College basketball season is creeping up fast, and Athlon Sports is counting down to Midnight Madness and the start of practice on Oct. 17.
No. 21 Stanford enters 2014-15 after its first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years seasons, a run that resulted in an upset of Kansas and a trip to the Sweet 16. The Cardinal follows that with a veteran core and standout signing class that could keep Stanford in the NCAA conversation.
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The pressure is off coach Johnny Dawkins and his Cardinal, but the bar is now set higher. Dawkins’ future with Stanford was in question throughout his sixth season until a late run gave the program its first NCAA Tournament bid during his tenure. An upset victory over Kansas advanced the Cardinal into the Sweet 16 and gave fans a reason to expect an encore performance.
“It benefits us going forward because we’re returning three guys who were part of a really good run at the end of the year, guys who have accomplished things,” Dawkins says. “That’s a big part of us going forward.”
Stanford returns three starters, including senior guard Chasson Randle, but must find replacements at forward for NBA Draft picks Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis, who combined for 43 percent of the team’s rebounding total.
Even before being given a contract extension, Dawkins had landed a recruiting class that ranks among the nation’s top 20. That group will merge with the returnees to create a roster that should compete for a return trip to the NCAAs.
No. 21 Stanford Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-13, 10-8 Pac-12
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Coach: Johnny Dawkins (117-87 at Stanford, 49-59 Pac-12)
Pac-12 Projection: Third
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Senior center Stefan Nastic returns after an unexpected late-season surge in which he averaged 11.7 points in three NCAA games and shot a stunning 87.1 percent (27-for-31) from the field over the team’s final seven outings. “He really had a presence for us, playing with passion and intensity,” Dawkins says. “He needs to keep developing offensively and stay out of foul trouble.” Nastic fouled out nine times last season.
Sophomore Rosco Allen, who played one game last season before being shelved by a stress fracture in his foot, will get the chance to win the job at small forward. “We missed his versatility,” Dawkins says. “He has a good feel for the game, the ability to pass the ball. He thinks the game very well.”
A key is freshman power forward Reid Travis, who had a minor arthroscopic procedure on his knee in July but is expected to be fully recovered well before practice begins. “He’s got a heck of a motor,” Dawkins says.
Randle and Anthony Brown give the Cardinal the Pac-12’s most experienced backcourt tandem. Randle has been a starter his entire career and last season produced 16 games of 20 or more points. Dawkins believes he “will be in the conversation” for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Stanford again figures to at least start the season without a true point guard, using Randle to bring the ball up court and then shifting him to the wing. “Chasson is a scorer by nature,” Dawkins says. “We don’t want to take that away from him. We’re going to tweak what we do based on our personnel.”
While Powell was Stanford’s top assist man last season, Dawkins is eager to see what he gets from freshman point Robert Cartwright. “We think he can come in and contribute,” the coach says. “He has the mindset for it.”
Brown, who rebounded nicely last season after missing the 2012-13 campaign with a hip injury, gives Stanford defensive length and a perimeter scoring threat from the wing. He averaged just 6.5 points over the final four games, but Dawkins likes his upside. “He’s had moments where he’s as good as any player at his position in the country,” Dawkins says. “His growth will be in realizing how good he can be and be that player every game.”
Sophomore Marcus Allen (twin of teammate Malcolm but unrelated to Rosco Allen), had a solid freshman campaign as a combo guard and should play an elevated role.
Dawkins has much to replace with the departures of Powell and Huestis, but he has a nice returning nucleus, led by Randle, whose confidence should be at a peak entering the season. Stanford’s strong recruiting class will have to contribute immediately, but there is reason for optimism.
“I think we’re a team that can develop and learn the things we have to do,” says Dawkins, alluding to defense and rebounding in particular. “If we can shore those areas up, I think we can be a tournament-caliber team.”
Returning to the NCAA Tournament is not a make-or-break proposition for Dawkins and his team. But it’s now the expectation, and the Cardinal have enough parts to make a legitimate run at an upper-division Pac-12 finish and another NCAA bid.
Power forward Reid Travis, a McDonald’s All-American, is physically mature enough at 6-8, 240 pounds to immediately step into the lineup. Johnny Dawkins says Travis’ offensive game is more developed at the same stage than former Cardinal star Mark Madsen. Robert Cartwright, the team’s only true point guard, will get the chance to play early. Forward Michael Humphrey needs to add strength to his length.