If Cal is going to win the depleted Pac-12 and land an NCAA tournament bid for the second time in three seasons, the Bears will have to do it with an undermanned frontcourt.
Richard Solomon, Cal's leading rebounder, has been ruled academically ineligible and will miss the remainder of the basketball season. The 6-foot-10 sophomore had been averaging 6.0 points and 6.2 rebounds during an up-and-down season.
What makes the loss of Solomon damaging for Cal is that the Bears already lacked proven depth in their frontcourt. Cal will have trouble replacing Solomon's rebounding, interior defense and ability to get to the foul line.
Six-foot-8 Harper Kamp is Cal's most dependable interior scorer, but the senior forward's balky knees make it no guarantee he'll hold up the whole season. Six-foot-9 David Kravish has exceeded expectations as a freshman, but now the Bears will need him to defend opposing centers more frequently. And even if those two remain healthy, neither is a true center and the only options behind them are Robert Thurman and Bak Bak, neither of whom have shown much promise in limited minutes.
The perimeter trio of Jorge Gutierrez, Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs are the main reason Cal (15-4, 5-1) has assumed the role of Pac-12 favorite at this stage, but the Bears still will need their frontcourt to defend the paint and shoulder some of the scoring burden. Cal went 4-2 without Solomon earlier this season while he missed time due to a suspension and a stress fracture in his foot, falling to UNLV and San Diego State but defeating UCLA, USC, San Jose State and UC Santa Barbara.
The first test for Cal without Solomon will come Thursday night at Washington, which has clobbered the Bears in Seattle the past two seasons. It's an opportunity for Cal to send a message that the Pac-12 is still its to lose ... or for the Huskies to further throw the struggling Pac-12 into chaos.