I can’t confirm the immediate intro jams – we’re talking striking college scenery not Wooden statues and Boyle barking – but I feel none were as fitting as this week’s. Stereotyping can be funny so acoustic tunes conjuring be-dreadlocked coeds frolicking in the hills of Berkeley’s campus was notable. It felt right. Certainly more than any other school’s introduction.
And when we’re invited into the basketball side of Berkeley, well I don’t know what the hell. We first see the team standing around coach. They’re just standing around and the first thing Cuonzo says is, “Anybody ready to quit?” Quit what? Everyone’s just standing there. He continues inaudibly as he lightly bends at the hips, looking almost the part of a hobbled man with a cane. It doesn’t look like Cuonzo Martin. He continues inaudibly to his audience that won’t quit but has go to be grossly confused until you hear him say, “wobble.” And old-man-looking Cuonzo’s leg give a slight tremble. He straightens, “Now are we on the same page?” I watched this 4x. Continue reading
By: Spencer Smith
The Pac-12 this year is Utah, Arizona and the field. And while pretty much no one expects the other 10 programs to challenge the Utes and Wildcats for a conference crown, there is still plenty to be played for.
There’s an amoeba of mediocrity in the middle (say that five times fast), one that starts after the aforementioned front-runners and ends at a much more uncertain place. Stanford, UCLA, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State are in there. Washington State is making a case for being in there. Washington, Cal and Arizona State are desperately trying to convince you they are still there. USC plays basketball. Continue reading
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:
While this group doesn’t hold a candle to the collective guard talent, there are some formidable pieces. The conference has brought in solid transfer bigs and we could see a record fall in Tempe. I’ll propose the question: What is Kyle Anderson and why’d ya do it, Eric Moreland? The bigs:
- Arizona – Three five-stars that each bring a completely different set of skills to the table. You can push Aaron Gordon to the three and he can talk all about his desire to play there, but the fact of the matter is, the kid plays above the rim. That’s Kaleb Tarczewski big. The impending health of Zach Peters (recently cleared) offers another six-feet-and-ten-inches of unique skill set (shots).
- Stanford – Maybe they haven’t won much but between Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis you’ve got everything you’d want in a front court. Each has springs and can play physical. Powell can score from all over the place while Huestis is about as tough defensively as they get.
- UCLA – I already gave Kyle Anderson some back court love, but last season he was asked to be more of a forward and he excelled at that – averaging nearly a 9 boards/game. The Bruins already feature the Wear family who’s been formidable and while Travis is out injured right now, David is healthy again and should have an improved season from a year ago. The unknown to this group – and the piece that could make them a pretty scare team – is the improvement and conditioning of Tony Parker. It’s an unfortunate annual event that we discuss the conditioning of a Bruin big but if one of them ever gets it about them to be in shape, look out.
- Colorado – Josh Scott had a great first season and particularly when he had fresh legs. His output tapered some as the season dragged on but that’s what sometimes happens with freshmen. He’s now a year aged and while he lost his rebounding running mate, Xavier Johnson projects to fill in nicely at the wing-forward spot while Buffs fans are also very high on Wesley Gordon.
- Oregon – One of their starters was suspended but that’s not the key piece. Mike Moser has proven to be a terrific power forward. In 2011-12 he was amongst the nation’s best players. Then a year later he wasn’t. Who is Oregon getting? I’m thinking it’ll be a lot more of the former than the latter. If Ben Carter can recover from his salesmanship and produce, this group could be tough with all those guards.
- ASU – Depth maybe isn’t their strong suit up front but if Jordan Bachynski can replicate last season, he will be the Pac-12’s All-Time leading shot blocker. That’s saying something.
- Oregon State – Let’s note right up front that Eric Moreland will be out for 14 straight games. We’ll also note that he’s a very good basketball player and flirted with the NBA. The First Team also has Devon Collier and returns everyone’s second favorite Aussie, Angus Brandt. In most any other system, I think these guys might be a top-four front court. But this is a school averaging just 15 wins a year the past three seasons. Sigh.
