Mike Montgomery would be the first to say last season’s out-of-conference schedule was TOO strong. Kansas, San Diego State, New Mexico, Notre Dame, Boston College, Temple, Southern Miss . . . It was too much for the Bears, especially early in the season before they crystallized.
The gauntlet won’t be nearly so difficult this season, although road matchups against Georgia, Notre Dame or Missouri, San Diego State and UNLV won’t be easy.
No Kansas. No sexy home games. No argument there.
The Bears should devour much (if not all) of their non-conference home schedule, and that should guarantee a strong record and momentum headed into Pac-12 play.
Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of Cal’s pre-conference schedule:
— UC IRVINE, Nov. 11: The Anteaters (13-19) will be provide of the easiest matchups of the Bears’ entire schedule. They expected to have all-Big West forward Eric Wise (16;3 ppg) back for his senior season, but he unexpectedly transferred to USC. Local connection: Sophomore Chris McNealy (San Ramon Valley HS) averaged 5.1 ppg a year ago.
— GEORGE WASHINGTON, Nov. 13: The Colonials (17-14) feature senior guard Tony Taylor (15.0 ppg, 4.6 apg), who had 19 points and 11 assists in a non-conference win over Oregon State last season. This game is the opener of the College Basketball Experience tournament. Local connection: Sophomore center Daymon Warren is a native of Richmond.
— AUSTIN PEAY, Nov. 15: The second-round CBE game at Haas Pavilion brings the Governors (20-14), whose head coach Dave Loos also is the school’s athletic director. Three seniors averaged double digits a year ago: Guard Tyshwan Edmondson (17.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg), wing Anthony Campbell (13.9 ppg) and wing Josh Terry (11.0 ppg). Win or lose, the Bears advance to the CBE semifinals in Kansas City.
— GEORGIA, Nov. 21 at Kansas City: The CBE semifinals feature the Bulldogs (21-12), who made it to the NCAA tournament last season, then lost Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie to the (second round of the) NBA draft. Coach Mark Fox’s top returnee is senior guard Gerald Robinson (12.2 ppg).
— NOTRE DAME or MISSOURI, Nov. 22 at Kansas City: The Bears will face either the Fighting Irish (27-7) or the home-court favorite Tigers (23-11) on the final night of the CBE. The two clubs are responsible for a couple of the most lopsided Cal non-conference road defeats in recent memory: Mizzou clubbed the Bears 93-66 in 2008-09 and Notre Dame held Cal to 2 for 25 shooting in the first half of a 57-44 rout last season. Missouri, under new coach Frank Haith (formerly of Miami), rolls out senor guard Marcus Denmon (16.9 ppg) and a pair of 6-8 forwards in Ricardo Ratliffe and Laurence Bowers, who totaled 107 blocked shots last season. The Irish will be led by Tim Abromaitis (14.4 ppg), a 6-8 forward and grad student.
— DENVER, Nov. 26: The Pioneers (13-17) give senior guard Brian Stafford (12.9 ppg) the chance to play in front of friends and family. Stafford (Las Lomas HS) has started all 93 games of his career and already has 1,138 career points.
— McNEESE STATE, Nov. 28: The Cowboys (21-12) lost 118-64 at Washington last season and lost four of their leading five scorers from that club. They do welcome back top scorer Patrick Richard (16.1 ppg), a 6-4 senior guard.
— at SAN DIEGO STATE, Dec. 4: The Aztecs (34-3) should come back down to earth a bit after the greatest season in school history. The top four scorers are gone, including sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard, who averaged 15.5 ppg and 10.6 rpg and was picked 15th in the NBA draft.
— SAN JOSE STATE, Dec. 7: The Spartans (17-16) are coming off their first winning season since 1993-94, but must replace the high-scoring guard tandem of Adrian Oliver (24.0 ppg) and Justin Graham (14.2 ppg). The Bears have lost to SJS at home just once — in 1975-76.
— JACKSON STATE, Dec. 11: The Tigers (17-15) aren’t likely to offer more than a meow when they visit Berkeley. They beat just one non-conference Division I opponent last year. The top player is Jenirro Bush (14.2 ppg), a 6-7 senior guard. Coach Tevester Anderson and his wife have nine children.
— WEBER STATE, Dec. 16: The Wildcats (18-14) played all but nine games last season without Damian Lillard (Oakland HS), the 2010 Big Sky Player of the Year, who broke a foot last December. Lillard regained a season of eligibility and enters his redshirt junior season having already scored 1,150 points. Expect him to be motivated in front of familiar faces. Other local connections: junior forward Frank Otis (McClymonds HS), a transfer from SMU, and junior guard Davion Berry (Hayward HS), a transfer from Cal State Monterey Bay.
— UC SANTA BARBARA, Dec. 19: The Gauchos (18-14) feature senior guard Orlando Johnson (21.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and bring three East Bay products home: senior Will Brew (St. Mary’s HS), freshman T.J. Taylor (Oakland HS) and freshman Johnson Green (Oakland).
— at UNLV, Dec. 23: The Runnin’ Rebels (24-9) are led by senior guards Chase Stanback (13.0 ppg) and Oscar Bellfield (11.2 ppg). Dave Rice, a reserve guard on two of coach Jerry Tarkanian’s Final Four teams, replaces Lon Kruger as head coach this season.