Cal men's basketball schedule released: What to look for

Ben Parker, Golden Bear Report
Golden Bear Report
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CalBears.com

On Tuesday, the 2017-18 Cal men’s basketball schedule was released in full. For the full schedule release, click here.

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Non-Conference Standout Games

In the early going, the first thing that really jumps out is the Maui Invitational, in which Cal will play three games in three days in Maui (November 20-22). This will be the first real test of the season for this young Golden Bears team, as they will take on Wichita State, who has made the NCAA Tournament every season since 2014. The Shockers will serve as an early barometer for where this Cal team is at.

Before looking ahead to Pac-12 play, there are two additional non-conference games that stand out on the schedule. The first being a home game against St. Mary’s on Saturday, December 2 and the second being a road game at San Diego State on Saturday, December 9.

The game against St. Mary’s holds special significance, as it is a battle for East Bay bragging rights. Cal and St. Mary’s renewed their rivalry back in 2015 (Cal won 63-59) and have since scheduled three more games for the future, two of which will be in Berkeley. The rivalry is something that's been called for for years by Bay Area basketball fans and gives both schools a quality out of conference opponent.

As for San Diego State, they have proven to be a quality out of conference opponent as well, defeating Cal 77-65 last season at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. They come in with a new coach, after Steve Fisher retired during the offseason, but given that this is an away game in a hostile environment, this is arguably the toughest game Cal has prior to Pac-12 play.

Pac-12 Play

Moving along to the Pac-12 portion of Cal’s schedule, the Golden Bears begin Pac-12 play in enemy territory at Stanford on Saturday, December 30th. The Cardinal project to be a solid team with a talented freshman class coming in (12th ranked recruiting class) and a solid veteran core returning. Given the nature of rivalry games and Cal’s recent struggles at Stanford, this will be a game where Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh will have to step up and lead in order for Cal to come away victorious, because they come back across the Bay to a big challenge

After facing off against Stanford, Cal will have a two game home stand against USC and UCLA on January 4th and 6th. Last season, USC and UCLA did not make the trip up to the Bay Area, due to the scheduling quirks of the 18 game Pac-12 slate. Both USC and UCLA project to be difficult this season, with UCLA bringing in the 6th ranked recruiting class and USC being a dark-horse Final Four pick.

After a week away from Berkeley to face Washington and Washington State, Cal will take on Arizona and Arizona State at home on January 17th and 20th. The Arizona game is always the big game of the year at Haas Pavilion and is certain to be the biggest game of the year for Cal up until that point. Haas Pavilion hasn’t exactly been the easiest place for any school to pick up a win during the past few years and that includes Arizona. While beating the Wildcats will be a tall order, history tells us this could be another close game. That all boils down to how the young Bears have gelled by this point.

As for the game against Arizona State, this often feels like the forgotten game of the season since there is so much hype on beating Arizona. What will make this game fun is the Jason Kidd bobblehead giveaway.

The next two weeks feature a road trip to UCLA and USC and a home stand against Oregon and Oregon State. Out of those four games, I’m probably most curious about the Oregon State game given how much the Beavers struggled last season. They return Tres Tinkle along with adding Ethan Thompson. That will be a game Cal has to get since the other three games in this stretch will not be easy.

Following the home stand against the Oregon schools, Cal will travel to the Rocky Mountains to face Utah and Colorado on February 7th and 10th. The Rocky Mountain schools will not come to the Bay Area this season, so this will be the lone time that Cal faces off against each school in the regular season. The trip to the Rockies has always proven to be tough for Cal given the altitude, crowd, and quality of opponent. If Cal is able to pull out a win at either Utah or Colorado, that would show the progression of Wyking Jones' squad.

The remaining five games for Cal involve a home game against Stanford on February 18th followed by a home stand against the Washington schools and a road trip to the Arizona schools. Given the difficulty of the road trip to the desert, Cal will need to win their three remaining home games. Fortunately for Cal, this is a pretty nice three game home stand. They’ve split their season series with Stanford the last two seasons, winning both of their games at home. As for the Washington schools, Cal won’t find a more winnable pair of games than those two.

While the non-conference schedule isn’t too intimidating, the Pac-12 schedule should prove to be a real challenge for this young Golden Bears team. In order for them to weather the storm and find success, the upperclassmen on this team will need to shoulder a lot of the responsibility. Marcus Lee in particular will be asked to step up. In a lot of ways he’s been waiting for this kind of opportunity his whole career and now that it’s finally coming, it will be up to him to come up big and really deliver.

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