Pac-12 tournament gives men one last gasp

March 11, 2015, 1:06 a.m.

As Stanford prepares to enter the Pac-12 tournament this Wednesday, the team has left quite a lot left on the line.

The careers of seniors Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic will largely be defined by how well Stanford plays in the next few days. An NCAA tournament berth is still a physical, if remote, possibility for the Cardinal as well.

One thing, however, that is still up in the air but often seems to slip through the cracks, relates more to Stanford’s sense of worth — in the ups and downs that have marked its 2014-15 season, the squad has failed to truly prove what type of team it is.

Freshman forward Michael Humphrey (above) will be a game time decision after spraining an ankle last week. He is a crucial part of Stanford's balancing depth, and they could suffer down low without him. (BOB DREBIN/Stanford Photo).
Freshman forward Michael Humphrey (above) will be a game time decision after spraining an ankle last week. He is a crucial part of Stanford’s balancing depth, and they could suffer down low without him. (BOB DREBIN/Stanford Photo).

A story can be told that makes the Cardinal season look like an unqualified success. Stanford’s resume includes an away win over a top-10 team, a defeat of last year’s national champion and two victories over rival California. Randle, Brown and Nastic each finished the season with all-conference honors, and Randle now stands just 112 points away from becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer, a mark untouched since 1989.

Each of these highs, however, has been accompanied by an equally significant low. The Cardinal too often seemed to crack down the stretch, and they ended the season on a 3-7 spell in which they alternated between looking brilliant and uninspired. A team that seemed a guarantee for an at-large tournament spot in January became a question mark in February before eventually dropping to an also-ran in March.

This volatility shown by the Cardinal has been quite frustrating for many a Stanford fan. Stanford has seemed capable of beating any team in the conference on a good day, but has simultaneously managed to appear little better than the Pac-12’s biggest laggards on its bad ones.

With the conference tournament due to tip off in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Stanford will get one last opportunity to prove to the world which one of these classifications truly captures its essence.

Making such a statement will undoubtedly be the work of the entire team, but Stanford’s talented upperclassmen will likely scream it the loudest. Randle, who averaged 19.1 points per game during the season, will look to score and facilitate effectively as Stanford is put up against aggressive postseason defenses. Brown’s consistency from beyond the arc will be needed to help provide space in the key for Nastic and others to operate underneath. Rosco Allen could be a potential x-factor for the Cardinal in the tournament — the junior shoots 40 percent from the 3-point line, and is capable of sinking an even higher percentage of his long-range jumpers in streaks.

The effectiveness of these players may also depend on the availability of freshman Michael Humphrey. Humphrey came alive in the Cardinal’s Feb. 21 defeat of California and provided a critical supporting and offensive rebounding role in the team’s subsequent performances before he sprained his ankle against Arizona State last Thursday. A decision as to Humphrey’s status will be made on Wednesday morning, with the depth of Stanford’s frontcourt largely hanging in the balance.

Stanford will start off the tournament against the Washington Huskies, a team that knows what it’s like to have swung from favored to favorless. Once ranked No. 13 in the country, the Huskies managed just five wins in their 18 conference games, a total that put them below every team except USC.

A surprise victory on Saturday against its eventual replacement at No. 13, the Utah Utes, demonstrated the threat this team can pose, but Washington has undeniably lacked consistency in a way that even Stanford cannot comprehend. The performance of point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who amassed 28 points against the normally stingy defense of Utah, will likely determine whether the Huskies will possess any bite as they attempt to beat the Cardinal for the first time this season.

The winner of this matchup will advance to play Delon Wright and now-No. 17 Utah. The Utes have been more vulnerable away from home than many realize and have gone just 6-5 when outside Salt Lake City this season, but they seemed to have all the answers when they soundly defeated the Cardinal back in February.

Should Stanford defeat Utah and Washington, it would still only place a question mark next to Stanford’s case for the NCAA tournament. The selection committee is intentionally ambiguous, and nobody can say with certainty whether the Cardinal will impress it until its decisions are finally released on Sunday.

Still, any tournament run should provide a strong since of closure for Johnny Dawkins’ veterans. A couple of key wins could be enough for the Cardinal to end conference play with their heads held high.

Stanford begins its postseason and, indeed, its last shot at redemption on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. The game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.

Contact Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’

Andrew Mather served as a sports editor and as the Chief Operating Officer of The Daily. A devout Clippers and Iowa Hawkeyes fan from the suburbs of Los Angeles, Mather grew accustomed to watching his favorite programs snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He brought this nihilistic pessimism to The Daily, where he often felt a sense of déjà vu while covering basketball, football and golf.

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