Pac-12 Team Previews: California Golden BearsPosted by KDanna on October 23rd, 2012
Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the California Golden Bears.
Strengths: Despite losing two of the team’s top four scorers from last year, the Golden Bears have guys who can score at pretty much every position on the floor. It starts on the wing with the smooth Allen Crabbe, who was the last-ever Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in 2010-11. The sharpshooter hit just about 40 percent of his three-point attempts en route to a team-leading 15 points per game. He does well to create his shot and can knock down shots in traffic. He will be fed largely by the dual-threat Justin Cobbs, the Minnesota transfer who led the Golden Bears in assists and three-point field goal percentage (though his sample size wasn’t nearly as large as that of Crabbe’s). Head coach Mike Montgomery will welcome back forward Richard Solomon to the lineup after missing about 60 percent of last season due to academic problems. A good low-post defender, Solomon’s finishing touch and athleticism will go nicely with David Kravish, who provides the Golden Bears with an above-average Pac-12 offensive post threat.
Weaknesses: Replacing the production of Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp might not be a huge issue, but replacing their intensity and toughness could very well be a problem. The Golden Bears limped into and out of the Pac-12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament last year, and Kamp was quick to call his team out for being soft after a loss in the regular season finale to Stanford. When the going gets tough this year, who will the Golden Bears look to as their vocal leader? Gutierrez didn’t exactly finish his Cal career that well (he went a combined 3-15 with eight points in his last two regular season games before picking things up slightly in the postseason), but he was still the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. That last honor will be what Cal misses most — his defensive toughness and overall “pesty-ness” really gave opposing guards fits. Gutierrez was a wealthy man’s Venoy Overton on defense with a much larger skill set on offense. For a team that had trouble stopping much of anyone as the season came to a close (the Golden Bears gave up at least 70 points in four of their final five games after they allowing an average of 61 on the season), perimeter defense could raise some eyebrows in Berkeley.
Non-Conference Tests: The Golden Bears haven’t been able to get that key non-conference road victory in the last few years, but they will get a big opportunity when they travel to Madison to take on Wisconsin on December 2. Before that, however, Cal must play 22-win Denver at the Pioneers’ place on November 16. After that, the Golden Bears will spend their Thanksgiving weekend in Anaheim for the Anaheim/DirecTV Classic. After a tournament opener against Drake, Cal will face Georgia Tech or Rice (former Cal coach Ben Braun is still the head coach at Rice). The other side of the bracket is filled with non-power conference powers: If all goes well, the Golden Bears will face either Drexel, Saint Mary’s, or Xavier in the championship game. After those tests away from home, Cal will host a couple of other “Other 26” stalwarts in UNLV and Creighton on December 9 and 15, respectively. Cal will look to get some revenge on the Runnin’ Rebels after losing to them 85-68 last year in Las Vegas. The non-conference portion of the schedule ends on December 29 with a visit from Harvard to Haas Pavilion.
Toughest Conference Stretch: While the first third of the schedule isn’t necessarily easy (at the LA schools, hosting the Washingtons, and a three-game road trip to Stanford and the Mountain schools), things really pick up on the back end of a trip to the desert with a date on February 10 at Arizona. The Golden Bears then return home to face UCLA and USC on Valentine’s Day and the February 17, respectively. Then it’s off to Eugene and Corvallis for contests against Oregon and Oregon State. Cal has had trouble with the Beavers in recent years, losing to Craig Robinson’s team in Corvallis three of the last four seasons. The Golden Bears probably think 4-1 is a realistic goal during that stretch, but 3-2 would be just fine for them as well. It’s going to be tough to sweep the LA schools at home this year, and winning in the McKale Center is never an easy proposition.
If Everything Goes Right: A 3-0 start with a good win at Denver gives the Golden Bears the confidence they need to succeed in Anaheim, winning the Anaheim Classic with victories over Drake, Georgia Tech and Saint Mary’s. Cal puts up a great fight at Wisconsin, but fall just short in a one-possession loss. The Golden Bears then have a non-conference home stand to remember by avenging last year’s loss to UNLV and sending Greg McDermott’s Creighton Blue Jays back to Omaha with an additional tally in the loss column. Cal enters Pac-12 play at 11-1 and stands its ground with a 4-3 conference record entering its toughest stretch of the season. The Golden Bears live up to the challenge, sweeping both the LA and Oregon schools after taking Arizona to overtime to go 4-1 in that five-game portion. Cal winds up the regular season in third place at 13-5 and advances to the Pac-12 championship game, surprising UCLA before losing to Arizona. That gives the Golden Bears a record of 26-7 entering the NCAA Tournament and a No. 5 seed. The season ends in the Round of 32 and Mike Montgomery wins Pac-12 Coach of the Year.
