A prognosis with Hardin

Now that DeVon Hardin has returned to Cal, just how good will the Bears be next season? Probably pretty good. The only problem is they will be playing in arguably the toughest conference in the nation.

Six Pac-10 teams went to the NCAA Tournament last season, and all six of those teams are almost locks to return next season. UCLA, Washington State, Oregon and USC all likely will be preseason top 25 teams. Stanford and Arizona very well could be also.

Washington lost Spencer Hawes to the NBA draft but still has a strong nucleus of young talent, so the Huskies should be more relevant once again. And although Arizona State finished in last place, it lost several close games and has a strong recruiting class coming in for 2007-08. Really, it looks as though Oregon State is the only team that won’t be much of a threat.

If the Pac-10 can get more than six teams into next year’s NCAA Tournament, Cal could be a strong contender. No player will benefit more from Hardin’s return than sophomore Ryan Anderson, who was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season despite getting absolutely no help inside. With Jordan Wilkes and Jamal Boykin coming off the bench, the Bears will have one of the deepest front courts on the West Coast.

Hardin’s presence should alleviate some of the suffocating double-teams Anderson was subjected to last season. Anderson exhibited a variety of ways to score as a freshman and could have a huge year. Pac-10 Player of the Year honors wouldn’t be a stretch.

Another thing Cal has going for them is sophomore wing Patrick Christopher, who played well at the end of last season and should enter this year with a lot of confidence. He should assume the starting role at shooting guard in light of the departure of Omar Wilkes.

Cal’s biggest question will be at point guard, where either Nikola Knezevic or Jerome Randle will replace four-year starter Ayinde Ubaka. Randle was hot and cold last year as a freshman while Knezevic, also a sophomore, sat out the season with a knee injury.

Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.

  • I agree with your opinion on Cal’s frontcourt. Not only was I intrigued by Christopher’s play late in the season, but I was also pleased to see Taylor Harrison make some strides.

    Last year, I felt the Bears’ inconsistent interior defense–a deficiency exacerbated by Hardin’s injury–plagued them in many affairs. Having size in the middle will be important in the Pac-10 and that could definitely help them jump some of the perennial top 6 in the conference.

  • build-a-bear

    Do you think Randle will do much next year, esp. with Nikola being healthy again. I was really excited to see Randle’s enthusiasm and drive on the court last season. With a little discipline, he won’t turn the ball over and be a great asset to the team i think. Plus he’s been playing with these teammates on the court while Nikola has been on the bench and if Nik. were to return, he’ll come out cold maybe. What do you think?

  • Jonathan Okanes

    Hi, build-a-bear. Sorry for the delayed response but I just returned from vacation. Obviously, the point guard situation is Cal’s biggest question heading into the season. Randle was pretty hot and cold last season. There were moments where you could really see his potential and others where he looked lost. Of course, that’s going to happen a lot with freshman. But Randle is unique because he has the ability to play at such a high speed. That is both good and bad. He needs to learn to play under control while still using his explosiveness as a weapon.
    It’s a tough call right now. Nikola is a little bit of a wild-card because he didn’t play last season, so it’s hard to tell how much he’s developed since his freshman season. Certainly, if Randle learns to play under control, he has a good chance to make an impact. And hopefully his recent arrest won’t have any negative implications.

  • build-a-bear

    Hey Jon, Thanks for getting back to me. How was your vacation? Glad to see you back in the post again. I’m really looking foward to everything coming up and I know we’ll have some great conversations. I’m apologizing in advance for anything I might say in the future we may disagree on, hehe! Again, welcome back!