Cal Basketball Preview

Cal Basketball Preview
November 11, 2011, 9:51 pm

HISTORY From 1954-1960, Pete Newell was the head coach of the California Golden Bears. In his six years at the helm, Cal won four straight Pac-8 titles from 1957-1960. Even more impressive1959: NCAA National Champions The Bears defeated Oscar Robertson and Cincinnati in the Final Four, and outlasted Jerry West and West Virginia in the title game. 1960: NCAA National Runner-Up The Bears once again defeated Oscar Robertson and Cincinnati in the Final Four, but fell to Ohio State with the likes of John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas, and Bobby Knight in the title game (at the Cow Palace in Daly City). Cal didnt reach the NCAA Tournament again until 1990! Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray led the Bears to the Sweet 16 in 1993, and Tony Gonzalez of NFL fame was a member of the 1997 Sweet 16 squad. Ben Braun coached the Bears to four additional NCAA Tournament appearances in 01, 02, 03, and 06 but was replaced by Mike Montgomery following the 2007-2008 season. In 2010, the former Stanford coach guided the Bears to their first conference championship since 1960. LAST SEASONFour starters Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle, Team MVP Theo Robertson, Patrick Christopher, and Jamal Boykin were lost from the 2010 Pac-10 Championship squad. Consequently, the Bears were picked seventh in the 2010-2011 Pac-10 Preseason Media Poll. They didnt listen to the media, and instead finished tied for fourth. Jorge Gutierrez earned Firs-Team All-Conference honors after averaging 16 points and 5 assists per game. Harper Kamp received Second-Team honors with his 16 points and 6 rebounds per game. Allen Crabbe became the first Bear to be named Freshman of the Year since Leon Powe in 2004. However, he was mysteriously left off the All-Conference teams despite the fact he led the Bears in scoring (16.4 ppg), second in rebounding (5.8 rpg), and led the league in 3-point percentage (.481 percent) and minutes played (36.6 mpg). I mean, are you serious? The Bears NCAA Tournament hopes were dashed with a first-round loss in the Pac-10 Tournament to USC. However, they did advance to the second round of the NIT where they fell to future Pac-12 foe Colorado. 2011-2012 SEASON PREVIEWWith the returning trio of Jorge Gutierrez, Harper Kamp, and Allen Crabbe, expectations are high in Berkeley. However, you cant win a Pac-12 championship with just three players. Who else will be in the rotation? Projected StartersPG: Brandon Smith (junior) -- After a historic career at De La Salle High School, Smith played sparingly behind Jerome Randle as a freshman. Thirteen games into last season, after Gary Franklin announced he would transfer, Smith replaced him in the starting lineup and never looked back. Over the final 20 games of the season, Smith averaged just under 8 points and 5 assists in 36 minutes per game. He isnt flashy, quick, or explosive, but he runs the team and gets the ball where it needs to be, when it needs to be there. If hes knocking down the 3 (20-45 the final 20 games last season) he makes Cal extremely dangerous. SG: Jorge Gutierrez (senior) -- The first recruit Montgomery signed at Cal is the Bears heart, soul, brains, guts, ligaments, you name it. There isnt a coach in the country who wouldnt want Gutierrez on his team, because you know what youre going to get on a nightly basis toughness, leadership, hustle, defense, clutch play-making, etc. If you walked by him on the street you wouldnt believe he is one of the 50 players in the country on the John Wooden Award Preseason list. However, if Cal wins the league, Gutierrez will most likely be the inaugural Pac-12 Player of the Year. SF: Allen Crabbe (sophomore) -- Crabbe was robbed when he was left off the All-Conference teams last season. He wont be absent again this year. After setting the single-season school record for a freshman with 62 made 3s last year, that number could be closer to 80 or 90 treys this season. However, his offensive game is way more than just his 3-point ability, so look for him to get to the paint more as a sophomore. Although he still has room to grow (strength, explosiveness) hes one of the best pro prospects in the Pac-12 and if he stays in school for four years, should break the 2,000- point plateau for his career. PF: Harper Kamp (redshirt senior) -- After being slowed by nagging knee injuries his first two seasons, Kamp redshirted in 09-10 to fully recover following offseason knee injury. Mission