If Nothing Goes Right: The Golden Bears beat Drake, but Ben Braun’s Rice Owls take down Georgia Tech and, in the ultimate “win it for coach” game, the Owls upset the Golden Bears in the semifinals. After losing to its former head coach, Cal falls to Xavier in the third place game and leaves the Anaheim Classic with a 1-2 record in the Thanksgiving tournament. The up-and-coming Denver Pioneers prove to be too much for Cal in Colorado, and it’s no surprise that Wisconsin beats Cal by 20, giving the Golden Bears their usual quality road losses in the non-conference. The problem this time is that, outside of beating UC Santa Barbara and Harvard, Cal can’t get any name-recognition home victories either, losing out on opportunities against UNLV and Creighton. That puts the Golden Bears at an even 6-6 at the conclusion of the non-conference slate, and they quickly fall under .500 on the season with an 0-2 road trip to Los Angeles. For the most part, the Golden Bears take care of Pac-12 foes at home with a 6-3 record in Haas from January to March, but they can’t translate that success away from home, beating only Utah and Arizona State on the road. Overall, the Golden Bears are 14-16 entering the Pac-12 Tournament, meaning it’s Pac-12 championship or bust. It proves to be the latter, as Cal wins just once in Las Vegas before falling in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. The CBI comes calling, but this isn’t Oregon State, and nobody in Berkeley cares enough to play in it.
Projected Starting Lineup:
- PG- Brandon Smith (Sr., 6’0, 180 lbs., 2.8 PPG, 2.1 APG)
- SG- Justin Cobbs (Jr., 6’2, 190 lbs., 12.6 PPG, 5.0 APG)
- G/F- Allen Crabbe (Jr., 6’6, 210 lbs., 15.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG)
- PF- Richard Solomon (Jr., 6’10, 235 lbs., 6.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG)
- F/C- David Kravish (So., 6’9, 221 lbs., 6.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG)
This lineup gives the Golden Bears two of everything offensively. It starts with the trusted ball-handlers in the backcourt with Smith and Cobbs, as both are more than capable of running the offense. However, it’s very possible that Missouri transfer Ricky Kreklow steps in and takes Smith’s spot in the lineup once he returns from surgery on his right foot that could keep him out until December. Cobbs and Crabbe act as the perimeter shooters for this bunch, while Solomon and Kravish battle in the paint for positioning and rebounds. Kravish had an impressive freshman campaign during which he displayed a nice touch around the basket and did about as well as he could banging around with other guys who weighed considerably more than he. Kravish might not be a Harper Kamp, but he has a very good skill set for his size.
- G- Tyrone Wallace (Fr., 6’4″, 186 lbs.)
- PF- Kaileb Rodriguez (Fr., 6’9″, 225 lbs.)
- PF- Robert Thurman (Sr., 6’10″, 265 lbs., 3.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg)
- PF- Bak Bak (Sr., 6’9″, 240 lbs., 1.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg)
- SG- Ricky Kreklow (RS So., 6’6″, 210 lbs., 2.1 ppg, 1.3 rpg in 2010-11 at Missouri)
- G/F- Kahlil Johnson (Fr., 6’7″, 206 lbs.)
Of the freshmen, Tyrone Wallace appears to be the most ready to contribute for Cal. The four-star recruit from Bakersfield is known for his versatility and distributing abilities (this highlight doesn’t really exemplify either, but it’s a nice dunk nonetheless). Robert Thurman, Kalieb Rodriguez and Bak Bak will provide depth down low for the Golden Bears. Rodriguez enters the program as a three-star recruit, while Thurman will be the most reliable big off the bench for Mike Montgomery. The senior gives the Golden Bears much-needed beef in the paint and has shown an ability to score when his team needs it, as evidenced by his 16-point performance on the road at Washington last year. If he doesn’t start, Kreklow will be the team’s hopeful instant-offense option as a guy who can knock down threes.