Austin Peay information
Quickie Austin Peay preview: The Governors were a mediocre 10-20 last year despite playing zero power conference teams that season. They do return Tiasha Gray, who averaged 21 points/game last year, good for 15th best in the nation. Cal should win regardless, but slow her down and the game should be a rout.
A quick note before we get to the meat of this article: As expected, Cal signed two consensus 4 star players in wing Jaelyn Brown forward Celeste (CJ) West. Welcome to Cal! The Bears are hoping to add more 2016-17 recruits in the spring, most notably top 5 prospect Sabrina Ionescu.
We've talked about the excitement of unmolded talent, and we've taken a look at the likely distribution of minutes across a short roster. With the season just one day away, it's time to look at the path ahead.
Games Cal might not win
@Louisville, Texas A&M in Las Vegas, Liberty in Las Vegas, Nebraska, UCLA, St. Mary's, Villanova*
Yikes, that's seven tough games. Five of the teams above are power conference schools who are at least receiving votes in one of the preseason polls. Louisville (8) and Texas A&M (13/16) are both ranked. Liberty and St. Mary's were both some of the best mid-major teams in the nation. Liberty earned a 13 seed and gave a scare to eventual Sweet 16 participant North Carolina. St. Mary's was right on the bubble and ended up winning three games in the WNIT before losing in L.A. to UCLA.
Considering Cal's youth, it wouldn't shock me if the Bears lost to any of these teams. Considering Cal's talent, it wouldn't shock me if Cal beat any of these teams . . . well, maybe beating Louisville on the road in game 2 would shock me. If the Bears could win 3 or more of these games, that would bode very well for the rest of the season.
*Cal will play either Villanova or Sacramento State in Game 2 of the Cal Tournament
Wait UCLA is a nonconference game?
Yes! Thanks to the Pac-12's unbalanced schedule, Cal and UCLA only play once, in L.A. Cori Close (to her credit but occasionally her team's detriment) never shies away from playing anybody, and Coach G didn't want Cal fans to miss out on seeing the rival Bruins at Haas, so there you go. Come out to Berkeley on December 21st and catch a little Christmas cheer!
Games Cal will be expected to win
@Austin Peay, UC Riverside, Cal Poly, Sacramento State, Cal State Northridge
As noted above, Cal will either play Villanova or Sacramento State in the 2nd game of the Cal tournament. With the possible exception of Austin Peay, these should all be pretty good mid-majors. All four California teams on Cal's schedule (go public university system!) finished above .500 last year and an RPI of 167 or better. Likely some of these teams will take a step back, but all of them should be solid and none of them should be RPI anchors. Cal will likely have excellent computer numbers this year, which has been a pretty consistent characteristic of schedules Lindsay Gottlieb puts together.
Here's one man's predicted order of finish, with a quick blurb on each
1. Oregon State
Everybody's back from the team that controlled the regular season.
2. Arizona State
Sophie Brunner is a decent loss, but ASU has built up so much depth so quickly that they should be able to replace her production without a hitch. I suspect it will be a two team race atop the conference.
Losing Amber Orrange probably means that Stanford's ceiling is 3rd in the conference, but it's typically wise to peg Stanford to hit their ceiling as long as Tara is around.
The gap between Cal and the top 3 will be bigger than last season, when Cal hung right with OSU/ASU/Stanford through most of the season.
It's a big year for Cori Close. She underachieved relative to the talent on hand last year, but recruiting talent doesn't mean instant success in WBB. Two more excellent recruits might give the Bruins the depth they needed.
I don't really like the supporting cast and defense will likely still be an issue but Kelsey Plum, the best offensive player in the conference, covers up plenty of problems.
A bet on coaching more than anything else. Can Jillian Alleyne finally translate gaudy production into actual wins?
The Trojans brought in a five star point guard (Aliyah Mazyck) to run the show - hopes for an improved season rest on her ability to step in immediately.
Arielle Roberson's decision to forgo her senior season is a big hit for the Buffs, who have Jamee Swan and not a whole lot else in terms of proven talent and production.
10. Washington State
The Tia and Lia show is over, and it's not clear who's next in line to score points.
Taryn Wicijowski is gone, and with it any potential hopes to make noise in the Pac-12.
Can it be mathematically quantified how much less Arizona's fans and administration care about WBB compared to MBB?
Cal's conference schedule
The Bears avoid the Washington road trip and the UCLA home stand, which . . . it's hard to say if that has much impact on the final standings. The Arizona and Oregon schools (read: OSU and ASU) only play each other once, so if the Bears were serious contenders for the Pac-12 title they would be behind the eight ball in scheduling terms.
But that's probably not a big concern this year. The 2015-16 season is about developing talent and setting things up for bigger things over the next few years, when the Bears finally have a balanced roster.
It's a tough start, as the Pac-12 has decided the Bears don't deserve any home games early. Six of the first eight are away from Berkeley, starting with a trip to Tempe to play the Sun Devils (hmm, what happened in Tempe last year?) before heading to Oregon and L.A. Luckily, more tractable home stands against the mountain and Washington schools should prevent any kind of big time losing streak. Once February rolls around the Bears have big time home games against Stanford, ASU and OSU to look forward to.
But it all starts tomorrow night (or today, depending on when you're reading) against Austin Peay, in a game that may or may not be viewable online. Go Bears!