After its home opener against Utah Valley was canceled last week, Stanford men’s basketball travels to Asheville, North Carolina, to tip off its season at the 2020 Maui Invitational. In its first test of the season, the Cardinal will take on Alabama (1-0, 0-0 SEC) Monday evening in a first-round matchup at 6:30 p.m. PT.
The game signifies the first time in over eight months that the Stanford squad has taken the floor for competition; the Cardinal dropped a 51-63 decision to Cal during the first round of the 2020 Pac-12 tournament on Mar. 11 which was an abrupt end to its first 20-win season since 2014-15.
The loss was the third in a three-game losing streak that emphasized the up-and-down, inconsistent nature of the team. Despite opening the 2019-20 with a strong 11-2 showing in non-conference play and stretching its record to 15-2 four games into conference competition, Stanford collapsed quickly, handing over victories in the next seven of eight contests. Four consecutive wins at the Washington schools, Utah and Colorado helped the Cardinal secure its 20th victory, but the momentum was not enough to keep Stanford from ending the season on a downhill slide.
Fortunately for the Cardinal, however, 2020-21 represents a chance to utilize players’ experience to finally complete the unfinished business of last season. Despite losing guard Tyrell Terry, who was drafted to the Dallas Mavericks as the 31st pick on Nov. 18, Stanford retains nearly 74% of its scoring and returns the other four of its regular starting five: senior forward Oscar da Silva, senior guard Daejon Davis, junior guard Bryce Wills and sophomore forward Spencer Jones.
On the stat sheet, Da Silva led the team’s offensive efforts last season, averaging a respectable 15.7 points and shooting 57% from the field. Davis and Jones each added an average of 8.8 points per game, while Davis also dished out a total of 117 assists over the course of 32 games. Jones found his footing behind the arc early on in the season, sinking 81 three-pointers for a 43.1% success rate from deep.
Nonetheless, the returners are not the only ones that Cardinal fans look to with high expectations. Stanford’s roster features one of the nation’s best recruiting classes, with 247Sports and ESPN classifying it as No. 10 and Rivals being slightly less generous with a No. 11 ranking. All three sources consider the five-person freshman class — guards Noah Taitz and Michael O’Connell and forwards Max Murrell, Brandon Angel and Ziaire Williams — to be top-two in the Pac-12.
Williams joins the squad as a consensus five-star recruit and the top-rated prospect to commit to the Farm since recruiting databases began. During his senior season at Sierra Canyon High School, Williams averaged 15.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, earning a number of accolades including being named the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Daily News Player of the Year.
While running a highly competitive offense will undoubtedly be crucial against Alabama, the Cardinal will especially need to rely on its defense to keep the Crimson Tide contained. In Alabama’s 81-57 season-opening win against Jacksonville State on Nov. 25, four Crimson Tide guards recorded over 10 points, with two — senior Herbert Jones and sophomore Jaden Shackelford — notching double-doubles. Shackelford contributed an impressive 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Jones added 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The Crimson Tide used a number of sizable scoring runs to stretch its lead over Jacksonville State, including a 12-2 run in the first half that helped Alabama take the lead it would then hold for over 37 minutes. Over 50% percent of the Tide’s buckets came from close range, outdoing the Gamecocks 42-16 from inside the paint and snagging 20 offensive rebounds, some of which were then converted into 23 second-chance points.
Fortunately for the Cardinal, effective defense is nothing new. Finishing the season as the No.16-ranked scoring defense in the nation, Stanford limited opponents to an average 62.5 points per game and held the conference’s five biggest scorers — ASU’s Remy Martin, Oregon’s Payton Pritchard, Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle, WSU’s CJ Elleby and Cal’s Matt Bradley — to just 37.4% shooting from the field. Davis led the Cardinal with 55 steals — third-best in the Pac-12 — while Wills made headlines being dubbed the No. 1 defender in the nation, boasting the lowest points allowed per possession of 0.613.
Action against Alabama is set to tip off at 6:30pm PT at Harrah’s Cherokee Center. A victory on Monday would send Stanford to a second-round matchup against the winner of North Carolina vs. UNLV, which takes place immediately before the Cardinal take on the Crimson Tide at 4:00pm PT.
Contact Savanna Stewart at savnstew ‘at’ stanford.edu.