Murray St.-California Preview

BY foxsports • November 9, 2009

Last season, California reached its first NCAA tournament in three years. In 2009-10, coach Mike Montgomery's team appears primed to make a run even deeper into March. Armed with four returning starters and their highest preseason ranking since Jason Kidd manned the point in Berkeley, the No. 13 Golden Bears open the new season Monday night with a home matchup against Murray State as part of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. Cal finished 22-11 and tied for third in the Pac-10 in 2008-09, earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament before falling 84-71 to Maryland in the first round. Four of the starters are back from that club, including the senior backcourt combination of Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher - both first-team All-Pac-10 selections last season. As a result, the Golden Bears have been picked for the first time since 1993-94 to win the conference, and have garnered their highest preseason ranking since that same year. Montgomery likes his team, but is quick to downplay the preseason accolades. "They're never right, those things are based on formulas," he said. "We've got a lot of people back, and we had a decent season last year, surprised some people. Generally speaking, I hope they're right - that it works out that way." Randle (18.3 points per game in 2008-09) and Christopher (14.5) are both on the Naismith Trophy watch list, and Randle is listed as a candidate for the Wooden Award. Randle made a team-high 82 3-point field goals last season and Christopher added 48 for a Golden Bears team that led the nation with a 42.7 shooting percentage from beyond the arc - also the best in school history. While the perimeter game will almost certainly be a strength again, the interior is more of a question mark. "We've got some issues inside right now that we haven't solved," said Montgomery, whose tallest starters - senior Jamal Boykin and junior college transfer Markhuri Sanders-Frison - are both 6-foot-8. "We're not very big for one thing. We've got to establish an inside game somehow, then we're going to work really hard defensively to be effective." The Golden Bears' first test will be the Racers, who may be little-known but are unlikely to be pushovers. Murray State was selected as a preseason co-favorite along with Morehead State to win the Ohio Valley Conference, and has two wins in five meetings with Pac-10 opponents. The Racers have never faced Cal. "They've got really good athletes," Montgomery said. "They really know how to play and they're very confident, so it's a little bit scary from the standpoint of not many people have heard about Murray State, but their team is very capable." Murray State finished 19-12 in 2008-09, and returns the three top scorers from that club - senior forward Danero Thomas (12.5 ppg), junior guard Isacc Miles (10.6), and 6-foot-7 Ivan Aska (10.3), the reigning OVC Freshman of the Year. Racers coach Billy Kennedy was an assistant with the Golden Bears from 1993-97, during which he coached both Kidd and former Cal standout Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Abdur-Rahim's brother Amir is now an assistant under Kennedy.