“Your next game’s always your biggest game. Everyone is so good in this conference, it’s such a deep year, and you have to be prepared for everyone.”
Depth has been the mantra in the Pac-12 this season, and Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins recognizes it as much as anyone else.
That’s what makes tonight’s matchup between the Stanford men’s basketball team (9-6, 2-2 Pac-12) and the California Golden Bears (12-5, 2-2) all the more interesting. It’s a showdown between two young teams still searching to find their footing. And while Cal and Stanford were respectively picked to finish No. 2 and No. 9 in the conference this season, this game is an example of how there isn’t much parity in the conference whatsoever.
For Stanford, a slew of second- and third-year players have jumped into bigger roles and led the team to some unexpected quality wins.
After spending most of last season as the fourth and fifth options for the Cardinal, senior Rosco Allen and junior Marcus Allen have taken on leading roles with aplomb. Rosco has averaged 14.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this season and has totaled 22 three-pointers over his last 10 games. Meanwhile, Marcus has averaged 12.7 points per game this season, and he’s led the team with an astounding 36.2 minutes per game in four conference matches this year.
Aside from the production on the court, both Allens have played big roles in stepping up and leading a roster filled with youth.
“[Marcus] has a total new role,” Dawkins said. “He’s one of our go-to guys, and that’s more responsibility … He’s gonna be challenged every night by a heck of a defender.”
“I’ve been very happy with [Rosco’s] overall performance and growth,” Dawkins added. “I’m proud of him. He’s been a really good leader for us and he’s taking on that responsibility well.”
Aside from the two Allens, Stanford’s underclassmen have shined in bigger roles as well. Sophomores Dorian Pickens and Michael Humphrey have excelled in their starting roles, while freshmen Marcus Sheffield and Josh Sharma have showed promise early in the season.
Stanford’s cross-bay rivals also know a thing or two about young talent.
The Golden Bears made headlines during the offseason by signing one of the best recruiting classes in the nation, headlined by the Rivals 150 No. 3 Jaylen Brown and No. 7 Ivan Rabb.
It was a big statement from second-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, a man who has absolutely revitalized Cal basketball, bringing a mix of intensity, excitement and promise to the program that some say hasn’t been seen since the days of Jason Kidd.
“He’s very intense,” Dawkins said of his counterpart. “I can tell by how his team plays, he’s very focused on wanting his team to be great. I think he’s done a good job at Cal.”
The freshmen duo has impressed thus far, with Brown averaging 14.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, and Rabb adding 12.5 and 8.7 while shooting a remarkable 64 percent from the field.
Rabb, a product of Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd High School, will prove to be especially difficult for a Stanford lineup missing big man Reid Travis, who continues to sit with an injury.
“I’ve watched him grow up in this area,” Dawkins said of Rabb. “He’s a great young man, he scores well in the paint and is also a capable shooter up to about 15 to 17 feet. He has the whole package, and on the defensive end he’s a presence.”
With senior point guard Tyrone Wallace calling the shots, the Cal offense is a dynamic one that can put up a lot of points in a hurry. But the team has struggled a bit out of the gate in conference play.
At times, the team’s youth has shone through. In its last two games, a pair of losses to Oregon and Oregon State, the Bears have shot a disappointing 61 percent from the free throw line and totaled a glaring 34 turnovers. Even with all of its offensive talent, Cal has struggled against zone defenses, which could potentially be a key to success for Stanford.
Both teams have shown signs of promise this year, and while both sides have pretty clear areas of weakness, the sheer amount of individual talent in the game may make this one of the better Stanford-Cal basketball games in recent memory.
“Cal’s always special,” said Rosco Allen. “You definitely want to play well against your Bay Area rivals and we’re excited to have them here on Thursday.”
Contact Sandip Srinivas at sandips ‘at’ stanford.edu.