How will you define a successful season for this team?
Justice delos Santos: Finding an identity and avoiding dead last place. For Cal, there’s nowhere to go but up. Depending on how you look at it, last season was the worst in program history. If Cal’s returning core makes the patented college basketball leap and the team hits 12, 13 wins, that’s a relatively successful season.
Rory O’Toole: Actually running an offensive system this year after the absence of any kind of philosophy on that end of the floor last season. Player development. A semblance of actual competitive pride and fight. Really just anything that improves on a dismal team from a year ago.
Will youth help or hinder this team?
JD: Both. Marcus Lee, Don Coleman and Kingsley Okoroh may not have been All-Pac-12 players, but all three of them knew how to play the college game. This incoming class will be thrown right into the shark-infested waters that is the college game. They won’t have the privilege of falling back on the veterans and being eased into this next level because, aside from Paris Austin, this is a super young roster. On the flip side, the youth provide energy, exuberance and a bit of “don’t know better” that may win Cal some games.
RO: A healthy dose of both. Young teams not named (insert Blue Blood filled with five-stars) tend to struggle, especially early in the season, as they adjust to the speed of the college game and brand-new systems. Expect a lot of defensive miscues, turnovers and poor shot selection from a team without one single senior. That being said, the young guys could inject some energy into a team that looked flat for long stretches last year. Keep an eye on talented freshman wings Matt Bradley and Jacobi Gordon.
Who will be this team’s X-factor?
JD: Juhwan Harris-Dyson. It’s often forgotten that of the Sueing-McNeill-Harris-Dyson trio, Harris-Dyson was rated the highest of the bunch. He was in and out of the starting lineup last season, but put an asterisk next to last season’s performance. Instead of adapting to the college game, Harris-Dyson spent time working back to full health after the flu caused him to lose 20 pounds. There were flashes of excellence throughout the season, and if he’s 100 percent, he’ll definitely be worth watching.
RO: Matt Bradley. The San Bernardino product could provide some much-needed playmaking and scoring for an offense that struggled to generate consistently last season. His stocky frame suggests that he’ll be able to play through contact and perhaps add a layer of physicality to a squad that looks a little soft up front. He is a freshman, so cautious optimism is the name of the game here.
What will transfer Paris Austin bring to the table?
JD: The benefits of Paris Austin are twofold. One, he gives Cal a more traditional point guard — someone who can set the table for the rest of the team. Two, he allows Darius McNeill to play off the ball, a role he excelled in last season when he was granted the opportunity. His ability to shoot from distance is a major concern. He had an entire year to jack up jumpers at Haas Pavilion, but whether that translates to in-game situations is yet to be seen.
RO: A whole set of old-school point guard cliches. Control. Leadership. A facilitator on offense and strong bulwark on the defensive end. His lack of shooting (21 percent from three at Boise State) will be an issue for a squad bereft of perimeter threats, but his reputation as a floor general will hopefully translate to the Pac-12 and offset obvious shortcomings.
JD: Best case: Justice Sueing, Darius McNeill and Juhwan Harris-Dyson build off promising freshman seasons while members of the incoming class pick and choose their spots. Wins will still be hard to come by, but finishing in the teens in the win column would be a huge step in the right direction. Worst case: The lack of veterans comes back to bite Cal, it doesn’t improve as a shooting team, it continues to struggle on defense and finishes last in the Pac-12.
RO: Best case: Cal rallies around sophomore scorers Justice Sueing and Darius McNeill while Bradley and Gordon emerge as secondary threats and Paris Austin becomes the ultimate glue guy. The Bears surprise some teams early in the season and maybe even score an upset over Washington or Arizona. NIT berth. Worst case: Connor Vanover becomes the next Shawn Bradley (the one who got dunked on all the time). We suck just as badly as last season. I cry that we’re Washington State South.
Justice delos Santos and Rory O’Toole are the 2018 men’s basketball beat writers.