Around the Farm roundtable: March Madness prospects, national title streak in jeopardy?

Feb. 21, 2021, 8:18 p.m.

Men’s basketball suffered a devastating blow to its NCAA tournament hopes in the form of a heartbreaking triple-overtime loss at Washington State this weekend. With games against Oregon and USC and the Pac-12 tournament on tap, a clear path still remains for the Cardinal to get into the field of 68. Will the team turn it around and secure its first March Madness berth since 2014?

Sofia Scekic (SS): As much as I’d love to see the Cardinal in the tournament this year, I’m not convinced they have what it takes to win out against Oregon and USC and make a run in the Pac-12 tournament to justify a spot in the tournament. We saw a similar late-season collapse last year; the team was on the bubble for most of the season and lost to Cal in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, effectively ending all hope of making the March Madness tournament if it had happened. Maybe it’s fatigue finally catching up to them from spending the first two months of the season on the road, but a team with players as talented as senior forward Oscar da Silva (a Pac-12 Player-of-the-Year candidate), junior guard Bryce Wills (one of the better, if not the best, defenders in the country) and freshman forward Ziaire Williams (likely a lottery pick at the very least) just hasn’t shown it can put it all together and win convincingly against good teams. I hope this team can surprise me and sneak its way into the NCAA tournament, but I just haven’t seen anything, especially recently, that inspires confidence. 

Ells Boone (EB): Before yesterday’s loss to WSU, I felt pretty good about Stanford’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. Now, I’m not so optimistic. While the Cardinal has high quality wins over Alabama, UCLA and Arizona (2x), they also have two bad losses (Utah and WSU), as well as a blowout loss to another bubble team in Indiana. Winning out from here on is a tall task, and I do not have high hopes that it will happen. The Cardinal will most definitely need to beat one of Oregon or USC, take down Oregon State and win more than one game in the Pac-12 Tournament. I really want to see Stanford make the Big Dance this year but the team will need to lock in for the remainder of the season and also hope a few other bubble teams to drop some games. 

Jibriel Taha (JT): Assuming no games get canceled, the Cardinal have four guaranteed games left. It appears the team will be a part of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 quarterfinal matchup in the conference tournament (which has 11 teams and five first-round byes this year due to Arizona’s self-imposed postseason ban), meaning that three of the four guaranteed games remaining are against top-five Pac-12 opponents (Oregon, USC and the first round of the conference tournament). After yesterday’s loss, it’s hard to see a path where the Cardinal gets into the tournament with less than three wins in those four games. Do they have the talent to do it? Absolutely. Will they get it done? Probably not. As Sofia said, this team has shown little recently that inspires confidence. But that being said, this team has another gear that we have seen flashes of throughout the year. Yes, this is the same team that thumped Alabama by 18 to open the season. Stanford can get it done, but for the first time all season, odds are it misses out on the Big Dance.

Despite sitting at No. 6 in the Feb. 15 AP Poll, women’s basketball saw itself as the No. 3 overall team when the selection committee revealed its top 16 teams that same day. This boost is likely due to its No. 1 ranking in the NET, and given that figure, does this team have what it takes to win it all?

SS: The women’s team, on the other hand, has a great shot to end the season with another national title to its name. This team is incredibly deep and talented from top to bottom, and we’ve seen them do what national championship contenders are supposed to do: beat good teams and blow out bad teams. While sophomore guard Haley Jones has slowed down since the beginning of the season (after all, it’s hard to score 20+ points every game when there’s at least two other players who can do the same), senior guard Kiana Williams seems to be getting better as the season rolls on. She certainly has the motivation to make a deep run in the tournament that’s being held in her hometown of San Antonio, and when she’s on top of her game, the team feeds off her and is a really tough out. The improvement that we’ve seen from fifth-year guard Anna Wilson this season really stands out to me as well; for a player who started five total games in four years on the Farm, to have started all 22 games thus far this season on a star-studded team speaks volumes to how much better of a ball player she has become. Finally, we’re seeing a lot of growth and development from players like sophomore guard Hannah Jump as the regular season comes to a close, which is only making the Cardinal that much more dangerous. I have a feeling that this team is starting to cement things in place at the right time and its best ball is still ahead of it. 

