Here is Part III of the mega-preview, focusing on the most opposite rivals this year, Cal and Stanford.
Head Coach: Mike Montgomery (2nd year, career 569-255)
We all know the story: Montgomery took Stanford to the NCAA tournament 12 times in 18 years (including one Final Four), failed in the NBA at Golden State, then took over Cal after a couple years off from coaching. His return to the Pac 10 is great for conference prestige, and it doesn't hurt his reputation any that he walked into a perfect situation at Cal. Cal has had very talented teams for a few years now, but were able to put it all together last year and look to be even better this year.
Jerome Randle (SR, 18.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 35.3 mpg, .501 FG, .463 3PT, .863 FT).
Both Randle and Christopher made the All-Pac-10 1st team last season, and they're favorites to do so again this year. Montgomery describes Randle as as "shooting point guard" but points out that he led the league in assists while also having a great jumper and the quickness to defend or drive by anyone. He's pretty much impossible to stop, and is probably the best player on the best team in the conference this year.
Patrick Christopher (SR,14.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.1 apg, 33.3 mpg, .441 FG, .358 3PT, .830 FT).
Last year, as Christopher went, so went the Bears. Cal won 12 of the 13 games in which Christopher shot at least 50%, while he shot only 32% in the 11 losses. Despite this, Montgomery challenged Christopher to step up his defensive game last season, often putting him on the other team's best player. Christopher is a complete-package player who, like Randle, could jump into All-American status with a great Senior year on an Elite Eight contender.
Theo Robertson (SR, 13.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.5 apg, 33.5 mpg, .488 FG, .487 3PT, .792 FT).
Robertson is a speedy wing who can shoot and rarely makes mistakes.
Robertson had a breakthrough season for the Bears after missing the 2007-08 season after hip surgery in April 2007. "Theo is a primary guy," Montgomery said. "He's probably our most complete player in that he does not make many mistakes. He's very smart, and he's a really good shooter. He was able to play the four when we moved him there and went small. With him there we can spread the floor, and he can drive it by people. He's also a good defender."
Jorge Gutierrez (SO, 4.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 18.7 mpg, .452 FG, .308 3PT, .642 FT)
Gutierrez is a typical "glue guy" who provides energy off the bench and never stops hustling. Montgomery calls him "...our toughest kid. He changed our whole mentality when he went in games, " Montgomery said. Jorge was known for his defense last year but did put up 14 points and 5 assists in the Pac 10 tournament loss to USC. If he can put up offensive statistics like that while providing his usual excellent defense, he will emerge as a key player for this year's team.
Omondi Amoke (SO, 2.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.3 apg, 8.2 mpg, .483 FG, .571 FT)
Amoke put up decent numbers last year in only eight minutes per game. He's a decent defender and rebounder who hopes to improve his offensive game. Cal doesn't need a lot of help off the bench, but the frontcourt is a little thin and Amoke could contribute there despite being undersized for a 4 or 5.
Blue Ribbon Outlook:
The Golden Bears enter the season as the league favorite. They haven't won a Pac-10 title since 1960. Offensively this team is vastly different from Montgomery's most successful Stanford teams. He'd prefer to have a physical presence in the post, someone he could dump it in to for high-percentage shots a la Adam Keefe. But what he has in the Golden Bears is a bevy of wildly talented guards and wings who are in range from just about the time they cross halfcourt.
"If we improve in the preseason schedule … you have a veteran team that should understand what it takes to win. I don't know where it gets us. Hopefully a shot at the NCAA tournament, and if it does we need to go into that with a different attitude. I think last year once we made it, we relaxed. This year we need to go in with hunger and the idea that we'll advance."
Head Coach: Johnny Dawkins (2nd year, career 20-14)
Johnny Dawkins coached Stanford to 20 wins and the CBI semifinals last year, ending the season in an overtime loss to eventual CBI champions Oregon State. He will have a lot more to do this year with three key players graduating to pursue high-powered jobs in science, law, and politics. What, isn't that what everyone with a Stanford degree does?
Anthony Goods, Lawrence Hill, Mitch Johnson
Landry Fields (SR, 12.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.3 spg, .498 FG)
Fields is the leader of this team, and the only senior returning starter. He scored over 13 points per game in conference play while amassing five double-doubles. He could lead the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals, and is probably the team's only threat to make an All-Pac-10 team. Unfortunately for him, he'll probably ultimately be remembered as the last good player of the Trent Johnson era, rather than as a great player in his own right.
Josh Owens (JR, 6.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, .561 FG)
Forward Josh Owens is Stanford's other returning starter. He doesn't shoot often but he does take high-percentage shots, good for the 5th best FG% in the Pac 10 last year. He's starting to become a shot-blocking presence as well. He'll get a lot more minutes this year; we'll see if he improves under the greater responsibility.
Jeremy Green (SO, 6.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, .456 3PT). Green is a 6-4 sophomore who can stroke the long ball and grab a few rebounds a game. He's still mostly a catch-and-shoot player on offense, and will be looking to develop an ability to create his own shots. He reminds me of Harthun in that he's appeared to be a little nervous breaking onto the big stage, but has the ability to become a pretty decent player by the end of his college career.
Andrew Zimmerman (SO, 6-8, 215, Foothill College/Los Altos Hills, Calif.) Zimmerman is a lanky big who can grab boards and play well in the post. He still gets pushed around by the stronger players but will surely have been hitting the gym all summer. He could get valuable minutes if he develops a penchant for offensive rebounding and tough defense.
Blue Ribbon Outlook:
"I thought I was prepared well after being an assistant for 11 seasons," Dawkins said. "I've been around the game all my life. I felt comfortable. But as an assistant you're making suggestions, and as a head coach you're making decisions. It all stops with you and your decision. I have to get used to that responsibility. It's a natural progression in our game. I really enjoyed it, and I'm trying to get better, learn more, and make sure I know there's more to learn."
I think these two teams have to be considered as the extremes of the Pac 10 spectrum this year. Cal lost no one of note and should really be an improved version of last year's team, which is pretty scary for the rest of us. I think the only things that could slow them down are injury (duh), a cold shooting streak (not sure they're diverse enough at scoring), or running up against a powerful frontcourt team in the tournament. They should have legitimate expectations to reach the Elite Eight, especially considering that they should get a great seed for dominating the Pac 10. If they don't lose focus and become complacent this should be be a 25 win team come tournament time.
Stanford on the other hand... well... they have reason to hope for the future. A Coug is probably going to be the last person to kick someone when they're down (unless that someone goes 0-12). Fields is legit, and if he has one of those good-player-on-bad-team type seasons he should be 1st Team All-Pac-10. If he uses his talent to make everyone else better like Coach Dawkins hopes, then Stanford may have a better record than we all think. NIT is a good goal for them but CBI is more likely if they don't finish last in the Pac 10.