On Thursday, the Pac-12 men’s basketball schedule pairings were released for the 2017-18 season. With the quirks of the 18 game schedule, the Bears will get Utah and Colorado just once on the road and the Oregon schools just once at home. In another quirk, the Bears open Pac-12 play against Stanford in an early rivalry game.
December 27-31-At Stanford: Cal begins Pac-12 play on the road against the rival Stanford Cardinal. Stanford is emerging into a quality program with the commitments of Daejon Davis and Oscar Da Silva to join a core consisting of Reid Travis, Dorian Pickens, and Michael Humphrey.
Marcus Lee will be expected to take on Travis in the post while Darius McNeill will get the opportunity to take on another freshman starting point guard in Davis. A road game against the Cardinal will be an early test of as to how ready this young Golden Bears team is for Pac-12 play.
January 3-7-Vs. UCLA & USC: Last season, the Los Angeles schools did not make the trip up to the Bay Area, but next season, they’ll be the first Pac-12 schools to do so. UCLA projects to once again be very tough, replenishing with two 5-stars in small forward Kris Wilkes and point guard Jaylen Hands. In addition, Golden Bears fans will get a close look at Li’Angelo Ball, the middle Ball brother.
As for USC, they too project to be tough, bringing in two 4-star freshmen in Charles O’Bannon, Jr. and Jordan Usher. Led by junior forward Bennie Boatwright and senior point guard Jordan McLaughlin, the Trojans possess lots of talent, with junior power forward Chimezie Metu, senior shooting guard Elijah Stewart, and junior point guard Derryck Thornton also possessing NBA potential.
January 10-14-At Washington & Washington State: After a battle at home against their Southern California rivals, the Golden Bears will hop on a flight to the Pacific Norwest to take on the Washington schools. It will actually be the Bears’ second trip to the region after taking on Seattle in non-conference play.
If Cal wants to get some road wins under their belt, this looks like the road trip to do so. Washington has a couple of 4-stars on board for 2017 in shooting guard Jaylen Nowell and power forward Hameir Wright. The Huskies will have some talent, but they still are looking like a road win the Golden Bears can steal.
As for Washington State, they don’t have any 4-stars coming in for 2017 and to make things worse, their top player from last season, Josh Hawkinson, has graduated. This game marks one of Cal's best chances to win an early Pac-12 road contest.
January 17-21-Vs. Arizona & Arizona State: Every year, the home game against Arizona is the big game of the year, typically accompanied by a “Gold Out Haas.” Arizona once again will bring in a talented freshman class to Haas Pavilion, consisting of two 5-stars in DeAndre Ayton and Emmanuel Akot and three 4-stars in Ira Lee, Brandon Randolph, and Alex Barcello.
As for Arizona State, they too have solid talent returning. They have a couple of incoming 4-stars in Kimani Lawrence and Remy Martin to join a lineup that will be led by point guard Tra Holder. Like every year, the Sun Devils won’t be a team you’ll want to sleep on. That being said, Bobby Hurley is a lifetime 0-5 against Cal as a player and coach. Will that streak continue?
January 24-28-At UCLA & USC: After hosting the Arizona schools, Cal will travel to Los Angeles to take on UCLA and USC. Last season, Cal got the split in Los Angeles, getting a one-point win at USC. If Cal could find the same success, for a second consecutive season, that would be huge.
January 31-February 4-Vs. Oregon & Oregon State: After a difficult road trip to Los Angeles, Cal will host the Oregon schools. Oregon lost Jordan Bell, Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, and Chris Boucher to the NBA, but they did a good job replenishing, landing 5-star point guard Troy Brown, Jr., 4-star small forward Abu Kigab, and 4-star shooting guard Victor Bailey. The Ducks as always will be a tough opponent to face, as Dana Altman has been excellent as the head man at Oregon.
As for Oregon State, they’re coming off of a rough season, but return a number of players who contributed a year ago. They went 5-27 overall last season and 1-17 in the Pac-12. Their top incoming player is Ethan Thompson, a 4-star shooting guard from Bishop Montgomery in Gardena. If Thompson lives up to the hype and if Tres Tinkle stays healthy, the Beavers could be better than expected.
February 7-11-At Colorado & Utah: Cal will only face the Rocky Mountain schools once this year and it will be on the road. Due to the altitude and energetic fan bases, the Rocky Mountain trip is arguably the toughest trip in the Pac-12.
Colorado lost a lot of their top players with Wesley Gordon, Xavier Johnson, and Derrick White all graduating. However, they have three 4-star recruits (D’shawn Schwartz, Tyler Bey, and Evan Battey) coming in to replace them.
As for Utah, the main guy they are losing is Kyle Kuzma, who left a year early for the NBA. Sophomore center Jayce Johnson should take on an expanded role for the Utes this season and become much more of a focal point of their offense. The Utes also have a solid recruiting class coming in with 4-star center Branden Carlson, 3-star point guard Christian PoPoola, 3-star small forward Donnie Tillman, and 3-star shooting guard Jaxon Brenchley.
February 14-18-Vs. Stanford: After a tough road trip to the Rockies, Cal will come home to host rival Stanford. As of late, both schools have held serve against the other. Cal will be pretty battle tested at this point of the season and will also have already seen the Cardinal once earlier in the season.
February 21-25-Vs. Washington & Washington State: After facing Stanford at home, Cal will host both the Washington schools. Given how I like Cal’s chances to steal a couple of wins on the road against these schools, I also like their odds to hold serve when they come to town.
February 28-March 3-At Arizona & Arizona State: While the Rocky Mountain trip is the toughest trip in the Pac-12, the trip to the desert is a close second. Arizona is always a tough place to win due to their passionate fans and their quality teams. Cal’s last win at Arizona was February 10, 2013, a game Cal won by a final score of 77-69. Since that game, it’s been one way traffic for the Wildcats when they are hosting Cal. Arizona State is also a difficult team to face on the road. They have that curtain of distraction going (though it didn't help during Cal's last visit) and in general, they play tough at home. This is not an easy way for Cal to close out Pac-12 play.
Like every year, the Pac-12 poses a lot of challenges. In order for Cal to weather the storm, seniors Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh will really need to carry the load on both ends of the floor. While this doesn’t project to be an easy season for Cal, the good news is that they have some veteran leadership and a staff that can instill belief in their players, along with giving a young group some early playing time.