Hooray! We've finally reached our fifth and final women's basketball preview article, which means the season is here! On Thursday the women tipped off in an exhibition against the Vanguard Lions, and as expected it wasn't particularly close. The final score was 99-58 and every player on the roster played at least eight minutes. It's silly to make any kind of judgments about an exhibition game, but Brittany Boyd wowed in her 20 minutes and all of the Cal players returning from injury looked healthy. Now we get to look forward to the first game that counts - this Sunday on the road against Rutgers!
As I detailed a while back when the schedule was first released, the non-conference schedule is a good mix of easy wins, decent challenges, and elite opponents. We'll see good teams at home, on the road, and in neutral locations. It should provide a solid test without sinking the team before Pac-12 play. But let's look at the schedule, game by game, and this time we'll include the Pac-12 games into the mix. When and where will the critical, season defining games happen? When should the Bears roll off a few wins in a row? Hit the jump!
Let's look at things sequentially and comment when it's warranted.
Considering that it's the first game of the year and also on the road, 3,000 miles away, the toughest non-conference game this year. Rutgers should be an excellent team this year and start the season ranked 16th/17th in the pre-season polls. I don't expect Cal to win this game, but if they do it would be a great sign that some of the problems from last year are hopefully in the past.
vs. Sacramento State, vs. Illinois
Two home games that should be somewhere between comfortable (Illinois) and blowout (Sac. St.)
vs. Hawaii, Texas and Virginia in Honolulu
The game vs. Virginia is the headliner for obvious reasons, but the biggest challenge will actually be against Texas, which should be a pretty good measure for how good the Bears are early in the season. The Longhorns are ranked towards the end of the polls and are usually competitive in one of the best conferences in the nation. I'd like to think that Cal will be favored against Virginia since the Hokies will be rebuilding in Joanne Boyle's first year. But then again, she knows this team pretty well.
vs. CSU Bakersfield, vs. UNLV or Prairie View A&M, at St. Mary's, vs. Santa Clara
Santa Clara and UNLV shouldn't be much of a threat, but St. Mary's and Prairie View A&M aren't pushovers and will make life difficult for Cal if they don't show up ready to play. Still, the Bears should sweep through this part of the schedule before a big game against . . .
vs. Ohio St.
The marquee non-conference home game of the year! Ohio St. lost their best player from last season and as a result are, like Cal, a fringe top 25 team. Which means, I suppose, that Cal should be expected to beat them with the home court advantage. That might be a little optimistic, but like Texas this is another great measurement game for the Bears as the Pac-12 schedule approaches.
vs. Dartmouth, at UCLA, at USC
What should be an easy win vs. Dartmouth gives Cal a buffer before the most important road trip of the year. The four games against the L.A. schools will likely define the year, which means Cal can make a huge statement to start the conference schedule. A sweep would cause irrational exuberance of a dangerous degree in my writing. A split would still be cool.
vs. Oregon State, vs. Oregon, at Colorado, at Utah, vs. Washington, vs. Washington St.
It's possible that this 6 games will match Cal up against the 6 worst teams in the conference. With four of the six at home that means this is a stretch to make hay. The biggest game in this stretch is against Utah. The Utes are probably the best team of the six and the 'mountain' road trip could prove to be a difficult one for former Pac-10 teams. 6-0 sounds optimistic, but Cal would probably be disappointed with anything less than 5-1.
at Stanford, at Arizona, at Arizona St.
It's worth noting here that Cal avoids the Arizona schools at home and the Washington schools on the road. That's not a huge advantage, but Arizona St. is always tough and nobody likes traveling to Pullman against what looks to be an improved Wazzu squad, so I don't think Cal is at a disadvantage either.
This is a tough three game stretch just for having Stanford in there, but Palo Alto and Tempe are always tough. two out of three would be awesome, but the Bears will really want to be sure they get the win over Arizona to avoid a disastrous road trip.
vs. UCLA, vs. USC
If Cal wants to make the media (and me!) look smart for picking them 3rd, then these games are as close to 'must-win' as regular season games can get. That and getting wins over the L.A. schools is critical for building a tournament resume. Everybody close by needs to get out for these games!
at Oregon, at Oregon St., vs. Utah, vs. Colorado
Same as above, except this time we get the toughest team at home.
If the season goes really well and the team reaches their potential, we should feel like we have a solid shot of knocking off Stanford at home. I hope.
Boy, wouldn't it be nice if we could get one of the top two seeds in the current, absurdly pro-Stanford system? but more importantly: Here's to hoping we're all speculating about our NCAA tournament seed at this time, rather than hoping we'll get home games in the WNIT. This team has the talent and depth - anything short of an NCAA berth would be a big disappointment.