Hello University of California Basketball fans. This will be a quick synopsis of the 2015-2016 season as well as a discussion of major events and topics that helped shape the season for the Golden Bears, which led to a Round of 64 exit thanks to the play of The University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
Cal’s season started before games were played. The Golden Bears were fortunate enough to have two top high school recruits join the roster led by Coach Cuonzo Martin. These two players were Jaylen Brown out of Marietta, GA and Ivan Rabb from Oakland, CA. Both athletes were seen as huge recruits, which is why most experts were shocked that both Brown and Rabb turned down major college basketball programs to join a Cal team that had not made the Big Dance since 2013. Nonetheless, the two young men were up for the challenge and with a steady dose of experience from players like Tyrone Wallace, the Bears were heavy favorites to get into, and possibly make some noise in, the tournament.
The Golden Bears cracked the preseason AP Coaches Poll as the 14th best team in the country, hitting their peak at number 13 in the early weeks and were looking to make headway in the regular Pac-12 season. Cal finished in 3rd place in the Pac-12 and made it as far as the Semifinals of the conference tournament and then suffered a narrow defeat to Utah. Even though the loss affected their overall tournament stock, the question was not whether the Bears would make it in the tournament, but rather how high would they would be seeded.
After all tournaments had ended, decision day loomed large for Coach Martin and company. The Golden Bears were given a 4 seed, much to the chagrin of most college basketball analysts, and were paired against The University of Hawaii in the Round of 64. The matchup seemed favorable, considering the Bears roster heralded two First Team Pac-12 All Freshman Team members in Brown and Rabb, as well as an Honorable Mention nominee in Tyrone Wallace, who was the Golden Bears leading scorer for the season. In addition to a subpar lineup, the Rainbow Warriors had never recorded an NCAA tournament victory.
And then disaster struck.
Leading scorer, Tyrone Wallace suffered a fractured right hand during a practice two days before their first round matchup. Jabari Bird went down with a slew of back spasms. The injury bug hit the Bears hard and it was going to take a whole team effort to beat Hawaii, even though Cal was still a huge favorite going into their tourney opener.
Throughout the game, it seemed that the Rainbow Warriors were in complete control of the Bears by exploiting their weaknesses. Jaylen Brown got into early foul trouble. Scoring became an issue because of the huge hole left by Wallace’s injury, and frankly, Cal was not as motivated as Hawaii, who again were looking for their first ever tourney win.
While the season ended abruptly in the Round of 64, the season as a whole was a success as they obtained their major goal of making the tournament. However, Cal’s success could be short lived for two reasons.
- Freshman Jaylen Brown has declared for the 2016 NBA Draft and is seen by scouts as a high lottery pick. With the loss of Brown, the Cal recruitment staff will have to work their charm when talking to incoming freshmen to join the Cal program and work to reach the tournament once again.
- Leading scorer Tyrone Wallace has graduated. This loss will loom large until a scorer like Wallace steps up to propel the team next year. Wallace was also seen as a mentor to the team as he had the most experience of any player on the roster. Whether it be a collective effort or a player stepping up to take the reigns of the team, there will be a void to fill for next year.
However, next year looks to be promising with Ivan Rabb returning for his sophomore year as well as having Columbia transfer Grant Mullins come in and possibly provide a spark for Coach Martin and the Bears. Expect big things from the 2016-2017 Golden Bears and hopefully they won’t have the injury bug hit them in such a crucial moment next year.