After a tumultuous season, the Cal men’s basketball team enters training camp in a state of flux. Without Justin Cobbs helming the offense, the Bears are left without a primary ball-distributor and shot-creator, while the absence of Richard Solomon leaves a gaping hole in Cal’s front court. Exacerbated by the retirement of former head coach Mike Montgomery, Cal fans will most likely be disappointed once again come next Selection Sunday.
Led by seasoned veteran Cobbs, the Bears peaked last season after winning their sixth straight game, including a rout of then-No. 17 Oregon by double-digits on the Ducks’ home floor. Despite being unranked, there were whispers that Cal could potentially challenge undefeated Arizona for the Pac-12 title. But the Bears followed up their 14-4 start with three losses in a row, hitting rock bottom when they gifted USC one of its two conference wins of the entire season.
And of course there was the shocker against the undefeated, No. 1 Wildcats capped off by a step-back game-winner along the baseline by Cobbs. Many thought that Cal would ride the statement victory all the way to the NCAA tournament, but it proceeded to lose eight of its final 13 games, all but assuring an NIT appearance.
If Cal fans were disappointed by the team’s campaign last season, they’ll most likely be frustrated this upcoming year. The Bears lost their two most pivotal pieces on offense and defense, and with no one to replace them, newly appointed head coach Cuonzo Martin is staring down the barrel of a sub-.500 inaugural season.
A new coach heading the program can only spell trouble for the Bears concerning next season. The players will have to pick up a new system and possibly an unfamiliar brand of basketball with coach Martin at the helm, depending on what style he decides to run with the available pieces. Not to say that the system will be ineffective, but learning the ins-and-outs of a new coach’s schemes can be difficult, especially for a veteran such as David Kravish who served under Montgomery for three years.
The absence of Cobbs will immediately be felt on offense. Responsible for 25.4 percent of Cal’s possessions, at times he was the Cal offense. While not a great penetrator, his ability to create shots for others at their sweet spots was invaluable for players without great handles such as Jabari Bird and Ricky Kreklow. Even more valuable to the team was his ability to create his own shot in isolation plays — something that will be sorely missed next season.
Cobbs’ departure leaves the starting point guard job wide open. While not the sharp-shooter that Cobbs was, sophomore Sam Singer displayed a reassuring confidence in limited minutes last season. But he also turned the ball over too often and shot the ball poorly from all over — both concerning signs for Cal hopefuls. And with such little experience under his belt, Singer could end up washing out and crumbling under the pressure of directing and leading the offense.
Tyrone Wallace has shown the ability to handle the ball, but he’s not a natural point guard and will need a backcourt running mate to get the ball where it needs to go. The point guard is undoubtedly the most impactful position on offense, and without a competent starter, the Cal offense will struggle to create open opportunities and shots near the rim. Bird will be expected to carry the brunt of the offense, but without the proper ball-handling to create his own shot, coach Martin may have to come up with some very creative offensive sets.
Perhaps even more than Cobbs, Solomon’s absence will impact the team on both sides of the court. Solomon averaged a double-double with a healthy 11 points per game and 10.2 rebounds. He was a vital cog in the Cal defense that will most likely decline with his departure. The Bears struggled with a thin front court last season, and the situation will only get worse with Kameron Rooks and newly flipped recruit Kingsley Okoroh expected to fill Solomon’s shoes.
While the Bears may not fare too well next season, Cal fans have a reason to be hopeful for the future — the far future. Just don’t expect too much come the 2014-15 season.
Winston Cho is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter