The fact that the Cal women’s basketball team, fresh off its first Final Four appearance, is only No. 5 in the power ranking is, personally, hogwash.
Upon further introspection, however, I do think the Bears landing No. 5 is fairer than it seems at face value for two reasons. First, it is just a testament to how successful 2013 was to Cal athletics as a whole. Second, the graduation of the seniors leaves the team thinner and more unknown, making it hard to gauge its potential.
The power rankings — or at least how I interpret them — are meant to rank where Cal teams stand at this moment, on July 1. And I’d be the first one to say I have no idea where next year’s women’s basketball team will stand.
The women’s basketball team will be good — that’s for sure. But relative to their new expectations, which have skyrocketed in the past months, we don’t know if the Bears will meet the self-set benchmarks next year.
The departures of seniors Layshia Clarendon, Talia Caldwell and Eliza Pierre leave big holes that coach Lindsay Gottlieb hasn’t yet filled in. How will Caldwell’s imposing size and rebounding prowess by the rim be replaced? Who will play the sixth woman with great energy and defensive tenacity like Pierre? Who will follow Clarendon’s footsteps as the leading scorer on the team?
All three questions so far have insufficient answers. For Caldwell’s question, the four-player post rotation of Caldwell, Gennifer Brandon, Reshanda Gray and Justine Hartman will continue, with junior forward Kyra Dunn — who transferred from Pittsburgh and sat out last year — replacing Caldwell.
Brandon and Gray are proven products, but Hartman and Dunn are not. Junior Hartman, who was the most coveted prospect to join Cal in 2011, has size closest to Caldwell but hasn’t shown enough polish to prove to Gottlieb that she can play major minutes. Hartman is the X-factor inside the post.
The answer to Pierre’s absence is the least obvious and the least urgent. Her game will be missed — but not irreplaceable. Either a veteran guard, such as Mikayla Lyles, or a freshman recruit might be sufficient enough to play Pierre’s role.
The answer to Clarendon’s absence is, however, more complex and much more urgent. The prowess of Cal’s post made the team good, but it was Clarendon that made this team Final Four material.
The obvious answer is junior guard Brittany Boyd. But Boyd, a point guard, is more built as a ball handler and distributor than a scorer. Her perimeter shooting was poor last season (29 percent in 3-point shooting) and is still a long way from Clarendon’s level.
Junior transfer Brittany Shine — who, like Dunn, sat out last year — is an alternate solution. But like Dunn, she’s an unproven product. Perhaps she is a better fit at shooting guard than Boyd, but we don’t know right now.
The Bears have tons of talent in their arsenal at this moment. But the $64,000 question of how the talent will translate into success next year still remains to be seen.