accomplished. The 68 southpaw averaged 14 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last season, after averaging 8 points and 6 rebounds combined his first two seasons. Cal needed someone to step up and score last season, and a healthy Kamp was clearly more than capable. You cant foul him either he shot just below 82 percent from the free-throw line a season ago. C: Richard Solomon (sophomore) -- The 611 high-school teammate of Crabbe could be the difference between a Pac-12 championshipdeep NCAA Tournament run, and a third-place finishearly tournament exit (its pretty safe to say the Bears will hear their name called on Selection Sunday). At times last season he showed flashes of being the dominant big man the Cal coaching staff recruited him to be (14 points against Washington, 11 points6 rebounds vs. USC, 10 rebounds vs. Colorado in the NIT). However, like most freshman, he was inconsistent. Cals one question mark is its frontcourt depth, which places a premium on Solomon staying out of foul trouble. He should be the Bears leading rebounder and shot-blocker as he continues to develop his low-post game. Other key returneesPF: Bak Bak (junior) -- The 69 rebounding machine was the first big off the bench in Cals 88-53 win over UC San Diego on Nov. 1. In nine minutes, he produced four rebounds, but also committed three fouls. In Cals NIT loss last season, the Sudan native chipped in nine points and 11 rebounds. The Bears dont need him to score a single point this year just rebound and defend. C: Robert Thurman (redshirt junior) -- At 610 and 250 pounds, he is the biggest body Cal can put on the court. If Solomon struggles early, Thurman will be needed to play more minutes than expected. Like Bak, he just needs to rebound and defend. SG: Emerson Murray (sophomore) He played sparingly as a freshman and it will once again be difficult to see extended playing time. However, should any of the guards go down with an injury, Murray is more than capable to fill in. He isnt a difference-maker, but could be a solid backup. SG: Jeff Powers (redshirt sophomore) The high school teammate of Smith at De La Salle transferred to Cal midway through the 2009-2010 season, and became eligible following the 2011 fall semester. In 11 minutes off the bench at Washington, he chipped in 13 points. When Crabbe missed the next game at Washington State, Powers started and delivered 14 points in 31 minutes. He started one more game, and then played a combined 24 minutes over the teams final seven games. He wont be able to sneak up on anybody this season. NewcomersPGSG: Justin Cobbs (redshirt sophomore) Cobbs becomes eligible after spending his freshman season at Minnesota and sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. The combo guard led the Bears with 17 points and 4 assists in the teams exhibition win over UC San Diego. He can knock down the 3, but hes at his best when hes attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line (6-for-8 in exhibition win). Whether he starts or comes off the bench doesnt matter. He will play 20-25 minutes a game and lead Cal in scoring on occasion. PF: David Kravish (freshman) -- The long and lanky freshman led the Bears with eight rebounds (four offensive) in just 16 minutes against UC San Diego. He is the Bears most skilled big man off the bench and gives Cal a shot-blocking presence inside. He should have a fantastic career. ScheduleAlthough Cals non-conference schedule isnt as brutal as it was last season (New Mexico, Temple, Notre Dame, Boston College, Iowa State, San Diego State, Kansas) the Bears will meet Georgia in Kansas City at the CBE Classic, followed by either Notre Dame or Missouri. Other games include road tests at Mountain West foes San Diego State and UNLV, and home meetings with San Jose State and UC Santa Barbara. PredictionThe 2011-2012 Pac-12 Preseason Media Poll projected Cal with a second-place finish (one first-place vote behind UCLA). The Bruins may have one of the best frontcourts in the country, but Cal has a better backcourt and boasts the most cohesive starting five in the league. The one thing that could prevent Cal from winning the conference is their lack of depth in the frontcourt, or a significant injury. That being said, the Bears will enter the Pac-12 Tournament at24-7 overall, 13-5 conference (Co-CHAMPIONS), NCAA Tournament BirthLet the game begin...
Drew Shiller is a Web Producer for CSNBayArea.com. You can follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller

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