- California – I’ve said it before, I like Richard Solomon. I think he could have a big year. But to this point he’s been a foul prone athlete in Cal’s paint. His services have been supplemented by a walk-on named The Thurmanator. Solomon has the skills to be great, but will he? The other big in Haas is David Kravish who has a very sound skill set, a solid big, but he’s just not that big. Front court depth will also be a Bear-issue.
- Washington – They lose their anchor in Aziz but they’re bringing in a very interesting piece that LoRo says has the “potential to lead the team in scoring.” That’s nice – and scary, frankly, considering CJ Wilcox is on the team – but what I like the most about the addition of Perris Blackwell is that he’s a big body who’s going to let all those guards run amuck. Between him and the Rain Man Jr. (along with Desmond Simmons), the Dawgs have a few guys to get dirty in their second attempt at the high post offense. And this.
- Utah – This ranking hinges squarely on the fact that Jordan Loveridge is fantastic, he’s a double-double about to happen. Maybe he’s manning the middle alone now (bye Jason Washburn), but he’s man enough to do it. Worth noting, K did mention an improved and healthy Renan Lenz.
- USC – I don’t think these two are well suited for Andy Enfield’s tempo but they are serviceable bigs. Omar Oraby and DJ Haley are just too big for Dunk City. This is an offense that needs to get out and move and 7’2″ and 7′ tends to be a bit rigid when it comes to the fast break.
- WSU – Uhhhhh. They have their full allotment of scholarship athletes?
Cal has made the most buzz in their off-season not necessarily surrounding anything they’ve done. To address what they’ve done is to tell you they’ve compiled a sound team with compelling pieces up and down the roster. They’re maybe not deep but they’re balanced. I like Cal’s roster. But that’s maybe not why you’ve heard about them. No, you might’ve heard that Dough Gottlieb of CBS-lore has picked Cal as his 10th best team in the nation. Rush the Court asked how and I’m curious, too. But ultimately, that’s Doug’s prerogative and I don’t care that much. He’s the paid contrarian and I’m not even about to mention his brother being on Cal’s staff – though I just did. So with that out of the way, we’ll focus on whether these Bears can replace Allen Crabbe, the reigning POY; if balanced is enough; whether Richard Solomon can make the jump.
Why I love them: That balance I’ve been talking about? I’m really high on it and what’s more is they’ve got veterans in the right places and particularly in the two most important. You know about Mike Montgomery so allow me to get to the point: Justin Cobbs (see what I did there?!). He’s hit big shots and played in big games. He’s a senior at the most critical position in college basketball and one cannot begrudge the Bears that. It is their most endearing quality. But one senior does not a team make. No, filling out their back court is the highly touted Jabari Bird for whom Monty has been trying to taper expectations, “I don’t want to put expectations on Jabari. I want him to develop, I want him to learn as a freshman. Certainly coming in with the ability he has is going to give him a great opportunity, but the expectations is that he has a great freshman year and he helps us win basketball games.” Sure, Monty’s got a fine freshmen, but one freshman does not a team make (with apologies to ‘Melo). I’m not about to carry on with the different components that alone do not make up a team, but I will tell you that I’m a big Ty Wallace fan. He had a good freshman campaign and – if my calculations from a year ago stand true – he projects to have a much improved sophomore effort. The one additional thing that’s also got me high on this team is who Richard Solomon might become. He’s athletic and lengthy and we find him in his final season at Berkeley. How is he going to handle that urgency? If he manages to channel it into continued rebounding success (high OR and DR rates) and improved offensive output (just 55th in the conference in ORtg) then the Bears would seem to have further filled out an already nice lineup.
