Heading into this season, expectations are even higher for Stanford’s men’s basketball team that is ranked just outside the top 25 in the preseason polls and is looking to build on last season’s NCAA tournament breakthrough. Tonight, the team opens up its 2014-15 campaign at home against the Wofford Terriers in the Northwestern Mutual Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Here’s a look at some of the storylines heading into this season:
Key Losses from Last Season
The two names that immediately jump out are Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell. Huestis ended his career at Stanford as the all-time leader in blocked shots, while Powell averaged 14.0 points per game last season and was named an All-South Regional Team pick in the NCAA tournament. In addition to Huestis and Powell, three other players who are missing from last year’s team are Aaron Bright, Robbie Lemons and John Gage.
Bright, who dislocated his shoulder early last season and will play for the St. Mary’s Gaels in his final year of eligibility, is probably best remembered for being named the 2012 Most Outstanding Player of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
Lemons, who was a walk-on his freshman year, played a large role for the team off the bench last season, which included hitting the game-clinching free throws against New Mexico in last season’s NCAA Tournament.
Finally, Gage was a reliable three-point threat for the Cardinal who caused mismatches with his size at the “4” position.
When asked about the toughest thing to replace when losing five experienced players, Coach Dawkins summarized it into one main idea: “the experience.”
Who is Back
Despite all of the losses, the team returns three starters from last year’s Sweet 16 team. Senior guard Chasson Randle, who averaged 18.8 ppg last season as the team’s leading scorer, returns to lead this year’s team. Randle has started for Stanford since he arrived on campus, and he has been named to this season’s Cousy Award watch list, the award given to the top male point guard in collegiate basketball.
Joining Randle from last season’s starting five are fifth-year senior guard Anthony Brown and fifth-year senior center Stefan Nastic. Brown, who came back last season from a hip injury that sidelined him two seasons ago for all but four games, did not miss a beat and shot 47.5% from the field last season. In addition, Brown scored 22 points while shooting 8-for-13 from the field in last week’s exhibition against Cal Poly Pomona. Finally, 6-foot-11 Nastic returns as a starter for his final year of eligibility. Nastic, who finished the season with 15 points against Dayton in the Sweet 16, figures to play a prominent role in the Stanford offense this season, especially with the departures of Huestis and Powell down low.
Junior forward Rosco Allen, who took a medical redshirt last season, is projected to start for the team this season. He started seven games two seasons ago as a true freshman, and he hopes to help the team on the boards.
Finally, it will be important to see how players from last season’s freshmen class have progressed. Guard Marcus Allen saw some time off the bench last season for the Cardinal in press situations and proved to be an excellent “on-ball” defender. He displayed some of his improved offensive skills in the exhibition game last week, and this year’s Cardinal team will be looking for offense from wherever it can get it.
Stanford’s recruiting class, which was ranked 16th in the nation by ESPN, figures to play a large role this season as well. Forward Reid Travis, the highest-ranked member of the Cardinal recruiting class, is projected to start for the team this season, and his athleticism is already drawing parallels to Huestis.
Joining Travis as an ESPN top-100 recruit is forward Michael Humphrey, who figures to play an important role for the Cardinal this season in replacing some of the size in the post. In addition, with an early-season injury to junior center Grant Verhoeven, the Cardinal need Humphrey to step in immediately to come off the bench for starters like Nastic.
Rounding out this year’s top-20 recruiting class are guards Robert Cartwright and Dorian Pickens. Cartwright saw some time in the exhibition game last week, and Dawkins spoke after the game about his potential to contribute at the point guard position.
“I see Robbie coming in and contributing…He’s earned it through the games we’ve played so far — the practices and exhibition,” said Dawkins. “He’ll grow into that position [point guard] over time.”
Pickens, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Arizona, comes onto the Farm as the 21st-best shooting guard in the nation and a four-star recruit according to ESPN.
Speaking on all four freshmen, Dawkins said, “We’re going to need them to contribute meaningful minutes, especially the front-line young players. Guys are going to need to step up for us. I think they realize that; they should see it as an amazing opportunity.”
Despite the wealth of talent on the team this season, there figures to be an adjustment period as both freshmen and players who previously did not play much work their way into the system. The exhibition game against Cal Poly Pomona last Thursday, in which the Cardinal held on for a three-point victory, showed that there will definitely be a learning curve for this team early in the season.
Unfortunately for the Cardinal, it does not appear that there are any gaps in the schedule, as the team will play eleven teams this season who were in last year’s NCAA tournament. Pitted in a tough Pac-12 conference that features preseason No. 2 Arizona, the Cardinal have a tough task ahead to even return to the semifinals in the conference tournament.
Stanford’s nonconference slate is just as daunting, starting with a matchup this Sunday against South Dakota State. The Cardinal could potenially face No. 4 Duke at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn should both teams advance in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. And another huge game on the calendar is on Saturday, Jan. 17, when the Cardinal will take on the defending national champion Connecticut Huskies at Maples Pavilion.
“We wanted to schedule that way,” Dawkins said. “We have a good senior nucleus, and we wanted to prepare for conference play.”
The road ahead is not easy for the Cardinal, who were projected to finish fifth in the conference by Pac-12 coaches at Media Day. There is excitement around the program for the “next act” following last year’s dream run in the NCAA tournament, which is unfamiliar territory for the program in the past few seasons.
Given the new faces on the team as well as a daunting schedule, Cardinal fans may need to allow the team some time to adjust and become comfortable this season. Either way, Friday offers the first opportunity to see this year’s Cardinal, as tip-off against Wofford at Maples is set for 9 p.m. The match will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Shawn Tuteja at sstuteja ‘at’ stanford.edu.