I watched the Bears practice for about an hour Wednesday as they prepare for their Aug. 13-24 tour of Australia. Freshman Jaylen Brown got the day off — not injured, just a breather, according to coach Cuonzo Martin — but Cal looked good.
The Bears are bigger, deeper and competitive. Freshman Ivan Rabb is going to be something special, transfer Stephen Domingo is long and active, and center Kameron Rooks, leaner than I’d seen before, aggressively engaged fellow 7-footer Kingsley Okoroh in their private duels.
So how good will Cal be?
ESPN on Wednesday released its “Way Too Early” top-25, and placed the Bears at No. 12. Not bad for a team that didn’t play in the postseason a year ago.
Here are the full rankings: 1. Maryland; 2. North Carolina; 3. Kentucky; 4. Virginia; 5. Kansas; 6. Duke; 7. Iowa State; 8. Oklahoma; 9. Wichita State; 10. Villanova; 11. Gonzaga; 12. Cal.
13. Utah; 14. Indiana; 15. Arizona; 16. Notre Dame; 17. Baylor; 18. Vanderbilt; 19. Michigan State; 20. West Virginia; 21. SMU; 22. LSU; 23. Butler; 24. Wisconsin; 25. Texas A&M.
Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News, who knows his stuff, has projected the Bears as the nation’s No. 13 team entering next season.
Heady stuff for a program that finished in a three-way tie for eighth place in the Pac-12 last season and did not participate in the postseason.
DeCourcy notes that Cal has three double-figure scorers returning in the backcourt — Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird. “Elite recruit Jaylen Brown is better than all of them,” he writes. “McDonald’s All-American Ivan Rabb was one of the most coveted frontcourt recruits.”
But DeCourcy also points out, “What’s worrisome about the Bears is how truly mediocre with a fairly solid roster last season. We’re supposed to be excited about Jordan, Mathews and Bird returning, but they’re returning from a team that lost six of its final eight games and barely competed in two losses to Arizona.”
Here’s The Sporting News’ entire top-25:
1. Kansas; 2. Maryland; 3. North Carolina; 4. Kentucky; 5. Duke; 6. Virginia; 7. Iowa State; 8. Arizona; 9. Wichita State; 10. Gonzaga; 11. Oklahoma; 12. Villanova; 13. Cal; 14. North Carolina State; 15. Indiana; 16. West Virginia; 17. Cincinnati; 18. Michigan; 19. Oregon; 20. Wisconsin; 21. Florida State; 22. Butler; 23. Michigan State; 24. LSU; 25. Xavier.
No surprise here, but the news continues to be bad for Cal in the latest official NCAA RPI computer ratings.
The Bears are No. 120 in the rankings, ninth-best in the Pac-12 and about 70 spots away from reasonable consideration for NCAA tournament at-large entry.
Here’s the complete list of Pac-12 teams:
89. Oregon State
123. Washington State
142. Arizona State
At 9-1, Cal is among 11 teams nationwide with the best records (minimum 10 games).
At the top is Kentucky, 11-0, top-ranked all season in the AP and, finally, according to RealTimeRPI.com.
Where do the Bears reside on the list ranked by the computer?
Not particularly high. At No. 95 in the RPI, Cal is 10th among those 11 teams, ahead of only Notre Dame, whose 10-1 record is good for a No. 143 RPI rank.
The key variable, of course, is strength of schedule. And Cal’s is weak: No. 274.
But that’s about to change. The Bears face Eastern Washington (No. 41 RPI) on Friday, then take on Wisconsin (No. 17) on Monday. Win or lose, merely playing those teams will elevate the Bears in the computer rankings.
If they get a split, better still.
If they sweep, expect a huge leap.
Here’s how the 11 teams with the best record after a minimum 10 games sit in the RPI ratings:
1. Kentucky 11-0 (No. 5 strength of schedule).
6. Arizona 10-0 (49)
14. Villanova 10-0 (73)
17. Wisconsin 10-1 (36)
26. Northern Iowa 9-1 (113)
36. West Virginia 9-1 (102)
38. Maryland 10-1 (94)
44. Miami 10-1 (162)
73. TCU 10-0 (291)
95. Cal 9-1 (274)
143. Notre Dame 10-1 (322)
How concerned should Cal fans be that the Bears, with a 6-1 record, are No. 103 in the NCAA’s official RPI rankings that were released on Thursday?
Hint No. 1: Green Bay is ranked No. 2, one spot ahead of Kentucky, which would win a head-to-head matchup by 55 points. At least.
Hint No. 2: Sacramento State, whose 4-2 record includes two non-Division I wins and a 56-point loss to Gonzaga, is rated No. 27. Ahead of all but one team from the Pac-12.
That’s right, breathe easy.
Rankings this early in the season, with such a small sample size, mean nothing.
Does anyone really believe there are 12 better teams than Arizona in the country?
For what they’re worth — and we’ve established what that is — here are the RPI rankings for Pac-12 teams: 13. Arizona; 48. Colorado; 58. Utah; 61. Washington; 70. Stanford; 102. Oregon; 103. Cal; 121. USC; 154. UCLA; 155. Arizona State; 245. Oregon State; 271. Washington State.