Why I hate them: OK so I like Richard Solomon. I want to believe that he’s going to have a big senior year – a fact I plan to expand upon in a later post. But if we’re looking at this team and its front court, we’re indeed left with Solomon and David Kravish. Sound players but with the body of work we’ve previously been presented with, I’m not about to consider this a Pac-12 contending front court. They’ve lost the Thurmanator who gave them big minutes when Solomon was in foul trouble (ranked 3rd to last in fouls committed/40 minutes) and I don’t foresee Kameron Rooks or Roger Moute a Bidias soon jumping into significant roles. Cobbs, Bird, Kreklow, and Wallace are going to win this team plenty of ball games, but it’s Solomon and Kravish who could help differentiate them.
Stat you need to know:
Percentage and number of three pointers that Ty Wallace hit last season for the Pac-12’s worst three point shooting team. I love Ty Wallace’s game but he needs to learn that his game isn’t to be firing from deep. In fact, see Exhibit Quotable…
Outlook: Maybe I don’t love this Bears team but there’s plenty here to like. I’ve discussed balance. That can cause problems for people; as does a Mike Montgomery defense. The Bears have had a top 50 defense in each of the last three seasons under Monty and project to have the 29th best this year per KenPom. Speaking of which, it might be worth noting that Ken rates Cal as the fourth best Pac-12 team and 36th in the nation. A season ago they wrapped the year rated 56th OR, twenty spots lower than they currently project. By my amateur math, this would suggest that the Bears are improved despite the loss of Crabbe. But enough quantitative predictions. I think Cobbs is senior enough to Dance with help from Bird and a much improved Ty Wallace (might be my favorite player in the league). And yes, in my final sentences, I’ll acknowledge that Cobbs suffered a foot injury. I don’t think this will prove a major set back. He ain’t missin much. Look at how cool new Haas is:
Mike Montgomery has a touch of a bad rep when it comes to the NCAA tournament. He ranks 31st in tournament win percentage amongst active coaches with at least ten tournament appearances and, despite all those great Stanford teams, has left the first weekend just thrice (1997 S16, 1998 F4, 2001 E8). But I’m not always one to harp on these facts when evaluating a coach’s career. But we’re also not looking at this sorta stuff right now. I will, however, admit to picking against such records and memories in this tournament because completing brackets should be completely irrational.
The Bears are dancing and rematching.
Why I like them: This is March and March loves guards. Cal has two terrific ones in Crabbe and Cobbs who have been dynamite in big games and big situations (see: Crabbe in Tucson, Cobbs in Eugene). These two are not afraid of the moment. Additionally, this game is in San Jose; a drinking-legal CalTrain ride from Berkeley (with a short stint on Bart). Or I suppose fans could just drive, too, but whatever. I encourage them to get there! Another item to keep an eye on – and I really don’t yet know what to make of it – is the fact that Ricky Kreklow returned to significant action last week. He played 18 minutes in Vegas – just his seventh game of the year – and knocked down two threes. He’s a wildcard and I’m kinda into it.
Why I don’t like them: The pieces after that dynamic duo leave something to be desired. Namely, Ty Wallace has cooled off and I don’t love depending upon a freshman difference maker. Or a thin PF, foul prone C, and a former walk-on backing them both up (though he is the Thurmanator). And while we were just starting to have to wrap our minds around the fact – yes, fact – that these Golden Bears were a good, not just hot, team, they went ahead and lost a pair and in unconvincing fashion. Cal is slumping into the tournament and one cannot feel good about that.
Poetic Justice: Revenge. It’s pretty simple here considering Cal had these Rebels all but beat back in December if it weren’t for a missed box out by David Kravish. The Bears will get a second shot in a weird “unavoidable” move by the committee.
Best Possible Scenario: Cal indeed exacts revenge, limiting Anthony Bennett’s touches and forcing the Rebs to shoot an uncomfortable number of threes (looking at you, Katin Reinhardt). This is the recipe New Mexico recently imparted in defeating UNLV. Of course Crabbe and Cobbs show up before an impressive Cal crowd and the Runnin’ Rebels get run out of the Dance. Next up, however, the Bears are unable to shoot their way out of the ‘Cuse zone (the Bears rank 309th in three-point shooting at just 30%) and this battle of witty and snide coaches falls the way of Boeheim.