The Pac-12 is fairly open behind UCLA and Arizona, with several teams figuring to be line for a berth into the NCAA Tournament. Included in that group are the Golden Bears who must replace two valuable leaders from a year ago.
With Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp graduating, Allen Crabbe is most likely to assume the role as team leader to go along with his title of top returning scorer. Crabbe has terrific size for a college wing and a well-rounded offensive attack including his ability to stroke it from deep.
Justin Cobbs retains the role as starting point guard. He made the most of his first season at California after transferring in from Minnesota. Brandon Smith figures to replace Gutierrez in the starting lineup. Smith was a key reserve a year ago and is more than capable of running the point which will allow Cobbs to play off the ball as well.
Experience is a concern behind the Crabbe/Cobbs/Smith trio. Jeff Powers has played sparingly in his two seasons with the Golden Bears while Missouri transfer Ricky Kreklow saw limited minutes in his lone season with the Tigers. Both players are known more as shooters and will bring some offense off the bench. Freshmen Tyrone Wallace and Khalil Johnson offer more versatility on the wing and could steal minutes on the wing.
Replacing Kamp in the middle will be David Kravish, who was very productive off the bench during his freshman campaign. The x-factor for California will be power forward Richard Solomon, who was suspended by Mike Montgomery early in the 2011 season and then ruled academically ineligible, which forced him to miss most of Pac-12 play. Solomon needs to have a bounce-back season for the Golden Bears to reach their maximum potential.
Solomon's issues allowed Robert Thurman to play a larger role off the bench last season. He and Bak Bak will be the main reserves off the bench once again. Seven-foot Danish center Sami Eleraky was supposed to provide some more size off the bench, but was not cleared by the NCAA. California did find another seven-footer in freshman Geoffery Frid, but he is not ready to make an impact yet at a high Division-I level. Freshman Kalieb Rodriguez is another option inside for Montgomery.
Advancing to the NCAA Tournament would be an accomplishment for the Golden Bears this season, and the starting five must be extraordinary for that to happen since there are question marks on the bench. Expectations will be heightened after this year though due to the commitment of 2013 wing Jabari Bird who headlines what is already an impressive recruiting class that has California excited for the future.
Player to Watch: Allen Crabbe, G/F
Crabbe, without question, has NBA potential and could potentially bolt for the association after this season. We know he can score, but developing his all-around game and off-the-court leadership will be essential if California is going to return to the NCAA Tournament and not have to settle for a trip to the NIT.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/22 vs. Drake (Anaheim Classic)
11/23 vs. Georgia Tech/Rice (Anaheim Classic)
11/25 vs. St. Mary's/Drexel/Xavier/Pacific (Anaheim Classic)