Going into this season, the main teams people have their eyes on in the PAC-12 are Utah, Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona. There is a great season preview of the PAC-12 by Dan Hanner of Real GM that goes into more detail about why these teams are expected to be good. In his preview of Cal, Hanner concludes that Cal "can sneak into the tournament", implying that a trip to the tournament is the best they can hope to do and that odds are not in their favor to do so.
Hanner's core thesis that supports his conclusion is:
"With Ty Wallace and David Kravish Back, and with Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews likely to make the sophomore leap and become dominant players, California's core four players are very strong. But the rest of the roster is filled with a bunch of recruits with fairly low potential."The first part I agree with, but the second part I disagree with. I agree that Tyrone Wallace, David Kravish, Jabari Bird, and Jordan Mathews make a fantastic core four. I disagree that the rest of the roster is weak.
First of all, Cal has really nice depth at point guard. Freshman point guard Brandon Chauca is actually very talented judging by the tape I watched of him. He has a very nice shot, good ball handling skills, and the potential to be a fantastic play maker.
As for sophomore point guard Sam Singer, he too is an underrated player. He wasn't much of a scoring threat last season, but he showed tremendous capability when it came to handling the ball, making plays for others, and playing good defense. If he improved his shot over the summer, which I'm sure he did, he will be a difference maker in Cuonzo Martin's rotation.
This depth at point guard is huge because it gives Cuonzo Martin a lot more options and flexibility with his rotations. Even though I expect Tyrone Wallace to be the starting point guard, Wallace has the size to play shooting guard at 6'5. By having other viable options at point guard, Martin can use Wallace at the shooting guard position to give Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews some relief. It also allows Martin the chance to experiment with Jabari Bird at the power forward position, which could give certain teams serious matchup problems.
As for up front, freshman center Kingsley Okoroh is raw, but stands tall at 7'1. He should be able to provide a sound post presence for the Golden Bears and keep them from feeling like small ball is their only option. If he can earn a lot of minutes, David Kravish will be able to play his more natural position of power forward and thus be much more effective inside. Plus, Roger Moute a Bidias could be due for a breakout year of sorts. I don't know where his ceiling is, but I think he is really going to surprise people and prove effective as a viable power forward option in "small ball" packages.
While it's true that I like Cal's bench much better than Hanner does, what really makes me optimistic for Cal is Jabari Bird. He really came into his own in the NIT last season, and I think he was only showing us a glimpse of what is in store for him. I don't think he was hyped as an NBA first round draft pick for nothing. What we saw from him in the NIT is what everybody was waiting for all season.
Now that he has a year under his belt and is being asked to step up, I expect him to deliver the goods and become one of the best players in the country. If Bird can play like a first round pick, Cal by default will be a team that has a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. All you need to be dangerous in the NCAA tournament is a couple of players who are willing to step up in crunch time. David Kravish will be one of those players and I'm confident that Jabari Bird will be the other.
To answer the question in the title of my article "Is Cal getting overlooked?", I think the answer is yes. The potential to make a run in the NCAA tournament is definitely there when you have a potential lottery pick on your hands, three other players who are likely to play in the NBA, and quality role players.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord