Cal to face higher level of talent in athletic Georgia squad

The No. 23 Cal men’s basketball team has won all three of its games this season by at least 17 points, but head coach Mike Montgomery recognizes the kind of teams the Bears have played thus far. After all, UC Irvine and Austin Peay, for instance, aren’t exactly North Carolina and Connecticut.

“We’ve probably been better than the people we’ve played against,” he admitted. “Not a discredit to them. That’s just the way it is in early season basketball.”

Early season college basketball also has Thanksgiving-time tournaments, and as Cal heads into the Progressive College Basketball Experience Classic semifinal it will face higher caliber teams that will show if the Bears are worthy of their top-25 ranking.

Cal will face its first true test at 7 p.m. tonight against Georgia at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., before facing either Notre Dame or Missouri Tuesday evening.

The Bulldogs (3-0) are coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance, but they lost their two top players — Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie — to the NBA Draft. The two combined for nearly 30 points and 15 rebounds last season, but Georgia has seen players step in to bigger roles so far in this young season.

Senior guard Gerald Robinson leads the team in scoring with 13.7 points per game. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a 6-foot-5 freshman guard from Greenville, Ga., is not far behind at 13.3 points a contest. As a whole, the Bulldogs have extraordinary athletes, Montgomery said.

“We know that athletically and physically, we’re gonna see a new type of athlete,” Montgomery said. “More like the athletes we have, or better: bigger, stronger, faster … The competition there will be much greater.”

So far, the Bears (3-0) have not had much competition. None of their three games have been competitive — Cal has outscored its opponents a whopping 127-55 in the first half, rendering the games effectively over by the time the second half rolls around. That disparity has allowed Montgomery to go deep into his bench while specifically rest senior starters Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp.

Taking their place has often been Justin Cobbs and David Kravish, completing the seven-man rotation that Montgomery feels comfortable with at the moment. The head coach said he would like to see the squad develop even more depth in the future though.

Cobbs, a sophomore transfer from Minnesota, has been a spark plug off the bench. He tallied 16 points and five assists in 25 minutes in Cal’s route of George Washington on Nov. 13. Kravish, meanwhile, fits the Montgomery mold of a post player: The lanky 6-foot-9, 210-pound freshman just has a knack for finding the ball. He came up big against Austin Peay on Nov. 15 when he scored 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

“He fits in so seamlessly, always in the right place,” Montgomery said. “He’s a smart kid, skilled. He’s slightly built but gets an awful lot done. Just a delight to coach.”

Kravish is not bulky, but he is third on the team in rebounds with 6.3 per game. He will get put to the test as well against Georgia’s bigs.

“(This game) will get them used to physical type of play,” Montgomery said. “Playing against guys just as big and strong as you are, the adjustment to the college game is great. Getting used to what you can and can’t do.

“You figure out what you can do to be successful and pick up the tricks of the trade.”