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.