2020-21 Cal Men's Basketball Preview: The Roster
Can a group of youngsters augmented by a few key graduate transfers keep Cal's rebuild moving in the right direction?
Thanks in part to the overlap between the beginning of the football season and what counts for a basketball pre-season, and thanks in part to not knowing when the season would start until a few days ago, we haven’t really been able to devote the time we would like to previewing the upcoming basketball season. Meanwhile, the season opener on Wednesday is already in serious doubt. Still, we’re clearly going to get basketball soon - here’s a quick spin through the roster so you know what to expect.
Point Guard: Nobody is allowed to miss a game
Projected Starter: Sophomore Joel Brown
Depth: Senior grad transfer Makale Foreman
Cal entered the off-season with just one point guard on the roster, and a major focus in recruiting was trying to get more. The result was securing the transfers of Makale Foreman and Jared Hyder. But because the NCAA is a stupid organization, Jared Hyder is the only person on the planet not granted a transfer waiver by the NCAA and will be sitting out the season.
That leaves Brown and Foreman to shoulder the load. Brown immediately stepped into last year’s lineup as a solid, maybe even plus, defender. The question is whether or not his offensive game can develop, because his shooting and ball control were concerning. You would expect his turnover rate to decline as a sophomore, but whether or not he can ever shoot well enough is an open question.
Enter Makale Foreman, who is very much a shoot first point guard. Considering how much the ball was in his hand, two assists/game is a relatively paltry return. But he can shoot - specifically, he’s a career 37% shooter from deep on a robust 529 attempts. He’s a gunner who’s not afraid to take and make a 3 off the dribble, something Cal’s offense badly needs.
Because he’s not really a distributor, I wouldn’t be surprised if Foreman spends some time playing off the ball with Brown on the court. Foreman isn’t a pure 3-and-D guard, he can get to the bucket a bit, but he’s not nearly as efficient doing that as he is when he’s putting up 3 pointers.
And, obviously: There’s nobody else on the roster who even looks like a combo guard. If either one of these players gets injured or gets COVID, Cal’s in a world of hurt. The remaining player would have to play virtually the entire game, or else somebody like Matt Bradley would have to initiate the offense.
Wings: How good can Matt Bradley be?
Projected Starters: Matt Bradley, Makale Foreman
Depth: Ryan Betley, Kuany Kuany, Jalen Celestine, Monty Bowser, Dimitrios Klonaras
That Matt Bradley will be Cal’s best player, an all-conference first team selection, is pretty much taken for granted. Such was his sophomore season, when he scored 17.5 points/game with 48%/38%/87% shooting splits. Those numbers were accomplished in a slow down offense surrounded largely by inexperienced players without a true pass-first point guard.
There’s reason to think that this year could be even better. Beyond potential off-season improvement from Bradley himself, the additions of Foreman and Ryan Betley adds two shooters to the floor to create more space for Bradley to operate. Regardless, Bradley will enter the season as the obvious go-to-guy for the Bears, and he’ll take the bulk of the competitive minutes at one spot on the wing.
The other slot will likely be shared between Foreman when he plays off-ball, Betley, and perhaps Cal’s freshmen Jalen Celestine and Monty Bowser.
Betley himself wasn’t a pure 3-and-D guy at Penn, though my guess is that his role will mainly be as a 3 point gunner at Cal. Still, he’s a career 51% shooter from inside the arc in addition to his 38% mark from distance, so we can’t dismiss the possibility that he can get to the bucket. We’ll see how well that translates from the Ivy League.
A wild card - Kuany Kuany is listed as a forward on Cal’s roster, but in his limited minutes he was basically a wing, or a stretch 4 similar to how Grant Anticevich played. However you classify him positionally, I’d expect him to be a significant member of the rotation.
Posts: Will there be any 2nd year leaps?
Projected Starters: Grant Anticevich and Andre Kelly
Depth: Lars Thiemann, D.J. Thorpe
Of the four players listed above, Grant Anticevich maybe should be classified differently. As noted above, he played more as a stretch 4 thanks to his ability to hit from deep. Kelly, Thiemann, and Thorpe are all pretty traditional posts, and all three of them will be competing for minutes at center.
Kelly is the leader in the clubhouse for minutes, as he’s the most experienced and efficient interior scorer Cal has. Mark Fox is probably intrigued at the defensive upside that Thiemann and Thorpe might present, but both were very raw offensively. If one or both of them make a 2nd year leap that would go a long way toward making time Kelly rests less of an adventure on the offensive end.
One man’s rough guess at how minutes will be distributed across the roster:
PG: Joel Brown, 25 minutes; Makale Foreman, 15 minutes
Wing: Makale Foreman, 15 minutes; Ryan Betley, 20 minutes, Jalen Celestine 5 minutes
Wing: Matt Bradley, 35 minutes; Monty Bowser 5 minutes
Post/Wing: Grant Anticevich, 30 minutes; Kuany Kuany, 10 minutes
Post: Andre Kelly, 25 minutes; Lars Thiemann/D.J. Thorpe, 15 minutes
Most of the rotation is pretty easy to guess at - Brown, Bradley, Anticevich, and Kelly are locked into rotation roles, and Foreman and Betley should immediately step in along side them. Those 6 players will each play 20+ minutes a game.
The question is how much of a role all of the other 1st and 2nd year players will earn. With a disrupted first off-season of practice and conditioning, will Jalen Celestine and Monty Bowser actually be ready to contribute immediately? Will any of Kuany Kuany, DJ Thorpe, Lars Thiemann, or Dimitrios Klonaras take a 2nd year leap after playing limited minutes last year?
It’s an intriguing collection of players. While I ultimately can’t disagree with Cal’s 10th place spot in the pre-season media poll, this is the first time in three years when I can see reasons why Cal might exceed pre-season expectations. The Bears should be expected to take a step forward defensively in year 2 under Mark Fox. They can throw out a lineup with four shooters and a reasonably efficient interior scorer. I don’t know whether or not some of that upside is maximized, but it’s nice to have any upside at all.
For the first time in three years I’m a little bit intrigued to watch Cal men’s basketball. After the last few years, that’s going to have to be victory enough.