Stanford enters season with high hopes of ending their NCAA tournament drought

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

“Next year, there’s no reason why we can’t get to where we want to be and have the opportunity to make a run in this thing. Coach is in his sixth year. There’s a reason why he was hired to be our Stanford guy, and I have full confidence he can get us there.”

Those were the words of Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir in a story written by Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group back in March, with the Cardinals on their way to the Postseason NIT and missing out on the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive season. Despite having the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player in forward Dwight Powell and other key contributors such as guards Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle and forward Josh Huestis, Stanford couldn’t get over the hump. With more than 90% of the scoring and rebounding from last season’s team back on The Farm the expectations are straightforward, both within and outside of the Stanford program.

“We have high expectations,” Powell told NBC Sports. “None of the guys on the team right now have played in the Big Dance, and I think that’s the dream of everyone who’s ever picked up a basketball. That’s one of our biggest goals, to get to the tournament and play on that stage and play against that level of competition. That’s our major goal.”

The 6-foot-10 senior from Toronto will be an integral part of the rotation for the Cardinal, and he’s coming off of a busy summer that included playing for Canada in the World University Games. Playing alongside the likes of Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim and Baylor’s Brady Heslip, Powell shot 61.9% from the field and posted averages of 12.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game as Canada finished fourth in the event. That performance came on the heels of Powell’s best season at Stanford, as he led the Cardinal in scoring (14.9 ppg) and finished second on the team in rebounding (8.4 rpg). He’ll be asked to lead the way for what should be a balanced club, and he’s got a highly dependable front court sidekick in junior Josh Huestis (10.5, 9.0).

“Their versatility is what makes them so special for us,” Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins told NBC Sports. “We play a system in which they’re not relegated to playing one set position on the floor. With that being the case they have to be skilled; they have to be able to pass, shoot and handle the basketball some. They’re both good enough at those things to be productive in our system. They’re both long, can rebound and block shots as well.”

CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Pac-12 Preview

The backcourt will possess depth, talent and experience, with veteran returnees Bright and Randle combining for 67 of a possible 68 starts a season ago. Randle was Stanford’s second-leading scorer (13.6 ppg), and he was second on the team in assist rate (18.7%) while factoring into more than 24% of Stanford’s possessions (only Powell and Stefan Nastic rated higher in possession percentage, per kenpom.com). And Bright led the team in assists while also averaging nearly ten points per game.

The Cardinal will add freshman twins Malcolm and Marcus Allen as well as Anthony Brown (8.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg in 2011-12), who returns to the lineup after a hip injury forced him to redshirt last season. And the return of Brown is important, especially when considering the fact that Andy Brown (no relation) had to retire this past offseason after suffering yet another knee injury. While the loss of Andy shouldn’t be glossed over, as he started 19 games last season and shot 49% from the field the return of Anthony, who was a Pac-12 All-Freshman Team selection in 2010-11,  will give Stanford a needed boost.

“We lose a man with a really good basketball IQ who would have given us a lot of experience and leadership, and his return was an inspirational story to our guys,” Dawkins said of Andy Brown, who suffered four knee injuries before being forced to retire. “Both Andy and Anthony are versatile players for us, and having Anthony back gives us the ability to mitigate that loss somewhat. It’s tough to lose Andy, but having Anthony come back does help.”

Another returnee of note is sophomore forward Rosco Allen, who gained some valuable experience this summer playing with Hungary’s Under-20 team in the U-20 European Championships. Currently out with a shin injury, Allen averaged 14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game for Hungary and earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team. A player with a great amount of talent, Allen’s still in the process of “finding out who he is as a player” according to Dawkins and he can be a major asset to the Cardinal once healthy. Overall there’s no shortage of options at each position for the Cardinal, but the question is a simple one entering 2013-14: will it all click?

CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories

Of Stanford’s nine conference losses in 2012-13 five were by five points or less, including two losses to USC by a combined three points. Games like those can come down to one or two possessions at any stage in the contest, with the ability to take care of every “minor” detail proving to be the difference between a win and a loss. That’s the area Stanford will need to address as they prepare to make a run at the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2008.

“I think most of those games came down to paying attention to detail,” said Powell. “Because any game you lose that’s within three, four or five points, that comes down to who wanted it more in regards to the little things. Whether it’s a loose ball or a long rebound that wasn’t chased down.

“Our focus has definitely been to just keep a strong attention to detail and reinforce that in practice, to make sure we’re maintaining a high standard of excellence and always focusing on each individual play,” continued Powell. “Because ultimately if it comes down to two points, it could have been an offensive rebound from the first half that ended up giving momentum to the other team that puts you in that situation.”

