Pac-12 Team Preview: California Golden BearsPosted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 31st, 2013
We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.
California Golden Bears
Strengths. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it is a good thing that shooting guard Allen Crabbe is gone after averaging 18.4 PPG last season. However, Crabbe’s departure opens the door for freshman two guard Jabari Bird, a five-star recruit out of Salesian High School (CA). If things go according to plan, Bird will be on the Pac-12′s All-Freshmen team next March. Providing strength, explosiveness, a high basketball IQ, and the ability to float to open areas on the court and hit from anywhere after doing so, Cal has another legitimate scoring threat to play along senior Justin Cobbs in the backcourt. Cobbs became more of a score-first point guard last season, and for the most part, it worked out just fine. If he nears the same type of production, this duo will be a lethal one.
Weaknesses. The Golden Bears have potential up front, but it is a very thin group. And this is where they go from an NCAA Tournament lock to the bubble. Richard Solomon and David Kravish are solid players but won’t do anything that jumps off the page, and after that it gets scary. Mike Montgomery will have to go small for the majority of games and desperately needs 7’0″ freshman Kameron Rooks to be ready immediately when the two starters need a break.
Non-Conference Tests. California will face five tough opponents in its non-conference schedule, four of which come within a one-week span. It’ll open Feast Week in Lahaina against Arkansas in the first round of the Maui Invitational, then face either Syracuse or Minnesota a day later. Gonzaga highlights the four options for its final game on the Islands before Cal returns home to face UC Irvine, a team projected by most to take the Big West. The final non-conference test will be played December 22 at Creighton.
Toughest Conference Stretch. The Bears get a fairly balanced Pac-12 schedule this season, but the four-game stretch to close the month of January will be tough. It begins with a trip down to Los Angeles to face USC and UCLA and ends with games against Arizona State and Arizona at Haas Pavilion. They’ll get three likely NCAA Tournament teams in six days, which could be the difference between going dancing or heading to the NIT come March.
If Everything Goes Right… After running away from the Razorbacks in its Maui opener, California drops an overtime decision to Syracuse in the semifinals. A quality victory against Baylor in the third place game makes it a successful trip, and the Bears dispatch UC Irvine to start 7-1. Fast forward to mid-February, and Cal is 18-6 and needs four wins to clinch a spot in the Big Dance. They get three and enter the NIT as a two seed after a crushing five game skid to close the year. The troops rally, however, and Montgomery and company march all the way to the final at Madison Square Garden before falling to Bay Area rival Saint Mary’s.
If Nothing Goes Right… Pac-12 opponents overmatch the Golden Bear bigs night in and night out and an early-season wrist injury to Bird kills the offensive production. They close the season at 15-17 and begin a dreary offseason with the graduation of Cobbs and Bird declaring for the NBA Draft.
Projected Starting Line-up
- PG Justin Cobbs (Sr, 6’3″ 190 lbs, 15.1 PPG, 4.8 APG, 106.8 ORtg)
- SG Jabari Bird (Fr, 6’6″ 190 lbs)
- G/F Tyrone Wallace (So, 6’4” 186 lbs, 7.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG)
- PF Richard Solomon (Sr, 6’10″ 235 lbs, 8.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG)
- C David Kravish (Jr, 6’9″ 221, 7.9 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.7 BPG)
Solomon and Kravish are the key here. They didn’t do anything special last season, but their play was solid enough to let Crabbe work out of the backcourt. Wallace is a wildcard player. He had a great freshman season in Berkeley and will be the key to the offense when Cobbs and Bird are having an off night. All in all, this is a formidable bunch.
- PG Jordan Matthews (Fr, 6’3” 195 lbs)
- SG Ricky Kreklow (Jr, 6’6” 210 lbs, 3.9 PPG, 1.9 APG)
- SF Jeff Powers (Sr, 6’7” 223 lbs, 1.3 PPG, 0.3 RPG)
- CF Christian Beherns (So, 6’9” 225 lbs, 0.7 PPG, 1.6 RPG)
- C Kameron Rooks (Fr, 7’0″ 270 lbs)
Not an overly impressive group here. Matthews is a drive and dish point guard who also has toughness to get to the basket, but won’t see much time behind Cobbs. Kreklow is probably the strongest player here. He didn’t see much action in 2012-13 due to a foot injury, but he provides an Arsalan Kazemi-like energy and toughness to the team. Powers is yet another three-point shooter on the roster, yet he has the frame of a forward. The key for Beherns is just to stay healthy. If he can do so for an extended period of time, he provides an interesting change of pace down low. If Rooks proves ready to contribute right away, seven-footers are always of value in the Pac-12.