This past Saturday, Arizona effectively ended the hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA for the Stanford men’s basketball team. After having been projected as a tournament team for the vast majority of the season by websites such as ESPN and CBS, Stanford’s only remaining chance at dancing in March is by winning the Pac-12 Conference Tournament (which could mean beating Washington, Utah, Oregon and Arizona in succession) to secure an automatic berth. Over the past couple of weeks, the question that has been running through my mind seeing the slide from potentially a No. 7 seed to being out of the tournament altogether is simple — how did this happen?
As the play-by-play announcer for KZSU student radio, I have had several tries at giving an answer to the question. Stanford has certainly been unfortunate with injuries, as two of its starters from opening night— Reid Travis and Rosco Allen — have been sidelined at times in the second half of the season. It also didn’t help that Texas, which was ranked No. 9 when Stanford won in Austin a few months ago — has almost fallen out of tournament consideration, thus almost nullifying a significant win. Lastly, it hasn’t helped that Stanford is 2-6 in games decided by five points or less, which includes 0-4 in its last four.
However, before people give up on the program altogether — as some have told me that they are doing — hopefully this short column can offer a glimpse at what is ahead. By ahead, I do mean next season, but I also am including the rest of this season — even if it does mean the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
If Stanford does not win the conference tournament this week in Las Vegas, it is likely to be a relatively high seed in the NIT. In 2012, Stanford won its second NIT title in school history, defeating UMass and Minnesota in the semifinals and finals at Madison Square Garden.
While I’m not going to try to argue that the NIT is equally as exciting as the NCAA tournament, there are several reasons that fans should be interested in the Cardinal’s success in the tournament. For one, the NIT differs from the NCAA in that the higher seeds host games until the final two rounds (which are played at Madison Square Garden), whereas NCAA tournament games are all played at neutral sites. What this means is that if Stanford does make the NIT, there will likely be at least one more home game at Maples Pavilion, and fans will have another opportunity to send off the graduating players.
Three of these graduating players are Stanford’s three leading scorers and most experienced starters — Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic. On an individual level, Randle, who this year became the program’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals made, minutes played and field goal attempts, has the chance to become the all-time leader in points as well. Randle is currently at 2,225 points in his career and trails former great Todd Lichti for first in the category by 111 points. Thus, a run in the tournament could produce history with Randle, who is already considered one of the greats in team history, becoming the all-time leading scorer. On a team level, the additional games that the team could get in the NIT could be crucial in preparing some of the younger players on the team for the increased roles that they will inevitably have next season.
Two of these younger players that should feature prominently on next season’s team include Marcus Allen and Michael Humphrey. Both have started a significant number of games and have become important contributors on both ends of the floor. In addition, Reid Travis and Rosco Allen are both playing again after injuries this season. Both have had great years while on the floor, and the combination of Travis, Rosco Allen, Marcus Allen and Humphrey could be one that the Cardinal uses next season.
Looking forward to next season, the team has had another solid year in recruiting. The incoming class features two three-star recruits and one four-star recruit, and the coaching staff has done a great job of recruiting players at positions where players are graduating. For example, Josh Sharma, a 6-foot-11 Center from Lexington, Massachusetts, might have a chance to compute for minutes immediately with the loss of Stefan Nastic to graduation. Incoming recruits Marcus Sheffield and Cameron Walker will compete to replace Anthony Brown at the small forward position, and current freshman Robert Cartwright (a four-star recruit last season) seems to be the frontrunner to take over the point guard position.
Despite the difficult losses at the end of this season, the team still has a chance to make a run in the Pac-12 Tournament or NIT. The way I see it, any additional games will continue to help the younger players improve and will hopefully contribute to more deep runs in the NCAA tournament like we saw last year. However, it’s worth remembering that we’ve seen much more surprising runs at this time of the year in past seasons than if Stanford were to win the Pac-12 tournament and gain an automatic ticket to the Big Dance. I am certainly not counting this team out, especially with veteran players like Randle, Nastic and Brown leading the charge. After all, they do call it “March Madness” for a reason.
Contact Shawn Tuteja at sstuteja ‘at’ stanford.edu.