Marching to Vegas: Stanford’s Senior Class Ready to Shine?Posted by Adam Butler on February 7th, 2014
Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.
Why do we love this sport? The short answer rests within a month; a present of madness and that anything-can-happen hope few other sports present. The immediacy of that tournament draws us in. It’s a battle of survival, gladiators set forth before us to discover the last man standing. It’s an arena where the end could come at any moment and thus the opportunity to continue on is cherished. Indeed we love that tournament but maybe that’s just because it represents the entire sport. March Madness highlights just how quickly the college experience goes. We learn of these athletes from before they commit and when they join our school they become our guys. Sometimes they stay and sometimes they go but either way we know they’ll only be here for the briefest of times. And then it’s on to the next. For us, the fans, it’s the next recruit. The next kid in a mix-tape we text about and set unrealistic expectations for. But for him, for the kid who has put in the hours and the work and the sweat and the effort, what of him? We enjoy his pursuit of the tournament but he wants that tournament. We might take a long lunch for that tournament but he worked through lunch to get his invitation, if he was ever invited at all.
And with that note I turn our attention to Stanford and Johnny Dawkins’ 2010 recruiting class. Dawkins invited and signed the 15th-ranked class per Scout’s rankings and every member of that class remains a rostered player for him. That’s both rare and special. But more importantly, it’s ending and that class – those that are healthy – looks to be staring down that reality. On Wednesday night in Berkeley, Stanford seniors accounted for 73 percent of the points, 59 percent of the rebounds, and 92 percent of the assists. That output, in their final trip to Haas, resulted in Stanford beating Cal, 80-69. Begging the question: In their final trip through college basketball, what will this team do?
The centerpiece is Dwight Powell and it appears he’s the most important member. He’s bigger and faster and stronger than the other kids and has a skill set that suggests League. After that, the Cardinal seniority might be considered more guts than glory. Take Stefan Nastic for example. Last Wednesday, while hosting the #1 Arizona Wildcats of dominant frontcourt lore, the fourth-year player and first-year starter scored 10 points and grabbed five boards while limiting Kaleb Tarczewski to 1-of-4 shooting and four rebounds. Further, he was central (complete pun intended) to limiting the Wildcats – a team that regularly shoots greater than 74 percent at the rim – to 35.3 percent shooting at the rim. Josh Huestis and Anthony Brown fill the same dialogue: seniors on their last legs (no pun here for Brown). And John Gage, too. The unfortunate piece is Aaron Bright’s shoulder but if you’ve paid any attention to the Stanford Cardinal the past few weeks then you’d understand and recognize the je ne sais quoi in their eyes. Now granted, that’s a level of intimacy I’m not privy to; but considering the Cardinal gave Arizona all they could handle and then took it to their next two opponents (ASU and Cal, three of their five toughest opponents, per KenPom), it would appear to me that the turning of the Pac-12 schedule has lit the proverbial fire under the Cardinal. This second half very well might have alerted the 2010 class that it is indeed almost over. That in their finite time on The Farm, they’ve never been to an NCAA Tournament and they’ve underachieved since winning a 2012 NIT Title.
With the start of the conference’s latter half, the Cardinal is faced with a difficult road. Bracketology would suggest that, as of today, these boys are dancing. But that perhaps doesn’t take into account that they still have four road games remaining among their final eight, including a visit Tucson. In order for the Cardinal to make their first NCAA Tournament since 2008, they’ll need their core to rise to the occasion. And what better time to do it than in the face of their fleeting existence? Just as we get a month to serve as a microcosm for this joy, this class of Cardinal is faced with defining their careers in this month prior. After all, “2010: The Class the Didn’t Dance,” doesn’t have much of a ring to it. But wouldn’t it be so collegiately perfect for a core of seniors to right their ship? It would probably be something pretty great. And if we’re to set our expectation on the basis of recent success, well it would seem the Cardinal just might be pissed off for greatness.