It’s a long season, and the computer ratings will gradually shake out properly.
Up next for the Bears: Sunday vs. Nevada in Reno. The game won’t do much for Cal’s strength of scheduled — Nevada is No. 305 in this week’s RPI.
Here’s where Cal fits into the NCAA rankings this week:
1. Baylor 56.8 ppg
2. Texas A&M 51.2
3. Michigan State 50.3
4. Oregon 48.5
5. Cal 47.5
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon 218.0
2. Deshaun Watson, Clemson 212.7
3. Connor Cook, Michigan State 192.3
4. Blake Sims, Alabama 190.8
5. Jared Goff, Cal 190.2
YARDS PER PASS COMPLETION
1. Georgia Tech 19.06
2. LSU 17.92
3. Navy 17.42
4. Cal 17.12
5. Oklahoma State 16.84
PENALTY YARDS PER GAME
121. Cal 93.25
122. Oregon State 94.50
123. Marshall 102.50
124 tie. Texas Tech 105.50
124 tie. BYU 105.50
With four weeks left in the regular season, Cal finds itself in a precarious position. The Bears are tied for fifth place in the Pac-12 standings and sit at No. 51 in the official NCAA RPI computer rankings.
Neither is a comfortable place.
Will the sixth team in the Pac-12 qualify for the NCAA tournament? Maybe, but it’s by no means a sure thing.
How about No. 51 in the RPI? Bubble territory.
Cal hits the road this week to play a pair of second-division teams it’s already beaten: at Washington State on Wednesday night, at Washington on Saturday afternoon.
“I hope they understand it’s down to where it’s going to separate pretty soon,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said of the tight pack of teams in the middle of the conference standings.
“We’ve got to be a part of the positive separation. There’s nine teams and any one of those nine could step up and be in a better position. We’re certainly not out of the woods. This week’s important to us, but a lot of people I’m sure are saying the same thing.”
Tied for seventh, eighth and ninth behind Cal and Stanford are Utah, Oregon State and Washington, all at 5-6. Oregon, 13-0 before Pac-12 play began, sits in 10th place at 3-8.
NCAA RPI RATINGS
2. Arizona: Cats wobbled a bit but won twice without Brandon Ashley
19. UCLA: The computer likes the Bruins more than Top-25 voters do
25. Colorado: Still hanging in there without star Spencer Dinwiddie
40. Arizona State: Sun Devils have Valentine’s Day date with Arizona
42. Oregon: Ducks have lost four Pac-12 games by 2 points each
44. Stanford: Win at Cal improved Cardinal to 5-2 on road; UW awaits
51. Cal: Bears are 1-4 in past five and that win was over Arizona
81. Oregon State: Only road win since Nov. 18 — at Washington State
83. Washington: A different team at home, where Huskies are 11-2
105. Utah: Utes are 16-1 at home, 0-6 on the road.
131. USC: 1-9 in the Pac-12 and that one win came over Cal
161. Washington St: High-scoring DaVonte Lacy didn’t face Bears first time
The Cal women’s basketball team, coming off its first trip to the Final Four last season, is rated No. 9 in the USA Today preseason coaches poll, matching the Bears’ highest preseason ranking.
Cal was 32-4 last season and shared its first Pac-12 championship with rival Stanford.
Cal is one of three Pac-12 teams with two players listed on CBS Sports’ rankings of the top-100 college basketball players in the nation.
Senior Justin Cobbs is No. 74 and freshman Jabari Bird sits at No, 93.
Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon is 10th and teammate Nick Johnson 59th. UCLA also has two players on the list — Kyle Anderson at No. 27, Jordan Adams at No. 37.
Other Pac-12 players on the list are No. 9 Jahii Carson of Arizona State, No. 21 Spencer Dinwiddie of Colorado, No. 67 Dwight Powell of Stanford, No. 78 Mike Moser of Oregon and No. 92 C.J. Wilcox of Washington.
Kentucky has seven players on the top-100 list, five of them among the top 36. Louisville and Michigan State each have four players on the list.
The rankings, compiled by Gary Parrish and not based on NBA potential, features 40 seniors, 23 juniors, 21 sophomores and 16 freshmen. But five of those freshmen are ranked in the top-12, led by No. 1 Andrew Wiggins of Kansas.
Need more evidence that Cal is about to embark on one of the nation’s most rigorous schedules?
The USA Today’s coaches poll was released Thursday, and Cal faces three teams ranked in the top four and seven in the top-25.
Previously, Phil Steele ranked Cal’s schedule the nation’s third-toughest and The Sporting News placed it as No. 4.
Here’s how the gauntlet unfolds:
— Aug. 31: vs. No. 22 Northwestern
— Sept. 14 vs. No. 2 Ohio State
— Sept. 28 at No. 3 Oregon
— Oct. 12 at No. 21 UCLA
— Oct. 19 vs. No. 25 Oregon State
— Nov. 9 vs. No. 24 USC
— Nov. 23 at No. 4 Stanford