|If Stanford is going to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2007-08 season, it will need a big season from sophomore G Chasson Randle. (US Presswire)|
Preview: Stanford Cardinal
Last year: 26-11 overall, 10-8 Pac-12 (7th), NIT Champions
Coach: Johnny Dawkins, (fifth year, 75-59; fifth year overall 75-59)
Projected starters: G Aaron Bright, Jr. (11.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 3.7 apg) G Chasson Randle, So. (13.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.1 apg); G/F Anthony Brown, Jr. (8.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 apg); F Josh Huestis, Jr. (5.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.2 bpg); F Dwight Powell, Jr. (5.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.7 apg).
Top newcomers: Grant Verhoeven, Fr. You can never have too many big bodies, and that's exactly what Verhoeven is. The 6-9, 240-pound freshman should see plenty of playing time this season, especially considering the Cardinal lost their best big man in 6-8, 240-pound F Josh Owens. And let's not forget about freshman F Rosco Allen, who could also contribute right away.
Key loss: Josh Owens. Owens was the team's leading rebounder and second leading scorer last season, but Stanford should have the depth to make up for his loss. Huestis will need to step up underneath and turn into the team's rebounding leader. Also, any contributions the Cardinal get from Verhoeven and Allen will help negate the loss of Owens.
What you need to know: If you're looking for a dark horse to win the Pac-12 this season, look no further than Stanford. The Cardinals return five of their six leading scorers, four of their top five leading rebounders and their top five 3-point shooters from last season. This is a team that's high on experience, low on egos and you can bet coach Johnny Dawkins has high expectations for his veteran-heavy group.
Mark the calendar:
- Nov. 22 vs. No. 15 Missouri: The Cardinal are going to find out quickly just how good they are when they take on the Tigers at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. If they win this game, there's a good chance they'll meet up with No. 2 Louisville one night later.
- Dec. 18 at No. 6 North Carolina State: The Wolfpack will be looking for revenge in this game. Stanford knocked off NC State 76-72 in Palo Alto last season. Bright, Brown and Randle combined for 45 points in that win.
- March 6 at Cal: Not only is this game the regular-season finale, it's on the road against the Cardinal's biggest rival. There's also a chance that a Pac-12 tournament bye could be on the line. Only the top four teams get a bye; Cal and Stanford were picked to finish No. 3 and No. 4 in the preseason media poll.
Biggest question: Can Chasson Randle avoid a sophomore slump? Randle was one of the biggest surprises of the Pac-12 last season as a freshman, averaging a team-high 13.8 ppg and 2.1 apg, which was second on the team. While Bright is good, Randle is the guard who makes the team go. If there's one player Stanford can't afford to have a letdown season, it's Randle.
Best-case scenario: With five of its six leading scorers returning, Stanford's going to be one of the most experienced teams in the Pac-12. Thanks to the schedule rotation, the Cardinal only have to play Arizona once, plus they don't have to travel to Washington. If the cards fall right, this team could win 13 or 14 games in the conference and win the Pac-12 regular season title.
Worst-case scenario: Stanford has too many veterans to have a complete collapse, so don't look for the Cardinal to finish in the bottom third of the Pac-12. The conference schedule will be tough in January -- at UCLA, vs. Cal, vs. Washington, at Colorado -- and if Stanford struggles through that gauntlet, it could finish sixth or seventh in the Pac-12 and be headed to the NIT for the second straight year.
Reality: Dawkins has his best team since arriving in Palo Alto before the 2008-09 season. After winning the postseason NIT in March, anything less than an NCAA tournament berth would be a disappointment for this group.
Season opens: vs. San Francisco at Oakland, Nov. 9, 11 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)