After suffering a disappointing 61-67 loss to Eastern Washington last Tuesday, the Stanford Cardinal (3-1) may have hoped for a few weaker opponents as it tries to regain its footing. Instead, on Monday night, it hosts No. 9 North Carolina (2-0), the defending national champions and one of the most talented teams in the country.
It’s a special opportunity for the Cardinal to welcome a college basketball powerhouse to Maples Pavilion and to prove that they can play with one of the best teams in the country. A few days ago, it may not have been crazy to think that Stanford could give UNC a true fight. After all, the combination of senior experience and the emergence of freshman guard Isaac White in the first two games of the season seemed to suggest that this Cardinal team is a true Pac-12 contender. But after their abysmal performance on Tuesday, in which the Cardinal shot 2-16 from three-point range and were absolutely stymied by the Eagles’ zone defense, the prospects of an upset are gloomy for Stanford.
Luckily, Stanford got a practice run against Northeastern (2-1) at Maples Pavilion on Friday, and it capitalized on a chance for coach Jerod Haase and his staff to try to figure out what went wrong against the Eagles and to begin preparing the team for Monday’s showdown, comfortably beating the Huskies 73-59.
The absence of guards senior Dorian Pickens and junior Marcus Sheffield hurt the Cardinal last Tuesday, and there is no word from Haase on timelines for their injuries. If both players are out, the Cardinal will once again rely on contributions from their young core of freshmen, a difficult task against an opponent like UNC.
The Tar Heels lost quite a bit of talent from last year’s championship team, but they are still an elite program. They are led by junior forward Luke Maye, last year’s tournament darling, and senior Joel Berry, a guard who will challenge freshman guard Daejon Davis in the backcourt.
Hoping for an upset isn’t lunacy, but considering the current state of the Cardinal offense, it might not be far from it. Stanford will need its freshmen to play beyond their years and ride senior forward Reid Travis as far as he can carry them if they want to pull off the biggest upset of the Jerod Haase era.
Monday’s game begins at 8:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Contact Gregory Block at gblock ‘at’ stanford.edu.