Out of hibernation: Cal men’s basketball early schedule shootaround

Cal Men's Basketball
Josh Kahen/Staff

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Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” In a year full of uncertainties, this statement has never felt more true. That is, until now, with Cal men’s basketball back!

Six nonconference games have been announced, including the season opener against Oregon State at a neutral site Wednesday. The other five nonconference games are against Northwest University, Nicholls State, Pepperdine, the University of San Francisco and Boston College.

The Bears’ home opener will take place without fans Nov. 30 against Nicholls State.

These six nonconference games, in addition to two conference showdowns against Arizona State and UCLA on Dec. 3 and 6, respectively, mark the first eight games of the California Golden Bears’ 2021 men’s basketball season.

Which of these eight early games do you find most intriguing?

Tom Aizenberg: It’s hard to pick any of these games over the Dec. 6 matchup with UCLA. For one, UCLA is probably the best team Cal will face over this stretch, as it is currently considered the best team in the Pac-12. Even if UCLA was the worst team on this list, I might still have picked this matchup simply because of the UC rivalry. Rivalries are always more fun and more intense, and none of the other teams on the schedule have any significant history with Cal. Players and fans alike of these two schools take great pleasure in any victory they can get over the other.

Kabir Rao: For me, it has to be the Dec. 6 matchup with UCLA. The Bruins whipped off seven straight Pac-12 victories in February and are returning all five starters. With UCLA head coach Mick Cronin heading into his second season with more experience and Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors under his belt, all signs are pointing to an even better season in Westwood. For Cal, perhaps the football team being blown out at the Rose Bowl a few weekends ago by UCLA will provide some extra motivation, but a victory here would be huge and not just for team morale. This game could show us what the Bears are made of and whether they’ve taken the next step in head coach Mark Fox’s second season in Berkeley.

Trilok Reddy: Not only did UCLA go from being picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 last year to first this year, but it also enters this season ranked No. 22 nationally. Last year, the Bruins entered the Pac-12 tournament with a bye and the second seed, but before UCLA could play its first game against 10th-seeded Cal, fresh off an upset against Stanford, the tournament was canceled. The Bears do have a knack for winning games they have no business winning, so maybe Cal can make it three straight years with a top-25 win and hand UCLA a loss eight months overdue.

The Bears will need someone to step up beside Matt Bradley if they hope to get off to a fast start. Who do you have your eyes on to be that guy?

TA: One of Cal’s biggest weaknesses last season was its 3-point shooting, as it shot a measly 33.5% from downtown. Freshman Jalen Celestine should help with that, as he shot a staggering 44% from 3-point range as a junior in high school. Celestine will also help the Bears by being a pair of fresh young legs and running the break. Fast break scores are an easy way to get the offense going when in the midst of a cold streak, so Celestine’s youth and energy should bring a spark to Cal this upcoming season.

KR: I’m looking at graduate transfer Makale Foreman to make an impact early in his time at Cal. After the departure of Paris Austin, the Bears are in sore need of veteran leadership and another scoring presence at the guard spot to complement Bradley. It seemed transfer Jarred Hyder would take on the role, but with the NCAA denying his eligibility for the season, the spotlight will shift to Foreman. Having set the Stony Brook record for 3-pointers made in a single season, Foreman has already flashed an ability to shoot well from deep, which could be huge for Cal going forward.

TR: This is the year I think Andre Kelly is going to be the most impactful big man on the team. He finished his sophomore year with only 7.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game but started contributing more toward the end of the season in Pac-12 play. He was crucial to Cal’s victory over Utah late in the season with 15 points, nine rebounds and five blocks. With the Bears making additions this offseason to help with perimeter shooting, Kelly should be able to continue his upward trend.

What is your prediction for Cal’s record after these eight initial matchups?

TA: 3-5. Cal will almost surely lose the two conference matchups against UCLA and ASU, but it has a good shot at beating any of the six nonconference teams, so I will pick the Bears to split those.

KR: 4-4. It’s been an unprecedented year, and with the team unable to even practice regularly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bears start slow. The blue and gold will not be favored in either of the two conference games, so expect them to drop those. However, the Bears should find their footing in the nonconference schedule. Pepperdine, USF and Boston College could give Cal fits down the line, but the Bears should claim at least one victory there. Cal will leave this stretch as it enters it — with questions — but hopefully, also with some answers and at least a 0.500 record.

TR: 4-4. What four wins and what four losses? Couldn’t tell you.

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