Pac-12 Post-Mortems: California

Posted by Andrew Murawa on June 12th, 2014

Finishing off the group, we’re going through each Pac-12 team one by one to recount the season and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Cal.

What Went Right

Seniors Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon turned in their best seasons in their careers in Berkeley; there was some promising production out of the freshman class; and the Golden Bears got off to a promising 5-0 start in conference play, with three of those wins coming on the road. Heading into the tail end of January, it looked for all the world that it would be Cal – rather than some of the other league teams like Oregon, UCLA and Colorado, each of which had flashed a little leg earlier in the season – that would have the best chance to challenge Arizona’s presumed dominance in the conference.

In Mike Montgomery's Final Year On The Sidelines, The Golden Bears Underachieved (credit: Doug Benc)

In Mike Montgomery’s Final Year On The Sidelines, The Golden Bears Underachieved (credit: Doug Benc)

What Went Wrong

But, on the heels of that optimism, the Golden Bears went to USC and lost in a terrible effort, allowing a bad Trojans team to cut through their defense without much effort. Mike Montgomery’s squad was never the same after that point. They took advantage of a rowdy Saturday night home crowd and an injury to Brandon Ashley to knock off Arizona a couple weeks later, but won only four more games the rest of the way (they lost nine of their last 14 games) prior to an NIT invitation. The root causes of this failure are many, but relying on freshmen like Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews for offensive firepower did not help things. Tyrone Wallace, despite showing tremendous improvement in his sophomore campaign, was still inconsistent. And the frontcourt of Solomon and junior David Kravish never really scared anyone.

MVP

There are few phrases sweeter in college basketball than “senior point guard” and Justin Cobbs lived up to all expectations of a guy playing that part. He ran the offense to perfection, rarely made mistakes, set up his teammates in all of their favorite spots, and, down the stretch of close games, was just deadly with his step-back mid-range jumper. In the end, the Bears didn’t have enough firepower to complement him this season, but Cobbs got just about everything he could out of his skill set.

Justin Cobbs, California

Despite His Team’s Struggles, Justin Cobbs Had a Year Worthy of a Senior Point Guard (Getty Images)

Players Leaving

Cobbs and Solomon both wrap up their collegiate eligibility. But the biggest departure from the program is Montgomery, who decided to call it a career and retire from coaching altogether. An exhaustive coaching search wound up with Cuonzo Martin, formerly of Tennessee, getting named as the new head coach, but following his former head coach out the door, Ricky Kreklow announced that his injury-riddled Cal career would end a year early as he would spend his senior season playing at a different school. And, while technically not a player who is leaving, Ahmaad Rorie, considered the point guard of the future for the program, decided to request his release from his National Letter of Intent to Cal. The request was granted, leaving the Golden Bears without an obvious answer at the point next year. Center Idrissa Diallo also decommitted from Cal upon the coaching change.

Players Coming In

Ideally, Martin would be walking into Berkeley with a whole host of promising prospects, but for now, he’ll have to settle for 7’1” prospect Kingsley Okoroh, who was once a Tennessee commitment. When Martin flipped to Cal, he brought along Okoroh with him. The only other newcomer for the program at this time is Georgetown transfer Stephen Domingo, who accomplished very little on the court during his two seasons with the Hoyas.

Reason for Hope

Long term, a changing of the guard and a fresh start is always worth some optimism. Short-term, enough talent remains in this program for the Golden Bears to become fearsome next year. If sophomore Sam Singer and versatile wing Tyrone Wallace can combine to form an effective point guard, there is enough firepower between Mathews and Bird to make this a high-scoring Bears offense. Kravish will return for his senior season up front, and if sophomore Kameron Rooks and the incoming Okoroh can help out of from, the Golden Bears have the makings of a tough, if not overly deep, squad.

Reason For Concern

You’re going from one of the most accomplished head coaches in recent Pac-12 history to a guy whom Tennessee fans were ready to run out of town as recently as early March. And with Martin’s recruiting credentials still unproven and some underachievement in the recent past, he’s still got a lot to prove. Throw in the fact that there is no obvious single guy at the point, the frontcourt is woefully thin, and those talented wings are works in progress at both ends of the court, and this thing could get away from Martin quickly.

Overall Grade

D+. Twenty-one wins and a postseason appearance just ain’t what it used to be. This was a Golden Bears team that should have been an NCAA Tournament participant. Halfway through the year, they looked just like that and had only barely begun to scratch the surface of their talent. But down the stretch, that raw talent faltered and never quite congealed. Throw in the fact that this year out of all possible years went down as Montgomery’s last and that little fact nudges the Golden Bears over the threshold into “D” territory. A disappointing year, indeed.

AMurawa (822 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.


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