Scouting the Cal Bears
BERKELEY -- This California team is very different than the one that Syracuse has played over the past two years. At this point, it’s hard to say they’re better – particularly against the Orange zone – but they’re certainly more fun to watch.
It’s hard to really gauge just where this team is when it comes to attacking and defending commensurate competition, but I do know that Cal hasn’t scored 90 points in a game since 2009, and last week, the Bears pulled that trick twice.
New head coach Cuonzo Martin has had some big shoes to fill, not just on the sidelines – replacing coaching legend Mike Montgomery -- but he’s also had to fill the holes left by senior point guard Justin Cobbs and senior center Richard Solomon.
Montgomery, though, left the cupboard fairly bare in terms of big men, so this is a team that really relies on its guard/wing play. You’ll see senior David Kravish take up the middle, with a rotating cast of characters beside him in the low post.
Christian Behrens is playing his first season injury-free, and can move, stretch the floor, post up and shoot. He’s long and athletic for a big, but at 6-foot-8, he’s a tad undersized. He makes up for that lack of bulk with athleticism, but still needs fine-tuning.
Another big you’ll see will be 6-foot-6 Cornell transfer Dwight Tarwater, who will play smart down low, but is severely undersized. He can, however be a threat from the outside, and if the Bears want to break the Syracuse zone, he could be a surprise shooter. After Tarwater, things get pretty dicey. Seven-footer Kingsley Okoroh is immensely raw on the offensive side of the ball, and he looks a bit like a baby deer running the floor, but he can get five blocks per game in his sleep. He clogs up the middle, really interferes with passing lanes and alters every shot within 10 feet of him. He’s going to develop, but right now, he’s much more a presence on the defensive end than on the offensive end.
Roger Moute a Bidias is probably the Bears’ most improved player, and it’ really not even close. At 6-foot-6, he’s got a lot of length to him, and will be asked to play the four upon occasion, but he’s really more of a stretch three. He brings a good outside shot to the position and is very diligent on defense. He’s much more confident in himself and comfortable in his own skin than he was with Montgomery – and the same can be said for point guard Sam Singer, as well – and he’s not afraid to take it to the rack.
That’s it for Cal’s bigs situation, which is really the biggest glaring weakness, in that there’s little true, quality depth of real big men behind sure-thing Kravish, who’s going to be playing professionally somewhere next year. Kravish has gotten up to 240 pounds and is now much more assertive than the gangly sophomore you saw in the NCAA Tournament two years ago. He’s added a baby hook and a very solid mid-range game that makes him very tough to defend; he just has to demand the ball more down low.
Replacing Cobbs has proven to take a bit more time, but it looks like Martin has found his man in Tyrone Wallace, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week. Wallace averaged 20 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game over the first two contests of the season, and he’s really showing that he’s one of the bigger, more athletic guards in the conference. He’s more of a driver and a slasher than a shooter at this point, and that’s a big difference from what he’s tried to be the last two years. The outside shot isn’t his game, nor should it be anymore, and he knows that. You won’t see him settle for a three-pointer anymore, but instead he’ll either look for an opening himself or keep the ball moving around on the outside until someone else can penetrate or find their best shot.
He and Singer will at times both be on the floor, giving the Bears two ball handlers and two decision makers. Personally, I really like this lineup because it makes Cal that much better out on the break, where Singer in particular has excelled.
That is where the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s truly lies: The transition game. Cal is much more of a tempo team than it’s ever been, and that comes from a premium being placed on everybody rebounding. This team is much faster, quicker and in-control than I’ve seen a Bears team in transition and running the break, and that’s why you’re going to see a lot of points scored, more often than not. Now, can they do that against two top-25 teams, or against the Syracuse zone? We’ll find out.
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