Turn around a few of those close losses and Stanford may have been able to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament last season, but that wasn’t the case in the end. The talent and experience are certainly there for Stanford to make a return to the NCAA tournament, and the expectations are present as well. How Stanford manages them will ultimately decide the program’s fate.

Roach scores 20 as Texas beats No. 8 Texas Tech 67-58

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AUSTIN, Texas — Kerwin Roach II scored 20 points in a surprise return to the lineup and Texas got another home win over a Top 25 opponent in a week, beating No. 8 Texas Tech 67-58 Wednesday night.

Roach, who had missed the previous two games with a fracture in his left, non-shooting hand, was expected to miss a few more. But he suited up for pregame warmups and was cleared to play right before tipoff.

Roach gave the Longhorns a new threat both inside and out with his 3-point shooting and aggressive drives to the basket. The Longhorns — who beat then-No. 16 TCU 99-98 in double-overtime last Wednesday — also played their best defense in weeks, anchored by freshman center Mo Bamba under the basket. Bamba had 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.

Texas (12-6, 2/3 Big 12) led by 13 early in the second half before the Red Raiders rallied to get within four. But the Longhorns got two big 3-pointers by Eric Davis, Jr., including one with 3:28 left that pushed the lead back to 10.

Jarrett Culver scored 16 points to lead Texas Tech (15-3, 4-2).

BIG PICTURE

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are having their best season in years and second-year coach Chris Beard has the program contending for the Big 12 title. But they missed a chance to pick up an important road win and dropped their 22nd consecutive game in Austin. The Red Raiders haven’t beaten Texas in Austin since 1996, when both programs were in the old Southwest Conference.

Texas: The Longhorns will get a shot of confidence in an inconsistent season with another big win. Most of all the Longhorns showed they can protect a big lead, even if just barely. Texas let a double-digit second half lead get away in a crushing road loss at Oklahoma State last week.

UP NEXT

Texas Tech plays at Iowa State

Texas plays at No. 6 West Virginia

SMU lands massive résumé win at No. 7 Wichita State

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It’s too strong to say that SMU saved their season on Wednesday night.

The Mustangs already own a neutral court win over No. 14 Arizona. They also knocked off USC, Boise State and UCF, all of which will be varying degrees of “good win” come Selection Sunday. That loss to Northern Iowa doesn’t look good today, and it’s hard to imagine losses to Tulane and Temple – the latter of which came at home – are going to age gracefully, but in a year where it seems like everyone is mediocre at best, a marquee win combined with a stable of solid résumé wins could end up being enough.

That said, on Wednesday, SMU sure went a long way towards making sure they won’t have to sweat out the bracket reveal, as the Mustangs went into Koch Arena and knocked off No. 7 Wichita State, 83-78. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for SMU.

The star of the show was Shake Milton. A player that has had NBA hype for what seems like the better part of a decade, Milton had a career-high 33 points on Wednesday night, the best game of his career in what has been a breakout junior season. He did it on 11-for-14 shooting, making 5-for-6 from three and outdueling fellow NBA Draft prospect Landry Shamet, who finished with 20 points and 10 assists.

SMU now has two elite wins to pin at the top of the tournament profile – both of which came away from home – and it affords them a bit of breathing room as they matriculate through American play.

This win isn’t just a big deal for SMU.

It matters for the American has a whole as well.

Heading into today, it looked like the conference was trending towards getting just two bids to the Big Dance – Wichita State and Cincinnati – and that, in turn, created a problem for everyone else in the conference. If there are only two good teams in the league then there are only two teams that American bubble dwellers can beat and improve their résumé. We won’t know how much this affects SMU’s computer numbers until they update, but it is safe to assume that a win over a team that is top 20 in both the RPI and KenPom will help significantly. Entering Tuesday, SMU was rated 83rd in the RPI.

Assuming that Jarrey Foster’s knee sprain doesn’t turn out to be serious – he left the game after six minutes and did not return – than this day could not have possibly gone better for the Mustangs.

On the other hand, it does raise some questions about this Wichita State team.

Specifically defensively.

As we noted earlier today, Wichita’s defense hasn’t exactly been great this season. They entered today ranked outside the top 25 in defensive efficiency, and the return of Markis McDuffie, who has yet to return to the starting lineup, has not exactly helped matters.

But it really came to a head on Wednesday night. SMU scored 83 points on 60 possessions, or 1.383 points-per-possession, which is the worst ass-kicking that the Shockers have received under Gregg Marshall, who has been employed by the school for a decade. The only time anyone came close to that involved Doug McDermott going for 41 points and shooting 15-for-18 from the floor.

And that game came on the road.

