrapped up their tournament bid, but they were hardly your idea of a team that could lock an opponent down when given the chance. That team won with its offense.

These Bears might be better than this group; it's hard to say at this point. But they are definitely a more balanced group. Cal was 4th in offensive efficiency in 2010 but 73rd in defensive efficiency; the 2012 team is 21st in offensive efficiency but also 25th in defensive efficiency. They can win with offense, but they usually win with their defense.

Cal will rarely beat themselves--the game has to be taken to them for them to fall. Only against Missouri did the wheels fall off, and San Diego State was a ragged affair playing a man short. Against UNLV and Oregon State, both teams had to shoot the lights out to beat them.

The Bears might not be overpowering, but if they start putting it all together and get one more contributor off the bench, they could turn into a true force to be reckoned with. They are that good, that ready.