For the next couple nights at least, Stanford (26-11) sits atop the men’s college basketball world, after exterminating the Minnesota Golden Gophers 75-51 to win the NIT championship at the Madison Square Garden Thursday night.
We told you that coach Johnny Dawkins’ Cardinal were legit last November after the near upset over 'Cuse, and again earlier this week. Stanford will return four starters and seven of the first 11 players in Dawkins’ rotation, and is a legit top 25 team for next season.
The Cardinal gathered momentum in March and closed out its season with 10 wins in its final 13 games, including the five-game run to the NIT title. Already ranked 32nd in the latest Pomeroy ratings,
by next week Stanford could move up even further.
The NIT championship win over Tubby Smith’s shell-shocked Gophers saw Stanford overcome a first-half deficit to lead by 31-25 at halftime, roar out of intermission, and never look back. The Cardinal shot a blistering 57 percent from the field in the second half, and led by as many as 30.
The Pac-12 all-freshman guard Chasson Randle and soph PG Aaron Bright (six assists) had 15 points apiece, and 6’6” soph wing Anthony Brown added 11.
Randle just missed tying Todd Lichti’s all time Stanford record for freshman scoring. The sophomore Bright, who more than doubled his points and assists totals from last year, was named the NIT's most outstanding player, and senior PF Josh Owens was named to the all-tournament team.
Randle and Bright are two of the four returning starters, joined by soph forwards 6’9” Dwight Powell and 6’7” Josh Huestis, who, like Bright, more than doubled his freshman output of points and rebounds.
Measured by scoring ability (seven returning players had multiple games in double figures this season), quickness, hops and overall athleticism, Stanford’s returnees match up well with any Cardinal lineup of the past 25 years.
In the weakened Pac-12, that bodes well for the Cardinal to win the conference title and return to the NCAA tournament. Next year can’t come soon enough on the Farm.