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Looking ahead to 2017-18 MBB: How will Wyking fill the roster?

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Wyking Jones and the Bears face a tough transition heading into his first off-season in charge

NCAA Basketball: California at Oregon State Scobel Wiggins-USA TODAY Sports

Phew.

It’s been 20 days since Cal lost to CSU Bakersfield in their NIT opener/closer. Usually, this far past the end of the season, we’d have put the season entirely behind us in favor of the long, dark, off-season.

But things haven’t exactly been quiet. Cuonzo left. Ivan left. Wyking got promoted. Jemarl decided not to come.

I don’t think there’s a ton left to say about the 2016-17 season that hasn’t already been said. But I wanted to revisit (for a 3rd time) more fully the argument that I made a month ago when Cuonzo-to-various-midwest-destination rumors first surfaced: that this is a particularly bad year for a coaching transition.

Since it’s easier to illustrate visually, here’s an updated scholarship chart*. Notice the vast acreage of white space:

spring 2017 scholarship chart

For that reason, it’s basically impossible to reasonably project Cal in 2017-18. Here’s a sample depth chart based on the players currently projected in the chart above:

PG: Charlie Moore, Brandon Chauca
SG: Don Coleman, Juhwan Harris Dyson?
Wing: Roman Davis? Juhwan Harris Dyson? Justice Sueing?
PF: Marcus Lee, Grant Antecevich? Colle Welle?
C: Kingsley Okoroh, Kam Rooks

There are all kinds of unanswered questions if you try to build a working whole out of Cal’s current roster. Who in the world is going to get minutes at off-guard/wing? Will Charlie have to play 40 minutes a game? Can Cal find a way to make playing with two centers work on offense? Can this team actually play up-tempo and press if they’re rolling with a 6’9’’ rim protector at the 4?

But really, most of the questions above are premature because so much of the roster will be determined between now and next fall.

We now know for sure what we had been assuming all season long - Ivan Rabb is headed to the NBA and Cal has at least six scholarships to fill. That’s a big number already, but it shouldn’t surprise you if that number grows even larger. Why?

Because coaching changes frequently result in attrition. The Monty-to-Cuonzo transition had something to do with the transfers of both Ricky Kreklow and Jordan Mathews, and that’s just players that are already on scholarship.

You can see how incredibly precarious Cal’s position is at the moment. The best recruit for the incoming class? Gone, and unlikely to come back. That leaves three verbal commitments. As best we can tell, all three are likely to stick with Wyking and Cal. But that still leaves three vacant spots before we even consider that Trevin Knell is scheduled to take a Mormon mission over the next two years. It’s really tough for a first year head coach to come in and immediately fill so many slots with players ready to contribute.

Even more concerning is the picture for 2018-19 and beyond. Cal has one proven starter in Charlie Moore, one rotation player in Don Coleman, and one player who received walk-on minutes after a red-shirt season in Roman Davis.

To put it simply: The long term ability of Cal basketball to compete in the Pac-12 depends on Wyking Jones’ ability to not only hold onto Cal’s three 2017-18 recruit commits, but to fill those open slots with players who can compete at the Pac-12 level. Maybe that means a couple of grad transfers this year while Wyking and staff can work on building relationships with 2018-19 freshmen. Maybe it means dipping into the JC pool.

That’s the deal. In modern college basketball, the very best coaches find ways to build strong rosters in spite of constant roster upheaval. Krystkowiak and Altman significantly raised the profiles of their programs with JC and grad transfers. Gonzaga is on the doorstep of a national title by scooping up talents that power 5 programs couldn’t hold onto. Sean Miller doesn’t care how many players he loses to the NBA each year, because he keeps the conveyor belt of talent coming. Meanwhile, coaches that hemorrhage talent without bringing in new players to immediately fill in don’t last long.

So many scholarships open means opportunity and risk. Wyking has the opportunity to immediately shape Cal’s roster in his image. But there’s obvious risk. If Cal can only attract last-minute, desperation, Pac-12-replacement-level-talent from the other open scholarships, I’d probably pick Cal to finish something like 9th or 10th in the conference next year. But if Cal could somehow find players to contribute at off-guard to go with solid returning talent at point guard and in the paint, we might have something.

College basketball rewards the resourceful and the nimble. Is Wyking Jones well equipped to thrive in these circumstances? We’ll start finding out quickly.