Previous WBB season preview installments: Part 1: Boyd and Gray, the best duo in the west. ; Part 2: Predicting the Pac-12 standings + previews with Rosalyn Gold-Onwude. ; Part Three: The supporting cast of seniors and sophomores
Before we get started with today's article, a quick rundown of what we learned from Saturday's 75-42 exhibition against Vanguard:
- The game mostly confirmed the strengths and weaknesses we assume this team will have. Strengths: Perimeter defense, ability to force turnovers, ability to look amazing in transition. Weaknesses: Jump shooting, turnovers (at least until the freshmen are used to the offense).
- Reshanda Gray didn't play due to illness, which meant that Penina Davidson and K.C. Waters got plenty of playing time, both looking perfectly cromulent.
- Brittany Shine (and, quite possibly every player on the roster) may well have a role in the rotation.
- If Brittany Boyd had been allowed to play the game as if it were a playoff game she probably might have recorded a quadruple double.
I wouldn't take much of anything else from the game, being that it was against an NAIA team, but Cal generally did what they wanted, and we got to see the freshmen in action for the first time.
Speak of those freshmen, what will each of them bring to the court this year? I intentionally waited to write this article until after I watched the Vanguard game, so analysis is heavy from our one exhibition. Let it be known that it's generally extremely unwise to make statements based on one game. But for now it's about all we've got, so let's go one-by-one:
Mikayla didn't start against Vanguard, but ended up playing more minutes than any other player. Whether she starts or comes off the bench, she will get plenty of minutes, typically at the 3. Against an NAIA opponent she looked perfectly capable of playing as a stretch 4, mixing it up down low and pulling down rebounds.
We'll see if that's something she can do against better opponents, but I suspect that Cal will be able to hold their own on the glass when they play with four guards. Regardless, her skillset reminds me very much of Courtney Range's skillset, and she should present similar matchup issues.
The absolutely highlight of the game was a transition alley-oop layup from Gabby Green to Cowling. Any team would obviously be thrilled to bring in two 5-star athletes. Getting two that happen to already know how to play together? Even better.
ESPN's series of scouting reports on the recruiting trail didn't offer many criticisms beyond a developing jump shot. Mikayla kept her shots close to the rim against Vanguard and I would expect that to continue to be the case early in the year.
What I enjoy at the moment is the level of flexibility Cal has with their lineups. Cowling will likely be capable of playing any position from power forward to shooting guard. Gabby Green will likely be able to play small forward all the way to point guard - eventually.
For this season she will almost certainly split time with Mercedes Jefflo as the more offensive half of a shooting guard platoon. While her shot doesn't have an elite reputation, it's not supposed to be a major weakness either. She attempted seven jumpers against Vanguard . . . and made just one, a three pointer. But still, she's not afraid to shoot, and I suspect that she will eventually get comfortable with her jump shot. Doing so will likely be a critical piece of Cal's half court offense.
I haven't talked about defense yet with either Cowling or Green, because I wanted to talk about it together. Cal debuted a 3-2 zone against Vanguard, and it's going to create plenty of turnovers. The three players up top were made up of Boyd, Jefflo, Cowling and/or Green depending on who was on the floor. Those players combined for nine steals. Having a player with the speed and hand eye coordination of Brittany Boyd, flanked by two players with the wingspan and athleticism of Green and Cowling? That's just unfair, and it will give teams without multiple strong ball handlers fits.
The 3-2 zone will have gaps, in part because players will be aggressive going for steals and traps, and in part because there will be gaps when you are playing defense with less experienced players taking on major responsibility. Vanguard had some success getting off baseline 3s, as just one example, and the defense won't work against teams like Washington and Oregon State. But right now I think the advantages (Steals! Transition layups!) outweigh the occasional open 3 point shot.
Whenever Cal brings in an international recruit, there's obviously plenty of unknowns. Will the player even see the court in year one? Based on Saturday's exhibition, this year the answer appears to be yes.
To be fair, that's in part a necessity since Cal is so thin in the post. That said, Davidson looked at home on the court, and at this point I wouldn't consider her to be a ‘project' player. She's fast enough to be able to play comfortably with Cal's gazelles, she looks likely to hold her own on the board, and she has range with her jump shot.
I don't think she's strong enough yet to consistently bang inside, but a player like her can carve out a solid roll taking advantage of the type of defensive attention Reshanda Gray will demand inside.
Of course, I wouldn't expect Davidson to play a huge role this year. Cal's best lineup will probably be Boyd, Jefflo/Green, Cowling, Range, Gray. But there are likely to be ~10 minutes/game available for a player who can likely do a bunch of little things without causing problems.
Next week will be the final preview installment before the games begin - we'll look at Cal's schedule and try to gauge season expectations. Go Bears!