I was out of town when the Bears announced their schedule, so I thought I’d take a quick, early look at how the non-conference games shape up.
— Nov. 16 vs. Cal State Northridge: The Matadors were 11-21 last season and return senior forward Lenny Daniel (11.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg) along with McClymonds HS grad Vinnie McGhee, a junior guard and one-time Big Sky Freshman of the Year at Sac State. Should be a painless debut for Cal’s freshmen-laden squad.
— Nov. 20 vs. New Mexico: The Lobos were 30-5 a year ago, beating Cal in Albuquerque and reaching the second round of the NCAAs before losing to UW. Three starters return, as does coach Steve Alford, who signed a long-term deal to stay with the Lobos. A tough Game 2 assignment.
— Nov. 25 vs. Temple at Old Spice Classic: The Bears will face a challenge from the Owls, 29-6 a year ago, in the Thanksgiving Day opener of this eight-team tournament in Orlando, Fla. Temple returns four of its top five scorers from a team that lost to Cornell in the NCAA Tournament.
— Nov. 26 vs. Georgia or Notre Dame at Old Spice Classic: The Bulldogs went 14-17 in their debut season under coach Mark Fox, formerly of Nevada, but return their top two players: 6-10 junior F Trey Thompkins (17.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and junior G Travis Leslie (14.8 ppg, 54.5 percent 3-PT). The Fighting Irish were 23-12 a year ago, but no longer have star Luke Harangody. Their top player back is 6-8 F Tim Abromaitis (16.1 ppg).
— Nov. 28 at Old Spice Classic: The Bears could face Boston College, Texas A&M, Wisconsin or Manhattan on the tournament’s final day.
— Dec. 1 vs. UC Davis: The Aggies were 14-18 last year and lost by margins of 29 points to Oregon and 16 to Stanford. But here’s all you really need to know: Cal is 30-0 all-time vs. Davis. Don’t expect that to change, despite the return of 6-8 senior wings Mark Payne (15.6 ppg) and Joe Harden (14.5 ppg).
— Dec. 4 at Iowa State: Cal beat the Cyclones 82-63 in Berkeley last year, but both teams are dramatically different now. Iowa State comes off a 15-17 season, but welcomes Fred Hoiberg as its head coach. “The Mayor” is perhaps ISU’s most popular player ever, having scored 1,993 career points in Ames. Unforunately for Iowa State’s immediate prospects, Hoiberg doesn’t have anyone as remotely talented on his current roster. A chance (maybe) to steal a road win for the Bears.
— Dec. 8 vs. San Diego State: The Aztecs return all five starters from a 25-9 team that lost to Tennessee in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. San Diego State beat Arizona a year ago, but lost to ASU and Saint Mary’s. The best of the returnees is 6-7 F Kawhi Leonard, who averaged 12.7 ppg and 9.9 rpg as a freshman last season. An uphill climb.
— Dec. 12 vs. Southern Miss: The visitors from Conference USA return their top six players from a 20-14 team, including 6-8 senior F Gary Flowers (15.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg). No easy one here.
— Dec. 18 vs. Cal Poly: Bears fans may be grateful to see a third visitor from the Big West Conference. The Mustangs were 12-19 a year ago, but feature former Bishop O’Dowd HS star Shawn Lewis (11.8 ppg) and 6-8, 265-pound junior C Will Donahue (11.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg).
— Dec. 22 vs. Kansas: The Jayhawks visit Berkeley for the first time since Wilt Chamberlain’s undergrad days. Bill Self lost three starters from a 33-3 team to the NBA draft, but return twins Marcus and Markieff Morris, who combined for 20 points and 14 rebounds in KU’s 84-69 win over Cal last season. The Jayhawks also feature prize recruit Josh Selby, an explosive guard from Baltimore who is rated the top incoming freshman in the nation by Rivals.com.
— Dec. 28 vs. Hartford: The Hawks of the America East Conference were 8-22 a year ago, although they return their top nine players. The best of them is fifth-year senior Joe Zeglinski, a 6-foot guard, who averaged 16.5 ppg in 2009-10 and has made 303 3-point baskets in his career.