Basketball Preview #1: Point Guards- Where do we stand?

Gregory Shamus

IT'S BASKETBALL SEASON! KINDA SORTA ALMOST! CGB will start off our pre-season basketball coverage by running through the position groups. First up? Point guard!

NorCalNick: Arguably the biggest positive surprise for Cal basketball last year was Justin Cobbs. The Minnesota transfer stepped almost immediately into the starting lineup at proceeded to average 12.6 points and 5 assists per game. I think most Cal fans expected Cobbs to have a major impact, but I don't think we necessary expected that he would become a focal point of the offense in many ways. So to start off this roundtable, what do we think we'll get from Justin this year?

Vincent S: In an interview, Montgomery threw out Crabbe and Cobbs as players that he thinks have a nice chance at jumping to the NBA after this season. While we've expected great things from Allen Crabbe, Justin's emergence last year was a revelation. He showed nice aggressiveness and heart, often taking over games when the team needed him most (e.g. vs. Oregon). He developed a reliable jumpshot to complement his penetration skills; he also led the team in 3-point attempts (albeit on only a few attempts) for much of the season - an impressive proposition when Allen Crabbe is on your team.

This year, I'm expecting even more. Towards the end of last season, team passing went down. I expect Cobbs not only to take over a game by scoring when he's needed, but also to set up his teamates in times of need. Monty's teams always seem to work best when sharing the ball; it will be up to Justin, as the primary ballhander, to ensure that happens.

LeonPowe: I love me some Justin Cobbs. And while I recognize that Crabbe is the best and most talented player on this team, Cobbs is the engine that gets us moving. When he is aggressive and getting into the lane for floaters, layup or driving and kicking to Crabbe - we can be a very good offensive team. He's also an excellent shooter and from what I saw a good on the ball defender. The problem last year was that he got worn down and we never really had a back up option with Brandon Smith's confidence loss last year. And I think this will be the big question - who will back up Cobbs? If we can get the Brandon Smith of two years ago (and some improvement) or is Garrett Gavin ready for the big time? I think this is the biggest weakness of the team right now.

FrankCohen: I think Tyrone Wallace should be able to provide some insurance backing up Justin Cobbs if Brandon Smith doesn't return to his solid Sophomore form.

NorCalNick: Frank brings up another important question: What will the Bears get out of Brandon Smith this year? Without the 2010-11 version of Smitty, Cal would have been sunk. Emerson Murray would have virtually been the only back-up at three positions. So his step back last year was really shocking. Is there reason to expect a resurgence in his final season?

Kodiak: It's fairly amazing to think about how well Justin Cobbs played in his first year as a full-time starter. Usually, young point guards take their lumps. I'd have to think that being able to play next to a guy like Jorge Gutierrez would really help by sharing the ball-handling and play-making responsibilities.

We'll need Cobbs to take that next step up this year. He might draw more of the tough perimeter assignments on defense. On offense, he's the one guy we have who can really create his own shot. The challenge here will be with finding the right blend between being aggressive and calling his own number while still getting everyone else involved. Crabbe and Kreklow both really benefit from being set-up.

I'd expect Garret Galvin to blueshirt. But then again, you'd have thought the same about an unknown unrated guard from Chihuahua, Mexico years ago. If he can handle and D up, maybe he'll earn some minutes.

My presumptive favorite to backup the point would be 4* combo guard Tyrone Wallace. He's a bigger guard (6'4) than we're used to seeing and has some explosiveness to his game around the rim. If he's able to display solid handles and good decision-making, it might give us the luxury of playing Cobbs at the 2 for stretches depending on the match-ups. The biggest question here will be how quickly the coaches can get him up to speed defensively.

I'm just not sure what to expect out of Brandon Smith this year. He's tough, smart, and works hard. But last year, he lost his confidence early in the year after getting physically overmatched against some teams with bigger/quicker/more athletic guards. Unfortunately, this only got worse after he was benched in favor of Cobbs. Instead of providing a steady ball-handling and defense as a reserve, he seemed to really start pressing to make something happen in his limited minutes. Ultimately, Monty just couldn't play him in tight games and this put a lot of stress on the starting backcourt to play lots of minutes. Generally speaking, point guards make a big leap in their final year. So, my hope is that Smitty finds his groove to be a solid contributor in his final year. A resurgent Smith allows us to bring Wallace along more slowly, perhaps rotate him more on the wing with Kreklow and not put as much responsibility on him early on.

NorCalNick: Monty's ability to spell Cobbs is a pretty big concern. Obviously, Cobbs will be on the floor for at least 30 minutes a game. My question is if Cobbs will have to play 37 or 38 minutes a game in conference play like Jorge had to do last year, or if we'll get enough from Smith and Wallace. Monty has certainly shown that if there's any doubt he's completely willing to play the guy he thinks gives Cal the best chance of winning. But we've also seen the Bears look flat at the end of the last few seasons. Between Smith and Wallace we've got experience and talent on the bench - hopefully one or both can step up.

FrankCohen: I don't think Monty will be forced to play Cobbs too much this season--I believe that Wallace and Smith could combine for at least 10-15 solid minutes/game at the PG position. Though the position isn't completely solid depth-wise, as Wallace is an unknown at the college level and it remains to be seen whether or not Smith will return to form, look for PG depth to be a major strength starting in the 2013-2014 season, when the Bears will have not only have Cobbs (assuming he doesn't declare for the NBA draft) and Wallace, but also incoming recruits Sam Singer and Jordan Mathews at their disposal.
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