Stanford is about to make headlines for something other than Andrew Luck and the football team.
Namely, the Cardinal men’s basketball program, coming off two straight losing seasons for the first time since 1986, is officially relevant again. This after its surprisingly strong runner-up performance in the Preseason NIT at MSG.
Memo to the rest of the Pac-12: Stanford is back.
Coach Johnny Dawkins notched the biggest non-conference win of his Stanford coaching career in the NIT semifinals with a convincing 82-67 victory over Oklahoma State in which the Cardinal led by as many as 28 points in the second half.
Stanford then held an eight-point second half lead over mighty fifth-ranked Syracuse in the final, before succumbing to the 'Cuse full-court press in a 69-63 defeat.
The 5-1 Cardinal now enter the rest of their non-conference schedule with some swagger not seen at Maples Pavilion since the 2007-08 season. With most of the rest of the Pac-12 in varying states of disarray and discombobulation, Stanford is beginning to look like a legitimate Pac-12 title contender.
Coach Dawkins’ roster features some upperclassmen leaders and his prize recruits in the freshman and sophomore classes.
Senior 6’8” F Josh Owens has always had the ability to take over games, as he did in his 21-point performance against Oklahoma State. He is a double-double waiting to happen every night.
Fellow seniors G Jarrett Mann and forwards Jack Trotter and Andrew Zimmerman (he of the best beard in CBB) defend and rebound, and can score, too.
Sophomore G Aaron Bright has been just short of sensational, sporting a new and improved three-point shot and as important, the confidence to take that shot. He scored 15 points against the Cowboys and another 13 against the Orange, and is averaging nearly 14 PPG and four APG.
The dynamic soph forwards Josh Huestis (6’7”) and Dwight Powell (6’9”) join Owens in the frontcourt. Against Syracuse, Huestis had some difficulty with free throws and Powell fouled out, but they could with Owens form the Pac-12’s best frontcourt.
Meanwhile, heralded freshman combo G Chasson Randle, who chose Stanford over Purdue and Illinois, continues to look every bit the part. He scored 12 points against the famed 'Cuse zone defense, after netting 17 points in the win over Oklahoma State.
Yet another star soph is 6’9” sophomore F John Gage. Perhaps the team’s best outside shooter, he was instant offense off the bench against 'Cuse with 10 points in just 12 minutes.
There’s more. Sophomore SG Anthony Brown, spent the summer with the U.S. under-19 team, and has deep shooting range. Finally, RS freshman, 6'11" C Stefan Nastic, is a work in progress with great potential.
All of this adds up to a deep and energetic rotation that will out-rebound most opponents and hold them in the 60s or less. If Randle and the super sophs can become consistent scorers, Stanford will be making a lot of noise in the Pac-12 race.