Top 68 Team Previews: #57 California Golden Bears
Jorge Gutierrez will try to lead his Cal team back to the NCAA tournament. (Icon SMI)
By Robb Jacobson
Monday, July 25, 2011
California Golden Bears
Last Season: 18-15 (10-8)
Key Losses: Gary Franklin, Markhuri Sanders-Frison
Head Coach: Mike Montgomery
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Justin Cobbs 6-2 So.
SG: Jorge Gutierrez 6-3 Sr.
SF: Allen Crabbe 6-6 So.
PF: Harper Kamp 6-8 Sr.
C: Richard Solomon 6-10 So.
Key Reserves: Brandon Smith 5-11 Jr. PG, David Kravish 6-9 Fr. C
A tough non-conference schedule and a rough going in conference play left the Cal Golden Bears just short of the NCAA tournament last season. This year, they hope to be much improved and get over the hump into the field of 68.
Gary Franklin abandoned the Golden Bears after just 13 games. As the team's fifth best scorer, the loss was big, but nothing Cal couldn't deal with. Cal coach Mike Montgomery is a strong personality capable of squeezing talent from players who have trouble finding potential. Doing a lot with a little is what he specializes in.
Markhuri Sanders-Frison was also a phenomenal talent with 10.9 points per game and standing as the team's leading rebounder. That's what he was: a leader. Leaving as a graduate in May, he left a spot open for standout talent on the team. The team didn't have to wait long to fill the position.
Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs arrives just in time to step in as the starting point guard. He's a big, explosive penetrate-to-score-or-dish point guard with speed and a great knowledge of the game. While Cobbs was given limited playing time for Minnesota, he will likely be the starting point from day one in Berkeley. Brandon Smith, a former walk-on who played well last season as a starter, will return to his role coming off the bench.
The Golden Bears are big fans of the three-guard system, holding back on the attack for more coverage and rebounds around the 3-point line. Jorge Gutierrez, as the team's leading scorer, has a skill package that can shift to assist Cobbs and Allen Crabbe, the team's best shooter, around the outside.
Harper Kamp has all the power of a full-grown rhino with an ability to establish his presence under the basket and keep the rebounds flowing like water in a river. What he and Gutierrez struggle with is turnovers, with over five between them per game. If they want to get back to the NCAA tournament, reducing that number will be their best shot.
The team's tallest player, Richard Solomon, didn't start much last season, but with Sanders-Frison leaving a gap in the frontcourt, Solomon might see a bit more action coming his way.
The Golden Bears has reached the NCAA tournament 16 times, but fell short last year. The scale to which they improve will depend on Cobbs' adjustment to the team as well as how much scoring they can squeeze from the bench. They can increase their scoring by effectively grabbing more rebounds, from the offensive and defensive side of the ball, which might be easier with the height advantage that Solomon will bring to the starting lineup. This team has a realistic shot to compete near the top of the Pac-12 this season.