CAL Last Season: 24-10 (13-5), Lost in Play-In Game in NCAA Tournament. Who’s Back? Arguably the best backcourt in the Pac-12 in Allen Crabbe (15.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Justin Cobbs (12.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.0 apg). That alone gives you a nice building block, but they’re also getting junior big man Richard Solomon (6.0 points, 6.2 rebounds a game) back after he sat out the second half of the season with an academic suspension. While Solomon was out, the Bears got some decent play from sophomore David Kravish and senior Robert Thurman. If those guys can improve upon last season’s numbers, the Bears will have a decent frontcourt rotation. Along with all of that, the Bears return arguably the best coach in the Pac-12 in Mike Montgomery. You can never count a Monty team out. Who’s Gone? Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (ha!) Jorge Gutierrez. As much **** as Guti got from everyone, the simple fact was he was a damn good player for the Bears who meant more to the team than just his 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists a game. His leadership is going to be missed, and could be a big question for the Bears this year. Along with Guti, they also lose forward Harper Kamp and his 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. Who’s New? Two new faces are known to Buffs fans. The Bears landed top 100 guard Ty Wallace and his explosiveness should be a huge benefit to the bench this year. He’s big enough to play the two, but can also play the point at times, so I expect him to get quality minutes (even if Brandon Smith gets a majority of the backup PG duties). He is going to be a pain in Colorado’s side for the next four years. The other face that might be familiar to Buff fans is Mizzou transfer Ricky Kreklow. The 6-foot-6 wing could actually end up starting for the Bears. He’s a solid outside shooter who can body up on more physical forwards if he needs to, and will probably be fighting with forward Kahlil Johnson for the last starting spot. Johnson is a freshman this year who can hit the outside shot and can play multiple positions on the floor. Best Case Scenario: The backcourt is as good as expected, and the frontcourt finally lives up to expectations. That combines with the fact that Monty is one of the top coaches in the conference, and he leads them to a top three finish in the Pac-12 where they get a favorable draw and end up in the Sweet 16. Flukes is seen running naked in jubilation through the streets of Berkeley after the Bears win over Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament (this last part might belong in the worst case scenario actually…). Worst Case Scenario: No one in the frontcourt steps up, and the Bears struggle all season against bigger teams. The biggest insult comes when Stanford comes to Berkeley and sends out a lineup with four centers in it and beats the Bears by 32 points despite not attempting one shot outside of five feet from the hoop. Monty retires, and Flukes is seen running naked in despair through the streets of Berkeley after the Bears lose to Northern Idaho in the first round of the CBI. JGIsland’s Stat You Should Know: Mike Montgomery may be a lot of things, but you aren’t likely to find him at the card tables in Vegas, as the man simply does not allow his team to gamble on defense. Under his tutelage in Berkeley they have been in the bottom 4th in steal percentage, never averaging a steal on more than 8.3% of possessions. PacHoops’ Take: I want to see Allen Crabbe get cutthroat. Like get Jorge Gutierrez selfish with the basketball but be successful. This is undoubtedly his team and I want him to assert the hell out of that. He’s good enough. And there’s enough pieces around that he can do such without being an A-hole. I like Justin Cobbs and if Richard Solomon can stay eligible, Cal has a formidable small, medium, and large. Beyond those three, I’m not sure there’s a ton to see outside of a Hall of Famer on the bench. Wait, that’s probably exactly what people are seeing as they predict Cal well into the upper half of the conference because Mike Montgomery can flat out coach. Goose’s Pick: 6th in the Pac-12, NIT. STANFORD Last Season: 26-11 (10-8), NIT Champions. Who’s Back? If you’re going to discuss Stanford, you have to start with one of the more underrated players in the nation in sophomore guard Chasson Randle (13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds per game). Randle was able to add 2.1 assists a game last year along with 43.8% shooting from behind the arc – numbers that make him a bit of a darkhorse for Pac-12 Player of the Year. Joining him in the backcourt is tiny PG Aaron Bright who was named the NIT MVP. Bright averaged 11.7 points and 3.7 assists a game last year while compiling a 1.6:1 assist to turnover ratio. The biggest question for the Cardinal is if coach Johnny Dawkins can finally get Dwight Powell to live up to his potential after only scoring 5.8 points and 4.6 rebounds a game last year. If Powell can return to the level of play he had when he was named to the All-Pac-12 Freshman team, Stanford will be very dangerous. Who’s Gone? Josh Owens has graduated. While he will be missed by the Cardinal, they have the depth up front that they should be able to overcome his loss. Other than Owens, they return all of their top six scorers from last season. Who’s New? Three guys who CU were after in recruiting – Rosco Allen, Grant Verhoeven and Christian Sanders. All fill important roles. Allen is an explosive scorer who played with top recruit Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA) and Ben Carter (Oregon) in high school. He needs to work on his defense, but with his offensive ability, he’ll get playing time. Verhoeven is a classic big man who may not get many minutes this season due to Stanford’s depth, but should be a pain in CU’s side for the next four years. Sanders was one of the best shooters in the high school ranks last year and has a high basketball IQ, so he’ll get minutes off of the bench for the Cardinal this season. Best Case Scenario: Dawkins finally gets it. The man who learned from Coach K finally starts to coach like him, and the Cardinal use their size to dominate the Pac-12. With UCLA dealing with eligibility issues, and Arizona struggling with inexperience, the Cardinal take advantage and win the Pac-12 and go on a run to the Sweet 16 before bowing out to Kentucky. The joy of such a great season causes Dawkins to smile briefly, before insisting to witnesses that it was a seizure. Worst Case Scenario: Dawkins proves to be exactly the coach that many think he is, and the Cardinal never find a groove. Despite having a plethora of big men inside, Dawkins insists on playing on the perimeter, allowing teams to swarm Randle, leading him inefficient. The Cardinal struggle, end up getting eliminated early in the NIT and fire Dawkins. JGIsland’s Stat You Should Know: The Buff’s kryptonite had one of the best defenses in the country last year (19th), holding opposing teams to an adjusted defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 90.6 (average was 101.4). If they can keep that up they should be able to stay in a lot of games. PacHoops’ Take: This is the team to watch. We pretty much know what we’re getting in Tucson and Westwood and have already addressed the interesting anomaly that is USC hoops this season; but Stanford is going to be fascinating. Chasson Randle can absolutely play and if you don’t throw your remote at least once this season and scream, “AARON BRIGHT?!?!” then you probably control your TV by iPad or voice command and have no remote to throw because the dude is going to f-r-u-s-t-r-a-t-e teams. The smileless wonder (Coach Johnny Dawkins) has his essential crop of roll fillers but now needs the big likes of Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, and Anthony Brown to emerge. Of that crew, Powell has the brightest upside. He’s athletic and healthy and has the added benefit of a successful NIT run to simply log minutes. I’m telling you watch out for these guys. Goose’s Pick: 2nd in the Pac-12, One & Done in NCAA.