Cal Men's Basketball Preview: The Guards

Ezra Shaw

More often than not, the road to the post-season is driven by dominant guard play. Having a senior leader who can pass, create, and shoot is a big step towards building a contender for the conference title. Justin Cobbs has all the tools to be one of the best point guards in the league. Although Cal fans everywhere grimaced at the news that he was out with a broken foot suffered in the SF Pro-Am finals, word is that he'll be ready for the season opener with no limitations. As long as this doesn't turn into a Kreklow scenario, we should be set at the point. Of course, experienced Cal fans will expect the worst until we see him actually suit up. I cannot confirm nor deny that the same doctors treating Cobbs are also the miracle workers who have expedited the recovery of our football team. I'm sure we all feel much better now.

If Cobbs can't go, we'll likely use Wallace, Kreklow, and perhaps Mathews or Singer as our backup ball-handlers. For a true frosh, Tyrone Wallace proved to have solid handles and was poised enough to avoid excessive turnovers. Assuming a step forward from having a season's experience under his belt, and we should still be in good hands. Monty has also worked around having a true point in the past, so bringing the ball up shouldn't be an issue as long as we provide help with ample passing outlets against pressure.

The bigger loss would be in terms of veteran leadership and shot creation. Until the youngsters prove themselves, Cobbs is the guy we'll rely upon to take and make the big shots at the end of the game.

Since it's still the pre-season, let's just assume that everything is perfectly fine.

The Bigs Preview
The Wings Preview

The Guards:

Justin Cobbs(Sr), 6'3, 190 lbs

Although he went into a bit of a early-mid season slump, Cobbs was able to regain his shooting touch down the stretch. By percentage, he was our most accurate jump shooter from deep. He's also strong enough to finish at the rim which makes him a versatile threat on offense. Cobbs already made a huge improvement last year with finding a way to balance his scoring ability while getting his teammates involved. Depending on who steps forward to provide consistent scoring, we might need Cobbs to call his own number more often. If the young guys can't get it done early, expect to see Monty move Cobbs off the ball at times to take advantage of his shooting ability. He's another guy who would excel at Monty's favorite curl play which has been used by both Crabbe and Jorge to get free for jumpers or to drive the lane. If there's one area he really needs to work on to make that big senior push, it's on his decision-making with regards to cutting out the careless turnovers. With more consistent focus and knock-on-wood health, there's no reason Cobbs shouldn't challenge for 1st team conference honors this year.

Tyrone Wallace(So), 6'4, 186 lbs

With serious backcourt depth issues last season, we really needed Wallace ready to contribute right out of the gate. He didn't disappoint; he quickly worked his way into earning a starting spot and turned in a more than solid season for a true frosh combo guard. His jump shot last year can be politely described as "inconsistent." However, he made up for sporadic offensive production by becoming one of Cal's best perimeter defenders. He also used his length and athleticism to good effect by blocking shots and helping out on the boards. If he can build off his freshman campaign to become a more consistent offensive player, it'll go a long way towards staying on the floor now that Monty has more options on the perimeter. With Cobbs out, Wallace has been running the point during camp. Early reports suggest an improvement in his jump shot. We'll have to see whether the new mechanics will hold up under real-game pressure.

Per Monty via an interview with Jeff Faraudo:

"He's a better player than he was," Montgomery said. "He's a good rebounder from the guard position. He's just got to get a little better on his shot selection - knowing what is a good shot for him."
"He can be a dominant defender because he's gotten stronger and he's got length. He can guard a bigger wing and he can guard a smaller player,"

Per Cobbs: "Tyrone's looking good. He's grown a little bit. He's about 6-5 now. He's filling out. He's been working on his jump shot, changed his mechanics a little. I do see an improvement. A lot of it was just confidence. It's tough during the season to kind of get your confidence going when teams are backing off you. It messes with you mentally. Now, if he's open, he's going to shoot it and knock it down with confidence."

Garrett Galvin(So), 6'4, 198 lbs

Galvin walked on last year. He's one of those annoyingly steady guys that doesn't jump out of the gym, but just knows how to play the game. In the scrimmages last year, he looked a bit overwhelmed. But this was to be expected considering he was often matched up against Cobbs or Wallace. Considering he's likely to be this year's human victory cigar, let's hope that Monty gets to put him in a lot.

Sam Singer(Fr), 6'4, 195 lbs

Perhaps a bit overshadowed in this recruiting class, don't sleep on Mr. Singer. Unlike many combo players who grow up playing the off-guard and have to learn point guard skills, Singer is a natural point guard who grew into a shooting guard because of his rangy height and jump shot.

ESPN says: "Singer is a big guard and true combo who can play on or off the ball. His bread and butter is his three-point shooting stroke, which gives him a weapon that is capable of being a niche at the highest level, but his versatility is also solid."

Known for being a gym rat, he also displays an extremely high IQ both on and off the court; after all, he chose Cal over Harvard and Stanford.

If Cobbs returns to health, Singer is a good candidate to redshirt. He'll need to get stronger in order to play effective defense against Pac-12 level competition. However, you have to like the potential of a taller combo guard who has point guard skills and an elite three-point shot.

Here's Frank Cohen's take:


Overview:

Gold-colored glasses say that Cobbs will be good to go and that makes us a contender in the Pac-12. Singing the blues...is just not something I want to dwell upon considering that I also have to cover football right now. In all likelihood, this position is a strength. You've got a senior standout backed up by an improved Tyrone Wallace. Because of Wallace's versatility, Monty has the luxury of playing Cobbs off the ball if we need more scoring. In a pinch, Kreklow also has the handles and vision to spell a few minutes here as needed. Looking down the road, this position looks set for years to come as Mathews, Singer, and Ahmad Rorie('14 commit) develop.

Overall:

Strange as it may sound, it almost feels like Mike Montgomery hasn't gotten enough credit for the job he's done at Cal. We've gone from being largely irrelevant in the conference to winning our first conference title in fifty years, and being just a win away from the title twice. As the song goes, could the best be still to come? This is Monty's best recruiting class to date. After seemingly playing paper-thin rotations for years, we might actually have the depth to vary our line-up based on favorable match-ups.

Projected Starters:

PG Justin Cobbs
SG Tyrone Wallace
SF Ricky Kreklow
PF David Kravish
C Richard Solomon

Bench:

SG/SF Jabari Bird
SG/SF Jordan Mathews
F Christian Behrens
C Kameron Rooks

Knowing how Monty favors defense and experience, I'm assuming that Bird will come off the bench at the start of the season. Wallace will slide over to run the point whenever Cobbs gets a breather. This goes out the window, of course, if Cobbs can't go. In that case, assume that Wallace starts at the 1 with Bird at the 2. Depending on how Monty feels about Kreklow and perhaps Mathews initiating the offense, we might not redshirt Singer and would instead rely upon him to be our backup point guard.

There's also the possibility that Behrens/Rooks aren't ready to handle extended minutes backing up the post. In this case, Monty might have to go four out, one in (four guards + one big) if Kravish/Solo have foul issues or need a breather. However, this also has the potential to be our most explosive uptempo line-up provided that we're able to clean the defensive glass.

All-conference seniors at point and in the post plus talented young depth as well as a once in a decade true frosh adds up to a basketball season you don't want to miss.


Go Bears!

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