Conference Questions: Men's Hoops

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Can Cal make the NCAA Tourney even after three consecutive losses?

In short, probably not. Unlike the last two years, this year's squad was not expected to be a tournament team because of its inexperience.

With that said, Cal is far from eliminated from postseason play. The Bears' respectable RPI (67, which ranks fourth in the Pac-10) and strength of schedule (ninth, which includes losses to top-10 squads Notre Dame, Kansas and San Diego State) gives them a decent postseason resume and makes them legitimate candidates for an NIT bid.

The NCAA Tournament, however, is a long shot. With 12 losses entering this weekend, the Bears would almost certainly have to win their last five games of the regular season and at least get to the Pac-10 Tournament final to even merit consideration. Save Washington and Stanford, the Bears have created problems for every other team in the conference this season. The team certainly has the aggressiveness, offensive execution and drive to make a run in the conference tournament, but it may not have the depth.

Though Allen Crabbe will probably return this week from a mild concussion suffered against Washington, his absence in Saturday's game was noticeable not because of how the Bears played, but the essential guarantee that they would have won with him in the game. It's no secret that coach Mike Montgomery draws the best out of his players, and he seemed to do so again with an impressive performance from seldom-used reserve Jeff Powers on Saturday, who scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

The problem is that if the Bears want to somehow make the tournament, they need their leaders. That means no injuries to Markhuri Sanders-Frison, Jorge Gutierrez, Harper Kamp or Crabbe. If anything happens to those guys, Cal will be too unproven to make a run.

-Gabriel Baumgaertner

Where can Stanford expect to finish in the Pac-10?

With all the headlines coming from the top of the conference, few have heard from the Cardinal recently. However, Stanford has slowly crept back into the middle of the Pac-10 over the last few weeks - going 3-2 after dropping its four previous contests.

Johnny Dawkins' club has shown that it can play defense with just about anyone; earlier this year at Maples Pavilion, the Cardinal held an explosive Washington team almost 30 points below its average, and Stanford still allows the fewest points per game in the conference.

But if there's a good omen heading into the final few games, it's that the Cardinal's offense - normally one of the more low-scoring and methodical units in the conference - has been on the uptick. Not many people paid attention, but Stanford walked into Pullman, Wash., and shot lights out against a normally defensively sound Washington State club. On the way to an upset win, the Cardinal made 7-of-8 from beyond the arc and stormed to a 17-point lead at the half.

Jeremy Green has been carrying the load with at least 21 points in each of his past four games, and the sharp-shooting guard must continue leading the way for a young team that makes three tough - but winnable - road trips down the stretch (to the Oregon schools and Cal).

Expect the Cardinal to split its two upcoming series, staying competitive and hovering around .500 in conference play at season's end. If Green continues his outstanding play, stealing a game from UCLA or even a Northwest sweep may not be a complete shocker.

With some very promising young talent and no seniors, Stanford should be a very intriguing club next season - but they could give us a preview of things to come this spring.

-Ed Yevelev


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