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Today we continue our countdown of the nation's top 32 teams. Why 32? Frankly, if these teams don't get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament (i.e., the round of 32), the season likely will be termed a disappointment.
October 15, 2011
STRENGTHS: California entered last season as one of the least-experienced teams in the Pac-10. But once the Bears' players figured out their roles, they became an NCAA bubble team. One of the keys was G Allen Crabbe, who was the league's freshman of the year after averaging 16.4 points in conference play. He has a great touch (48.1 percent from 3-point range in league games) and gained more confidence through the season. G Jorge Gutierrez is the heart and soul of the team, and he proved he can score a bit, too. He went from being a defensive pest and hustle specialist to the team's top overall scorer at 14.6 points per game. Harper Kamp returned from a season-long injury to give Cal a frontcourt presence (14.2 points, 5.6 rebounds). G Brandon Smith is a good passer and a solid defender, and he can hit the 3-pointer, too.
WEAKNESSES: Once one of the league's most green teams, Cal now is one of the Pac-12's most experienced. The only loss is a big one, literally and figuratively, as 6-foot-7, 270-pounder Markhuri Sanders-Frison is gone. He led the team at 7.4 rebounds per game. Kamp is a high-effort guy, but he's generously listed at 6-8. Richard Solomon, a 6-10 sophomore, averaged 5.6 points and 4.4 rebounds in 15.7 minutes last season, and needs to increase all three numbers. Cal's depth problems were exposed late in the season, especially when Crabbe missed parts of three games with an injury. The Bears are hoping for production from two players who sat out last season. Justin Cobbs is a point guard who transferred from Minnesota, while Alex Rossi missed last season with a lower abdominal injury. He is a 3-point specialist.
OVERVIEW: Last season ended Mike Montgomery's streak of 12 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances as a college coach. The season still was a resounding success. The Bears had lost their top four players and entered the season picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10. The Bears instead finished tied for fourth. Montgomery has a group of high-effort players without much ego. He also has a team whose players know their roles, and he has more depth to work with this season. While league foes such as Washington, Arizona and UCLA are replacing key players, Cal has a clear identity.