Stanford men’s basketball has a 4-1 record to start conference play and big wins over defending national champion UConn and then-No. 9 Texas under its belt. We asked basketball writers Shawn Tuteja, Andrew Mather and Sandip Srinivas: What has been the key to the team’s early success this season versus last season’s 10-8 slide in Pac-12 play, and what does the team need to do to keep the momentum going?
Shawn: It’s no secret that Stanford has returned three starters from last season’s Sweet 16 team, but in my mind, the surprise of the season has been just how much these three have improved. Chasson Randle recently became the program’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals made, Stefan Nastic has filled in the scoring void in the post left by the departures of Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell to the NBA and Anthony Brown has continued to shoot well from beyond the arc and has become a better rebounder. Add that to the return of a healthy Rosco Allen who was limited to only 7 minutes all of last year, and Stanford is now ranked in the Coaches’ Poll.
Going forward, I think some of the key bench players must continue to develop as scoring threats, as the demise of last year’s team was the reliance on the starting five for the vast majority of the scoring. Marcus Allen and Robert Cartwright have started to play more valuable minutes for the team, and Reid Travis’ return to the starting lineup might allow Rosco Allen to provide a scoring spark to the second unit.
Andrew: Four words: execution down the stretch. The last few years of Stanford basketball have seen an untold number of leads slip and close games turn into losses as the Cardinal struggled to put away quality opponents.
Nothing typifies this more than last year’s matchup against Arizona, when Stanford blew a sizable second-half advantage and Chasson Randle unceremoniously air-balled a potentially game-tying three to end the team’s upset hopes. Johnny Dawkins seemed to continuously have difficulty finding someone to stand up and play hard with the game on the line.
This year, however, the Cardinal suddenly have an abundance of players to turn to in season-defining moments. Randle has hit clutch shot after clutch shot in his recent performances, and has truly established himself as an offensive leader that even the best opponents should fear throughout the entirety of each game. Anthony Brown’s elite finishing ability and defensive toughness seem to pervade any sort of pressure put on him. Stefan Nastic has done a much better job staying out of foul trouble, allowing him to contribute his rebounding abilities and formidable post game to any comeback effort.
All told, this wide array of threats has truly helped Stanford play out the final minutes of each game, and should help it continue to come away with victories for the remainder of the season.
Sandip: Make no mistake: Stanford wouldn’t be playing this well if not for the collective team effort on a nightly basis. It’s been a pleasant surprise to see people like Marcus Allen and Rosco Allen jump into new roles and make significant contributions. However, the main reason for Stanford’s success this year comes down to one thing: the sensational play of Chasson Randle. The statistics speak for themselves: 19.8 points per game, nearly 88 percent from the free throw line, countless big plays. Randle’s fantastic performances in the past week earned him the Player of the Week award from CBS Sports.
But Randle’s importance to this team goes beyond that. The departures of Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell created a leadership void that, along with Stefan Nastic and Anthony Brown, Randle has stepped up to fill. This team runs through Randle, and while many players might crumble under the pressure of that role, he has been the go-to-guy this whole season and has delivered time and time again for the Cardinal.
As long as Stanford can find a way to limit the scoring runs that it frequently allows, it should have no trouble keeping the momentum. A frequent storyline in the NCAA tournament is a player heating up at just the right moment in order to propel his team to an incredible tournament run. If there’s one person who can do that for Stanford, it’s Chasson Randle.
Contact Shawn Tuteja at sstuteja ‘at’ stanford.edu, Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’ stanford.edu and Sandip Srinivas at sandips ‘at’ stanford.edu.