I wrote a column earlier this season wondering whether or not we could start discussing Wichita State as potentially the best team in the country. That column was predicated on the idea that the Shockers were going to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams.

Because they always are.

During this six-year run of consecutive NCAA tournaments, the Shockers have never finished lower than 26th in defensive efficiency. The last four years they’ve finished in the top 15, and that is despite playing in the Missouri Valley. (KenPom adjusts his efficiency numbers for opponent strength.)

Wichita State was 26th entering today.

They’re now 55th.

Only two teams have ever reached a national title game with a lower defensive efficiency.

This is a problem that badly needs fixing, but if McDuffie wasn’t the answer, is there one?

Texas Tech honors Andrew Jones before game against Texas

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Texas Tech became the latest team to show support towards Texas sophomore Andrew Jones, who was diagnosed with leukemia last week.

The Red Raiders are facing the Longhorns on Wednesday as they wore shooting shirts with Jones’ No. 1 and name on the back, joining Oklahoma State as recent opponents to show support.

So far, over $104,000 has been raised in just over five days for the Andrew Jones and Family Support Fund, which has been started by the University of Texas to help the family pay for medical expenses.

No. 1 Villanova leads by 44, beats Ewing, Georgetown 88-56

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WASHINGTON — Top-ranked Villanova led by as many as 44 points — 44! — and gave Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing a rude welcome back to the schools’ rivalry, handing the Hoyas their worst loss in more than 40 years, 88-56 on Wednesday night.

Jalen Brunson led the way with 18 points and seven assists for Villanova (17-1, 5-1 Big East), which finished 17 for 33 on 3s, while Georgetown went 4 for 15.

Mikal Bridges scored 17 for the Wildcats, winners of seven consecutive games against the Hoyas, Villanova’s longest streak in a series that dates to 1922.

The last time Ewing faced Villanova in any capacity was in the last game of his college playing career at Georgetown, a surprising 66-64 victory for the underdog Wildcats in the 1985 NCAA championship game. It was quite clear, quite quickly, on Wednesday that there would be no such tight outcome —nor any chance of an upset by Georgetown (12-6, 2-5).

This is Ewing’s first season as a head coach at any level, and he opted to go with an easy-as-can-be non-conference schedule to try to build his players’ confidence. Now that league play is underway, especially against a foe like Villanova, the gap between the Hoyas and the best teams is obvious.

It was 42-20 at halftime, and Georgetown to that point had more turnovers (nine) than made baskets, shooting 8 for 26, including 0 for 8 on 3s.

Villanova just kept pushing the margin after the break, going up by 30, then 40, and then reaching the apex at 88-44 on a layup by Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree with about 3½ minutes remaining. Less than a minute later, Villanova coach Jay Wright finally sent on the subs and pulled any remaining starters.

INJURED AND ILL

Villanova: Reserves Tim Delaney and Jermaine Samuels sat out with a virus.

Georgetown: Backup PG Trey Dickerson left in the first half with a back spasm and did not return.

BIG PICTURE

Villanova: Since its only loss, 101-93 at Butler on Dec. 30, Villanova has won four games in a row, propelled by an efficient offense that gets a lot of its work done from beyond the arc.

Georgetown: This was the Hoyas’ largest margin of defeat since a 33-point loss to Maryland, 104-71, on Dec. 10, 1974.

UP NEXT

Villanova: Travels to UConn on Saturday in a matchup between former Big East rivals and the Wildcats’ first game at Hartford in five years. Villanova is 12-0 in non-conference games heading into the last one on their schedule.

Georgetown: Hosts St. John’s on Saturday, the teams’ second meeting in less than two weeks. The Hoyas won 69-66 at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 9

NCAA pushes up college hoops start date as Champions Classic will open the season

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The NCAA is pushing up the start of the college basketball regular season to begin on the Tuesday before the second Friday in November.

That means the Champions Classic will open the college basketball season in 2018-19 as announced in an official release on Wednesday. So now, we get Duke vs. Kentucky and Michigan State vs. Kansas in Indianapolis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to open the college basketball regular season?

Yes, please.

This is a very smart move for the NCAA as men’s and women’s basketball can now open the regular season a bit earlier. The made-for-TV, neutral-court spectacle of the Champions Classic is also the perfect programming to get casual sports fans to tune in for the opening night of college basketball.

There will also be a new level of intrigue for the Champions Classic with all four superpowers making their season debuts in the event next season. Instead of getting a regular-season tune-up to begin to campaign, all of these teams will get thrown straight into the fire.

Hopefully, the sport can continue to make moves like this to generate casual interest and develop more intriguing non-conference possibilities. College basketball’s regular season has suffered from too many lulls in the past. At least now the regular season will start with a bang.