Well, Ryan Anderson is gone, and he's not coming back. He gets to live the NBA dream, which is cool for him and all, but what about the rest of us? Next winter, when we're still going to Haas Pavilion, rooting on our Bears, what are we gonna see? Without Ryan, what are we left with?
Well, we've got a shiny new coach, for starters. Head Coach Mike Montgomery, formerly Evil Arch-Nemesis Mike Montgomery, will try and lift up Cal Basketball from the dregs of mediocrity that it has been mired in the last 5 years or so. Unfortunately, losing the starting frontcourt to the NBA off of a team that didn't even make the tournament won't make Monty's job any easier. There's a good bit of talent on remaining on the roster, but will it be enough?
Of course, much of next year's talk will (initially) focus on who's not suiting up for the Bears. In Anderson and DeVon Hardin, Cal loses its top scorer (Anderson), top 2 rebounders (Anderson and Hardin) and top 2 shot blockers (Hardin and Anderson). They also lose, in Eric Vierneisel, their second-leading assist-getter (is that how you say it? assister? assistant?). Personally, I never liked the talk about replacing a player's production, especially with stats like scoring and rebounding. I mean, even if your leading scorer is gone, someone's going to take a shot pretty much every time down the court, right? And there's still gonna be 5 guys on the floor trying to grab every missed shot, right?
Anyway, Anderson and Hardin gone, and there's nothing we can do about it. The only thing to do is move forward and focus on the players still at Cal. So let's do that. If I'm picking the best five players to start each game, here's my starting lineup:
1. Jerome Randle
2. Patrick Christopher
3. Theo Robertson
4. Jamal Boykin
5. Harper Kamp
Personally, I think that's a pretty good lineup. Sure, it'd look a lot better with Anderson out there, and Kamp as a 6th man; I think that lineup could challenge for a conference championship next year, in what is certain to be a relatively down year for the Pac-10 Alas, 'tis not to be. Still, Cal boasts a talented, athletic core of Pac-10-caliber players, and every one besides Kamp has two seasons of experience to boot.
Of course, you might look at this lineup and wonder who the go-to scorer will be. My money's on Christopher, who averaged over 15 ppg last year, but Randle wasn't far behind, averaging close to 12. Look for at least one of them (and hopefully both) to step up and take a more central role in the offense. Or perhaps Jamal Boykin, whose minutes look to dramatically increase this coming season, will use his hustle and energy to absorb some of the departed scoring load inside. Someone's going to have to, that's for sure, or we'll be seeing way to many perimeter jump shots this Winter. Whatever the case, I'm not too worried about scoring next season; we've got some talented offensive players, and Monty will find ways to get these guys shots.
OK, but there's an obvious hole in the lineup listed above, and it's right under the basket. The Bears have three centers on their roster, but none of them have much in the way of experience, and honestly, I'm kinda worried here. At the Cal Coaches' Tour in Concord last month, Coach Montgomery mentioned that while the Bears' roster definitely lacked some depth, it did contain a solid core of Pac-10-caliber players; he specifically mentioned Ryan Anderson and the five guys listed above. Conspicuously absent of any mention was any of the Bears' three centers.
Of Cal's remaining big men, Jordan Wilkes has the most experience, and he'll probably get the first shot at major minutes at center, but he'll need to put on some bulk if he plans on battling down low; in limited playing time last year, he looked more comfortable stepping out and shooting jump shots. Taylor Harrison, coming back from injury last season, can bang around a bit, battling for position and taking fouls, but in limited playing time two years ago, he didn't demonstrate that he can do much else. And Max Zhang, the Chinese import? Obviously, it would help if he weighed more than a buck-seventy-five, but beyond that, who knows? I'm not counting on him for much this season.
Actually, the Bears' bench is full of question marks. Besides the guys mentioned above, only Nikola Knezevic averaged more than 7 minutes per game last year (and did anyone else think he seemed to regress last year as compared to his freshman season?). Beyond that? Freshman and walk-ons. Omondi Amoke, injured last year as a freshman, will provide some depth at forward, and incoming freshmen D.J. Seeley and Jorge Gutierrez will back up the guards. As long as the starters stay healthy (something that hasn't happened the last couple years), it's not likely any of them will be called upon for major minutes, which is probably a good thing. Not that they aren't talented (having never seen them play, I honestly don't know), but it's probably best for everyone involved if these guys get to break into the league as role players.
Oh, but what about the walk-ons? Well, Patrick Armstrong has graduated and Thomas Fang has left the team. Of the four remaining walk-ons from last season, David Liss and Nican Robinson saw the most action -- Liss even got a start! However, much of those minutes were due to the Bears' lack of depth at guard, a problem that the additions of Seeley and Gutierrez are aimed at solving. Barring injuries or severe disappointment from the scholarship players, I doubt any of these guys see significant playing time.
One this to note about this team is how exceedingly young it is. Not a single player on next year's roster will be playing their final season of eligibility -- Wilkes, Knezevic, Robertson and Boykin will all be in their 4th year of school, but all 4 have used a redshirt season. So, even if this year isn't a smashing success, Montgomery may get to bring back the whole team in '09-'10 to try again, but with an extra year of experience (provided no one graduates or leaves for the NBA).
Anyway, here's my completely made-up stab-in-the-dark at a depth chart. I think it's fairly representative of the playing time I expect each player to get next season, but please don't read too much into the numbers assigned; I expect players will shuffle in and out of positions based on matchups, and I expect the Bears to go small a good bit in an effort to get their best players on the floor.
|1 - PG||2 - SG||3 - SF||4 - PF||5 - C|
Overall, I think it's a pretty good team. There are questions at center, and we don't really know where the scoring is going to come from just yet, but this is still a team that I feel will be competitive in the Pac-10. Give Monty a year with these guys, bring back everyone in 2009 and throw in a stud freshman or two, and I think we might really have something. ETA on returning to the NCAA tournament is 2 years, but I'm by no means giving up hope on this season; come next March, they'll be somewhere on the tournament bubble -- the question is "Which side?"