The Stanford men’s basketball team learned that it had earned its first NCAA Tournament bid since the 2007-08 season when the official 2014 bracket was released as part of Selection Sunday on CBS. The Cardinal (21-12, 10-8 Pac-12) received a No. 10 seed in the South Region and are slated to play the seventh-seeded New Mexico Lobos (27-6, 15-3 Mountain West) in St. Louis this Friday, March 21, in the teams’ tournament opener. The winner will advance to play on March 23 against the winner of the game between No. 2 seed Kansas and No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky.
The bid will mark the Cardinal’s 17th appearance in the NCAA Tournament in school history. Stanford has a 21-15 all-time record in the tournament, which includes a national championship in 1942 and a Final Four appearance in 1998.
“Well I think for my staff, my team, we were all very excited, of course,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins. “It’s been a long time coming for us. I thought our kids really responded, especially our senior class. We talked about leaving our legacy and we wanted to be the team to get us back to the tournament. And they’ve done that, and that’s what it’s about. It’s about accomplishing, it’s about lasting memories, and they’ll have this for the rest of their lives.”
The Cardinal earned the bid by way of five victories against RPI top-50 opponents, a shared third-place finish in the Pac-12 standings and a semifinal appearance in the Pac-12 tournament. Stanford tallied a 6-9 record against teams in the NCAA Tournament field, including road wins over Connecticut and Oregon and home wins over UCLA and Arizona State. The Cardinal also pushed top-seeded Arizona and No. 2 seed Michigan to the brink in a pair of 3-point losses earlier this season.
The invitation to the tournament may have saved Dawkins’ job, given that this will be the team’s first tournament appearance during his six-year tenure as head coach. When asked about the talk that has surrounded him this season, Dawkins was flatly candid about his approach to his job security.
“You have to have your own expectations, your own beliefs, stay true to the course,” said Dawkins. “And so I’ve always done that. I always laugh when people say, ‘Did you hear that so-and-so said…’ I’m like, ‘No,’ because I really haven’t, because I don’t keep up with it at all.’ I’ve been very fortunate in that way, and I learned it a long time ago.”
Dawkins and his team will now turn their attention to New Mexico, against which Stanford maintains a 2-1 all-time record, with the Cardinal having won the most recent meeting between the two teams on Nov. 17, 2001 in Albuquerque, N.M. The two programs have never matched up in postseason play.
The Lobos, led by first-year head coach Craig Neal, earned an automatic bid to the tournament by winning the Mountain West Conference tournament. New Mexico entered the week ranked No. 20 in both the AP and Coaches’ Polls, and has a 4-4 record this season against teams in the tournament field. Those wins include two triumphs over Mountain West Conference regular season champion San Diego State and a home victory over Cincinnati.
Stanford returns to the state of Missouri for the fourth time in the program’s tournament history, a good omen for Cardinal fans everywhere. Stanford is 6-1 in seven NCAA Tournament games in the Show Me State, including all three of its victories to capture the national championship in Kansas City in 1942, and regional semifinal and final victories in St. Louis en route to the Final Four in 1998. The Cardinal’s lone loss postseason loss in Missouri was a second-round defeat to top seed Kansas in 2002.
Stanford and New Mexico will tip off at 10:40 a.m. on Friday in St. Louis.
Contact Daniel E. Lupin at delupin ‘at’ stanford.edu.