California Golden Bears Basketball Preview: Cuonzo’s Guards

We never really ever talked about the Cuonzo hire. So, for the record, it was a great parting gift from Sandy Barbour. This partnership is mutually beneficial in that Cal gets a coach, fresh off a Sweet Sixteen who is young and hungry and has proven he can win. For Martin, he gets himself into a situation where he’s actually wanted. That’s right, Bruce Pearl and Tennessee fans seemingly had a Gone Girl relationship. There were FIRE CUONZO petitions with upwards of 20K signatures. No thanks and Bruce wound up at Auburn. So Cuonzo got himself a cozy pad in Berkeley and a decent roster, too. One concern: they say the Bay Area can make you soft. Cuonzo’s teams play hard. Time will tell.

Why I Love Them:

The backcourt. This is a youthful group that has tons of potential. I’m perhaps most excited to see what Ty Wallace can do as a perhaps featured player with the departure of Justin Cobbs. Ultimately, however, Jabari Bird is the marquee player. Injuries led him to a bit of an inconsistent freshman campaign but there were flashes of awesome. Even sustained ones. As a big believer in ending things on a positive note, I’ll be quick to remind you that Bird averaged 17points on 66% shooting during Cal’s trip to the NIT last season. It’s tough to close a season on a positive in college basketball. Seemingly everyone loses their last game. But Bird and the Bears have a clean slate with a new coach and a hot hand in his final games. In my eternal search for the silver lining, Bird’s got some momentum. And since I noted it’s the backcourt that I love, we gotta note Sam Singer (tribe member!) and Jordan Matthews. Lotta youth. Lotta options for Cuonzo.

Why I Hate Them:

The frontcourt. Isn’t that a convenient breakdown? Besides David Kravish, there’s very little known about who is going to be playing big for Martin. Kameron Rooks is out with a knee injury and while they do have another seven-footer, his name is Kingsley and he’s from England; which is awesome, Richard Midlgley had great success from England at Cal, but I’m not sold on Kingsley as this year’s answer. They do have a grad transfer in Dwight Tarwater (another great name) who has had success at a high level (Cornell). But it’s yet to be determined how he’ll fair at the Pac-12-level.

The Stat You Must Know:

5th and 19th

Tenneessee’s national ranking in Offensive and Defensive rebounding percentages. They’re going to crash the boards on both ends of the floor which is a great thing, particularly for a system set on playing at a slower pace (323rd in AdjT last season for Cuonzo). One issue, however, is the lack of rebounders as noted in our Hate section. Obviously rebounding is not predicated upon height but it’s also doesn’t hurt. It’ll be interesting to see how Cal boards in the Cuonzo system with all of these skilled guards. Last year Tennessee ranked deep into the 200s in transition offense. Could the likes of Wallace and Bird turn rebounding into transition opportunities? Last year Wallace took 27% of his FG attempts in transition, Bird took 24%. We’ll see how the new regime adjusts.

Top 5 Berkeley Drinking Establishments:

  1. Triple Rock Brewery and Ale House
  2. Raleigh’s  (RIP, burnt down in 2011)
  3. Bear’s Lair (RIP, closed doors in 2012)
  4. Jupiters
  5. Henry’s

Mountain High (best possible season):

Obviously the mountain’s top would be an NCAA appearance. I don’t think that’s possible. But Cuonzo has won an average of 20.67 games per season. He’s pretty used to winning and he’ll continue to do so at Cal. No invitation comes but the on-court success translates onto the recruiting trail and Ivan Rabb promises his season of skills to the hometown Bears.

Rock Bottom (worst possible season):

Jabari’s hot and cold streaks were less about his injuries and a lot more about him. Ty Wallace still can’t quite make the jump from potential to performance. He’s good – they’re both good – but getting them going on a nightly basis is too tall of an order. Speaking of tall, Cal is not and they get busted on the glass. That doesn’t work for Cuonzo and year one is a struggle. But there aren’t petitions to fire him!

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