Pac-12 Team Previews: California

Posted by Connor Pelton on November 7th, 2011

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing each of the Pac-12 teams as we head into the season.

California Golden Bears

Strengths.  In a league filled with teams looking to freshmen and sophomores for leadership, seniors Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp will lead this team. Both of them earned all-Pac-10 honors last season as well, so the talent is definitely there. Sophomore guard Allen Crabbe is also back, meaning that California returns their top three scorers from last season. One of the Pac-12’s most improved is also back at point guard in junior Brandon Smith. Smith is an assist machine and a great manager of tempo, whether the Bears want to slow it down or speed up. Challenging him for the starting point spot will be Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs. Cobbs is known for his solid passing ability, but he lit it up with his jumper against UC San Diego last Tuesday. Cobbs led all scorers with 17 points in the exhibition.

Gutierrez will be looked at to lead the Golden Bears this season

Weaknesses.  The Bears lose forward Markuri Sanders-Frison, meaning they will have a drop of almost two rebounds per game to their next highest returning rebounder. For a team that has aspirations of a three seed or higher in the NCAA Tournament, they certainly did not make it easy on themselves with their nonconference schedule. They will play neutral site games against Georgia and either Notre Dame or Missouri, a home game with Weber State, and road games against San Diego State and UNLV.

Nonconference Tests.  If they can get out of the five-game stretch mentioned above with a 2-3 record, the Bears will be fine going into Pac-12 play. The neutral site games are part of the CBE Classic, which means the Bears will have a chance to prove they belong with a few of the nation’s best on a national stage. The SDSU meeting is a return game from last season, while the matchups with the Wildcats and Runnin’ Rebels are the beginning of a new series. The rest of their slate should all be easy victories, as you could make a good case that George Washington is the toughest team left on the schedule.

Toughest Conference Stretch.  The 15-day stretch of Jan. 19-Feb. 2 will be a rough one. Cal will be tested repeatedly as they go to the Washington schools, followed by the Big Game in Berkeley and a rematch of last year’s triple-overtime thriller against Arizona. After that, the schedule really begins to lighten up, though. They will travel to UCLA on Feb. 11 and then to Stanford to close out the regular season, but those are the only two possible losses that I see in the final eight games.

If Everything Goes Right…  The Bears lose an expected three games in nonconference play, but an unbelievable 14-4 record in the Pac-12 gets them the three seed they were hoping for. They make it to the Sweet Sixteen before getting bounced by North Carolina in overtime. Junior walk-on Jeff Powers is the surprise of the season as he averages 8 PPG after Crabbe goes down with an injury. The main story of the year though is Gutierrez, who beats out Terrence Ross and Jared Cunningham for Pac-12 POY.

If Nothing Goes Right…  The team loses some mind-boggling Oregon State type games, but there is just too much talent on the roster to keep them from having a bad, or even mediocre, type season. Despite a fourth place finish in conference play, the Bears turn it on once March begins. They win their “First Four” game, along with two others in the NCAAs, before being stopped in the Sweet Sixteen.

Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG Brandon Smith (Jr, 5’11”, 185 lbs, 6.4 PPG, 3.9 APG)
  • SG Jorge Gutierrez (Sr, 6’3″, 195 lbs, 14.6 PPG, 4.5 APG)
  • Richard Solomon (So, 6’10”, 220 lbs, 5.6 PPG, 0.6 APG)
  • PF Harper Kamp (Sr, 6’8″, 245 lbs, 14.2 PPG, 1.6 APG)
  • SF Allen Crabbe (So, 6’6″, 205 lbs, 13.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG)

The talent and depth of this lineup just jumps off the page. The only other teams in the conference that can compete with this are Washington and Arizona, but those guys are young. The Bears have experience and the talent to match just about anyone west of the Mississippi.

Impact Newcomer.  Justin Cobbs – Cobbs won’t take away Smith’s job at point guard right away, but if he has many more performances like he did in the exhibition, the job will be all his. Cobbs has combo-guard ability and can dish it off, drain a big three, or drive into the paint whenever needed.

Key Reserves

  • PG Justin Cobbs (So, 6’2″, 195 lbs, 2.1 PPG, 1.3 APG at Minnesota in 2009-10)
  • Emerson Murray (So, 6’3″, 195 lbs, 0.8 PPG, 0.5 APG)
  • SF Jeff Powers (Jr, 6’7″, 190 lbs, 3.5 PPG, 0.8 RPG)
  • Robert Thurman (Jr, 6’10”, 250 lbs, 0.4 PPG, 0.9 RPG)
  • PF Bak Bak (Jr, 6’9″, 225 lbs, 2.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG)

Besides Cobbs, this group is pretty thin. Luckily, with Smith, Gutierrez, and Cobbs playing so many minutes, Murray will not have too much playing time. The same cannot be said down low though, as walk-on’s Powers and Thurman will be thrust into action whenever Kamp or Crabbe is in foul trouble. Bak showed flashes of greatness last season, but I just can’t see him playing a huge role this year.

Connor Pelton (300 Posts)

I'm from Portland. College basketball and football is life.

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