Cal basketball has begun practices on a limited basis, in preparation for the team’s tour of Europe in the coming weeks. The trip will take place in the middle of August, and the season will not begin until November, so there is plenty of time for things to happen. If last year was the team searching for its identity, this team for the most part has theirs, and just needs to take care of business on the hardwood.
This team has the potential to be the best Golden Bear squad since the year 2000; almost everybody returns from an upper-division team last year, and the Pac-12 figures to be weak again. As mentioned early, this team has its identity; this is pretty clearly Crabbe and Jorge’s team, unless somebody sneaks up and takes the controls. With a team largely cemented in stone and having plenty of talent, anything but a challenger to the Pac-12 throne would be a disappointment. The path to the NCAA Tournament starts in the summer, and here’s the 5 storylines that could decide plenty come November:
5. Bench Roles: With the whole player who got consistent playing time off the bench (Solomon) taking a starting role, everything is up in the air. The non starter of Smith/Cobbs will be the first player off the bench to replace a guard, and Bak Bak should be Harper Kamp and Richard Solomon’s reserve. But a lot is left up for grabs. Emerson Murray, Jeff Powers, Christian Behrens, David Kravish and Alex Rossi all have chances to carve out a niche. Murray and Rossi are the likely options to come off the bench, but plenty is left to be decided for playing time decisions.
4. Injury Recoveries: Allen Crabbe and Emerson Murray both underwent minor offseason season injuries. Allen Crabbe broke his nose, which is a relatively serious injury, especially for someone with a history of head injuries. It shouldn’t have a serious effect on his season status. Murray had a plate removed from his foot; if it was hurting him last year, we may be seeing a different Murray come next season. The most serious injury was Alex Rossi’s, who took a medical redshirt last year after serious groin and hernia problems last year should be 100% next season. If he’s back, he adds another element to the team in the form of a true small forward, the only one on roster. I’m very intrigued by what he can do; we know he can shoot the rock, but what else can he do? Rossi should be at the very least a useful weapon off the bench, with the potential to be more.
3. Progression of Richard Solomon: Richard Solomon was better than expected as a freshman, as the lanky big was the best player off the bench for the Golden Bears all year. He was efficient scoring the ball when he did shoot (which was fairly rare), and was the team’s best shot blocker and racked up a surprising amount of steals. Of course, there’s plenty to work on for the youngster; his best offensive move was mainly the uncontested dunk, and while he held his own defensively, he was still pushed around at times under the bucket. The first key is adding weight; if he does so, he’ll be a more reliable defender and rebounder, while also being able to establish himself on the low block offensively. The second key is for him to get a more diversified set of post moves; not to call the ones he had bad, but if he’s working hard with the U-19 coaches and Mike Montgomery, he should look like a completely different player with the ball in his hands then he was. If he takes a big step forward, past the level of MSF, then there’s no telling the ceiling of this team.
2. Defensive Development: Say what you will about Gary Franklin, but the team did play better defense when he was around. Correlation does not equal causation, and this case it has an easy explanation: strength of schedule, and rotation size. Whatever the reason, this team went from a good team when the other team had the ball to the worst one in Pac-10 come conference play. The expansion of the bench depth and a reversion to the man to man should alleviate some of the woes, but there is still work to be done. Allen Crabbe’s next step to becoming a true NBA prospect is playing more defense, but he’s not the only one. The team has some nice defensive pieces in Gutierrez and shot blocking Solomon, but it will take a team-wide step forward in order to play the kind of defense from the Pac-10 championship winning 2010 squad.
1. Point Guard Battle: The men who handle the ball the whole game often get the spotlight, and this summer will be no different. Justin Cobbs and Brandon Smith are both more than capable of running a team; now it’s time for Mike Montgomery to decide which one is the best fit. We’ve already had a post up on the subject recently, but this is clearly the biggest storyline to watch in the summer, as a starting job is on the line here.