EB: I do think this team has what it takes to win it all come March. Not only is this Cardinal women’s basketball team very talented, but its main competition — Connecticut, South Carolina, etc. — is not as dominant as usual this year. As Sofia mentioned, Kiana Williams has come on strong of late, and will be looking to win a title in her hometown. For Stanford to win it all, Haley Jones will have to get back to her early season play that saw her consistently put up big numbers on the offensive end. Post play from sophomore forward Fran Belibi and freshman forward Cameron Brink will also need to be consistent. Head coach Tara VanDerveer has all the pieces in place to win her third NCAA title; now, the team just needs to go out and execute. 

JT: Yes, this team can win the national title. Ells makes an excellent point — there does not seem to be an unstoppable team in the women’s game this year. Last year, the Cardinal were clearly a tier below being a national contender, best evidenced by losing all three games against Oregon, two of which by more than 30 points. This year, its two losses are an overtime road loss to a Colorado team that always seems to give it trouble as of late, and a single-digit home loss to a top-ten UCLA team. This Cardinal squad blows out the majority of teams they face, and their top NET ranking demonstrates that they can compete with anyone in the nation. But as it is with all contending teams heading into the tournament, the big question if it can string together six consistent games. I think it has the ability to do so, especially now that Kiana Williams has really started to heat up. The fact that the Cardinal was so dominant without her playing her best basketball at the beginning of the year makes it such a dangerous team heading into March.

Stanford Athletics currently rides an incredible streak of 44 straight years with at least one national title. Last year’s three national title teams — women’s volleyball, women’s soccer and men’s water polo — all either lost significant talent over the offseason or are off to a rough start. Does the University’s streak continue, and which teams do you see as Stanford’s best opportunities to keep the streak alive?

SS: If you couldn’t tell, I love the women’s basketball team this year and truly believe it’s going to end the season as national champions. While there are some other incredibly talented teams in the nation, like I said above, things are really clicking for the Cardinal and I think we’re going to see it up its level of play again once the postseason rolls around. In terms of other teams, women’s tennis returned its entire roster from the 2019-20 season and is starting the season ranked No. 4 in the nation. The two-time defending champions are the winningest sport at Stanford and head coach Lele Forood has guided the team to a national championship in 10 of her 20 years on the Farm. The tennis players just returned to Stanford last week to begin preparing for the 2021 season, but I think they also have a shot to continue Stanford’s streak of 44 years with a national title.

Jordan John Lee: Forty-four years is not something to look at lightly. COVID has affected all collegiate programs, including Stanford, but I do think one team can claim its second-straight national title and extend Stanford’s streak to 45: men’s gymnastics. This team has consistently improved since its shorthanded first meet of the season. With the reigning MPSF Gymnast of the Year and U.S. National Team member junior Brody Malone and CGA Rookie of the Year sophomore Brandon Briones, this team has the experience and mental fortitude to reclaim another championship. Although Malone and Briones haven’t competed at all this season, this team has so much depth and earned the eighth-highest team score in the nation against Navy. Imagine what would happen if you added Malone and Briones in the mix. This team would be practically unstoppable. Don’t sleep on this men’s gymnastics team. It is hungrier than ever to establish a new era of this program.

Ells Boone is the former managing editor for the sports section, serving for Volumes 262 and 263. He is a senior from Virginia Beach, Virginia, studying communication. You can usually find him chasing after rebounds in Maples Pavilion or recording a podcast with Jibriel Taha. Contact him at eboone24 'at' John Lee is a staff writer for the Sports section and occasionally writes for the News section of The Daily. Fresh off graduating with majors in Biology and Classics, he is a second-year master's student in Epidemiology and Clinical Research. From the 626, he has grown up watching his Los Angeles teams, the Dodgers and Lakers. His dream is to watch tennis at all four Grand Slam tournaments. Contact him at jjlee 'at' Scekic '22 is a former managing editor for the sports section. She is from Wisconsin and is studying Public Policy. An avid Green Bay Packers fan, she has watched nearly every game for the past nine years. Contact her at sscekic 'at' Taha is a senior staff writer for the sports section. He is from Los Angeles and studies economics. Contact him at jtaha ‘at’

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