The Stanford men’s basketball team will open its season tonight at home against the Bucknell Bison of the Patriot League, as the Cardinal looks for its fourth consecutive win in season openers.
Stanford, which is seeking to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2007-08 season, hopes to commence its nonconference slate with a strong showing against a quality opponent. The Cardinal features a roster that returns 84 percent of its minutes played from last season and used 88 percent of the team’s offensive possessions, most in the conference and amongst the highest in all of Division I.
As a result, this year’s team is experienced, talented and deep. The Cardinal roster includes eight seniors, four of them starters. The group of veterans is led by all-Pac-12 forward Dwight Powell, who led the team in scoring a season ago with 14.9 points per game and should spend much of the season impressing NBA scouts this year. He’s long, athletic and skilled, and can shoot it out to the 3-point line.
Powell will be joined in Stanford’s frontcourt by fellow seniors 6-foot-7 Josh Huestis, a preseason frontrunner for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and 6-foot-11 Stefan Nastic. Huestis, who averaged 10.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last year, led the team in total rebounding and blocked shots a season ago and finished fourth and third in those categories, respectively, in the Pac-12. Nastic, who averaged 2.0 points and 1.9 rebounds in more limited playing time last season, impressed the coaching staff enough to earn the starting job going into the 2013-14.
“[Nastic] has done a really good job of being big for us, finishing well around the basket and rebounding the basketball,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins. “Those are some of things he’s been doing well for us here in the fall, really finishing plays and providing a big lift to our team.”
The last of Stanford’s starting seniors is guard Anthony Brown, who returns after missing most of last season with a hip injury. Averaging better than eight points per game for his career, Brown has looked ready to become a big-time contributor in the preseason, as he scored 14 points in the team’s exhibition win against Seattle Pacific on Saturday. He should bring an added scoring punch and improved perimeter defense this season for the Cardinal.
Rounding out the Cardinal’s starting lineup is junior guard Chasson Randle, who was recently profiled by ESPN’s Andy Katz as a “man on a mission” this season. The last player cut from this summer’s USA World University Games roster, Randle has been phenomenal in the preseason, including a 37-point outburst against Seattle Pacific. He was Stanford’s leading scorer two years ago as a freshman, and finished second behind Powell last year with an average of 13.6 points per game. Another step forward by Randle this year could have big ramifications for Stanford’s prospects this season.
Stanford’s bench is also full of seniors who are ready to contribute, particularly guard Aaron Bright and forward John Gage.
If the names sound familiar, they should. Bright was the 2011-12 National Invitational Tournament MVP for Stanford, led the team in assists each of the past two seasons and has made 54 starts in his Stanford career. Gage, a 6-foot-10 shooter, should continue to get open looks from the perimeter this season with defenses again concentrating on stopping Powell and Randle.
Two other players to watch coming off the bench this season for the Cardinal are freshmen: 6-foot-10 center Schuyler Rimmer and 6-foot-3 guard Marcus Allen, whose twin brother, Malcolm, also joined the squad this season. The freshmen will have to step up in the absence of Stanford’s more experienced sophomores, Christian Sanders and Rosco Allen. Sanders will miss the season after undergoing hip surgery this week, while Allen is out for four to six weeks with a stress fracture.
Against Bucknell, the Cardinal should focus its attention on senior guard Cameron Ayers, who is one of only two returning starters from last year’s 28-win team. The Bison will be looking to replace the production of the recently graduated Mike Muscala, who was last year’s Patriot League Player of the Year.
Tip-off is tonight at 7 p.m. at Maples Pavilion, where free t-shirts will be given to the first 1,500 students.
Contact Daniel E. Lupin at delupin ‘at’ stanford.edu.