Welcome, everybody, to the final installment of Know Your Nemesis!
We've worked our way from the bottom of the conference to the top and with this being the 11th Pac-12 foe to learn about, we have finally reached Arizona's greatest threat for the Pac-12 throne.
During the Arizona Wildcats' most successful years, there's been a certain consistency at the top of the conference. Arizona and UCLA have battled it out at the top for the majority of the years. Stanford, Oregon and Washington have all had their runs at the top too. This year, there's a somewhat new face ready to battle it out for Pac-12 supremacy. Next up: The California Golden Bears.
If this 2015-16 Cal team has a wild card, oddly enough, it's at the head coaching position. Cuonzo Martin had a solid three-year campaign at Tennessee, where he led the Volunteers to the Sweet Sixteen in his lone NCAA tournament appearance. However, he bolted Knoxville when Mike Montgomery retired from coaching and the Cal position opened up in the Spring of 2014. Martin walked into a situation where there was plenty of talent and a strong group that had been led by a Pac-12 legend the year before. One could certainly argue that Cuonzo had an underwhelming debut for Cal. They finished 18-15 and 7-11 in the conference.
After what could be considered a disappointing start to the Cuonzo Martin era at Cal, Martin flipped the script this past spring, landing what could be the best Golden Bear recruiting class since Jason Kidd signed on the dotted line for Cal. Two consensus top-ten recruits, Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown, spurned all other suitors, picking California over some of the biggest traditional powerhouses in the country. Cuonzo Martin proved he can recruit and he can bring big time talent to Berkeley. But can he translate that talent to victories?
I mentioned those two freshman earlier. Power forward, Rabb, should be a fantastic player. And I believe Jaylen Brown should be a top-five pick in next year's NBA draft. But, nobody should discount what this Cal team already has on its squad without the star-studded freshmen. Senior guard, Tyrone Wallace is the unquestioned leader of this Golden Bears team. Plus, he led the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals a season ago, and he's looking to be a stat stuffer yet again.
Games versus Arizona...
Jan. 23 @ Haas Pavilion
Mar. 3 @ McKale Center
The Projected Starting Five...
F Ivan Rabb
F Jaylen Brown
G Jabari Bird
G Tyrone Wallace
G Jordan Mathews
In my opinion, this is the best starting five in the conference and among the best in the nation. The two freshmen, Rabb and Brown, are inserted into the starting lineup right away. Juniors, Bird and Mathews join Tyrone Wallace as the three returning starters from last year's team. They were three of the top four scorers on last year's team.
The Best Case Scenario...
With a starting five this talented, the sky is the limit. Not losing much from last year's team and combining two elite talents with that can equal success in year two of the Cuonzo Martin era. This team's best case scenario is the program's first Final Four since 1960.
I'm a huge fan of what they did this past Spring. I think Cal getting in on the one-and-done mania in college basketball is a very interesting turn of events. However, this team's depth is an underrated question mark. Can the bench help them enough? This program hasn't seen a Final Four in over 50 years. They haven't even seen a Sweet Sixteen since 1997. Is Cuonzo Martin good enough? I'll bet on the crazy talented starting lineup and say they'll tie for 1st in the conference at 14-4 and will play into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.