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.
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.
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