Basketball seems to be trending in opposite directions for the two Pac- 12 teams in Northern California. Stanford, fresh off an NIT Championship, may regress this season, while Cal is prepping to storm the Pac-12 by force. The Cardinal will be forced to rely on mostly solid role players from last season to take over leadership positions. The Golden Bears on the other hand, return multiple star players and add a powerhouse recruiting class.
Departures: Chasson Randle (Senior), Anthony Brown (Senior/NBA Draft), Stefan Nastic (Senior), Elliot Bullock (Senior), Wade Morgan (Senior), Jack Ryan (Senior)
Returnees: Rosco Allen, Marcus Allen, Reid Travis, Michael Humphrey
Newcomers: Josh Sharma (ESPN: 4 Stars), Marcus Sheffield (ESPN: 3 Stars), Cameron Walker (ESPN: 3 Stars)
This year's recruiting class for Stanford is a double edged sword. While the recruits posses tremendous upside, they will probably not be ready for leadership positions until at least next season. Still, each could serve as a valuable role player this year. Josh Sharma will help protect the inside for the Cardinal with his athleticism and speed. As a center with an impressive leaping ability, he'll provide many highlight reel dunks, and help strengthen Stanford's rebounding game. However, he's still very raw and needs to improve on his physical strength and post fundamentals. Marcus Sheffield and Cameron Walker will also help the Cardinal this year. The small forwards should both add solid minutes and offensive production. Like Sharma, they both are extremely athletic. They also have range on their jumpers as well. Still, they must refine their talents before they can truly be more than simply role players.
Despite losing Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, and Stefan Nastic, it may not be all doom and gloom for Stanford. The Cardinal does return Rosco and Marcus Allen, along with Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey, who should be a solid core to build around this year. Rosco, Allen, and Travis should make for a well experienced front court duo, while Marcus Allen can provide leadership for the guards. Furthermore, Michael Humphrey showed tremendous upside towards the end of the season, prior to his late season injury. The issue for Stanford this year will be whether or not the rest of the team can step up to support the main four. Players such as Dorian Pickens, and Grant Verhoeven must step up as key role players. Both showed promise last season, but will have to become more consistent in order make an impact for the Cardinal this year. Also, don't be surprised if head coach Johnny Dawkins looks to the freshmen for production. There could be a legitimate chance Dawkins starts Josh Sharma to add height to the Stanford front court.
Best Case Scenario: The team blends well, despite losing their top three scorers. Rosco Allen steps up as the senior leader. Marcus Allen, Reid Travis, and Michael Humphrey become consistent offensive pieces for the Cardinal. All three freshman provide solid minutes all season, and the rest of the team develops more than expected. Johnny Dawkins captains Stanford to a solid performance in the Pac-12, and another solid run in the NIT Tournament.
Worst Case Scenario: Everything falls apart without Randle, Brown, and Nastic. Nobody steps up as a leader. The freshmen and the role players underperform all season. The core of the team turns out not be as solid as expected. Stanford flounders in the Pac-12 and Johnny Dawkins is promptly fired at the end of the year.
Departures: David Kravish (Senior), Christian Behrens (Senior), Dwight Tarwater (Senior)
Returnees: Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews, Jabari Bird, Sam Singer
Newcomers: Jaylen Brown (ESPN100 #4), Ivan Rabb (ESPN100 #8), Roman Davis (ESPN: 2 Stars)
Five, four, and eight, the numbers do not lie for Cal's recruiting class. Five: as in the Golden Bears have the fifth best recruiting class in the country this year, four: Jaylen Brown's rank in the ESPN100, and eight: Ivan Rabb's ESPN100 rank. To sum it all up, Cuonzo Martin obliterated his competition when it came to recruiting this past season. Jaylen Brown, a probable 2016 Lottery Pick, is the second best small forward in the 2015 class. He is an incredibly explosive and athletic player, who will provide a plethora of highlight reel dunks. Brown's best asset is his ability to attack and finish at the rim. If he can improve his consistency on his jump shot, Brown will become one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the country. Next, there is Ivan Rabb. The fourth best power forward in the nation, Rabb will help solidify the middle for the Golden Bears. He, like Brown, possesses elite athleticism. Furthermore, with his size and wingspan, Rabb should dominate the paint on both ends of the court. Roman Davis, Cal's third and oft forgotten recruit, should provide solid minutes for the Golden Bears too. He finishes very well at the rim and, like his fellow recruits, is quite athletic.
Cal's most significant loss from last season is big man David Kravish. They also lose two role players in Christian Behrens and Dwight Tarwater. However the additions of Rabb and Brown, more than make up for their departures. The Golden Bears return First Team All Pac-12 player, Tyrone Wallace, along with Jordan Mathews, a deadly three point shooter, and productive starter Jabari Bird. The three returning starters should combine to be one of the best backcourts in the country. Having Rabb, and Brown most likely at the four and five spots, combined with Wallace, Mathews, and Bird, and Cal should be one of the most formidable teams in the nation. Still, no team is without weakness. Just like their fellow Northern California team, Cal's biggest issue this season will be getting production from their bench. While Sam Singer should be a solid six man, the rest of the team will have to step up to help so the starters are not exhausted before the end of the season.
Best Case Scenario: Wallace, Mathews, Bird, Rabb, and Brown go on a tear in the Pac-12. The rest of the team gives the starting five much needed support. Nobody comes close to beating the Golden Bears, as they blow all of their opponents out of the water, and win the Pac-12 with ease. Cal makes a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, possibly making a Final Four appearance.
Worst Case Scenario: Even with the talent, the team cannot gel. Wallace, Rabb, and Brown all make names for themselves in the Pac-12, but the supporting cast is not fully there this season. Cal does not reach their full potential, but still has a solid campaign in conference thanks to their star talent. The Golden Bears are an early upset in the NCAA tournament.
This year should be quite an uncommon one for Northern California basketball. The regular favorite, Stanford, will most likely take a backseat to perennial little brother, California. However depending on Cal's success this year, the Golden Bears could take over as the new number one. Regardless of what happens next year, California will be one of the most terrifying teams in the country the season. Unfortunately Stanford may be an afterthought, but nevertheless a potential Pac-12 underdog.