Stanford’s second Postseason NIT title in four season this past spring also marked the end of an era in Palo Alto. Seniors Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic all played their final game in a Stanford uniform that March night in New York City, meaning that Johnny Dawkins has some large holes to fill within his 2015-16 rotation.
With that being the case, it’s probably a good thing that the Cardinal can take an overseas trip this summer. The NCAA allows teams to do so once every four years, and with Stanford’s most recent trip coming in 2011 they’ll be hitting the road next month. Stanford’s headed to Italy, where they’ll play six games against Italian pro teams (two play in Lega Basket Serie A, and two others play in Serie A2) between August 25 and September 2.
Prior to leaving the country they’ll spend some time sightseeing and practicing in Washington, D.C.
“Our foreign tour to Italy will be an amazing cultural and team-building experience,” Dawkins said in the release. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the art and culture of ancient Rome, Florence and Venice. This will help us improve on the court as we get the chance to compete against other teams, in addition to off the court, as we strengthen our bonds as friends and teammates.”
Those exhibitions should be valuable for a team looking to determine primary scoring options after losing their top three scorers to the professional ranks. Among the players who will be asked to contribute more are redshirt junior forward Rosco Allen (7.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg), junior guard Marcus Allen (6.4, 3.5) and sophomores Michael Humphrey, Reid Travis and Robert Cartwright.
The group that will now be sophomores, which includes shooting guard Dorian Pickens, will figure more prominently in the Stanford attack than they did last season with Travis and Humphrey (who both missed time last season due to injury) being the most likely breakout candidates. Add in a three-member recruiting class led by four-star center Josh Sharma, and Stanford won’t lack for young talent.
The question is which player(s) emerge as leaders for this group, and that’s something that can be determined during Stanford’s trip to Italy.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2014-2015 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day. Today, we start off our Top 25 countdown with the No. 25 Stanford Cardinal.
Newcomers: Reid Travis, Michael Humphrey, Robert Cartwright, Dorian Pickens
– G: Chasson Randle, Sr.
– G: Anthony Brown, Sr.
– F: Rosco Allen, So.
– F: Reid Travis, Fr.
– C: Stefan Nastic, Sr.
– Bench: Grant Verhoeven, Jr.; Marcus Allen, So.; Malcolm Allen, So.; Robert Cartwright, Fr.; Michael Humphrey, Fr.; Christian Sanders, So.
They’ll be good because …: Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown will give the Cardinal one of the best back courts in the country. Randle is a supremely underrated lead guard, a big-time scorer that will have to take on more of a playmaking role this season. Brown is a 6-foot-6 marksman that has a reputation for being one of the better perimeter defenders out west.
The combination of Randle and Brown will be the anchor for Stanford as they try to repeat last season’s run to the Sweet 16, but there will be a solid supporting cast around them as well. Stefan Nastic isn’t anything special, but he’s a fifth-year senior and a capable low-post scorer that stands 6-foot-11. He’s not going to be intimidated by anyone he goes up against in league play. He’ll be joined up front by talented freshmen Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey, redshirt sophomore Rosco Allen and junior Grant Verhoeven. Travis, an undersized power forward that is a monster on the glass, should step into the starting lineup from day one and replace the production provided by Josh Huestis last season.
The back court is not as deep, but freshman Robert Cartwright should provide minutes at to spell Randle and give him a chance to play off the ball as well. There’s a chance that Cartwright could end up taking over the starting point guard role by the end of the season. Sophomore twins Marcus and Malcolm Allen will both be available as well, and Dorian Pickens should be able to provide a scoring pop when he sees the floor. The x-factor will be Christian Sanders, who started four times as a freshman in 2012-2013 but is coming off of an injury that kept him out all of last season.
But they might disappoint because …: We know how good Randle and Brown are, but beyond that, there are a lot of question marks. That’s not to say Dawkins hasn’t accumulated talent — he has recruited well — it’s just that the supporting cast he has on his roster is quite unproven.
Nastic is solid, but he was the third option in Stanford’s front court last year, behind Dwight Powell and Huestis. Freshmen Travis, Humphrey and Cartwright are all four-star recruits, but it is hard to know just how effective freshmen are going to be in their first season on campus. Rosco Allen was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and started seven games as a freshman in 2012-2013, but he missed all of last season with an injury. Verhoeven and the Allen twins have never played major roles.
Outlook: The irony of last season’s run to the Sweet 16 is that before the season — and even entering the NCAA tournament, to a certain extent — there was a concern that Johnny Dawkins’ job could be on the line if he wasn’t able to make some noise. Last year was the most talented team that he has had in his tenure, and the Cardinal only managed a 10 seed in the dance.
While his job is no longer in jeopardy, it doesn’t change the fact that Dawkins has had a number of teams that have, for one reason or another, under-performed. On paper, the Cardinal look like a top five team in the Pac-12, but games aren’t played on paper. Are we pinning too much expectation on one weekend where Stanford played well last March? Maybe, but we’re willing to risk it knowing how good Randle is and assuming that Travis, as well as Cartwright and Humphrey, will be able to make major contributions immediately.
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.”
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?
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.