The Season Begins
Despite such questions, the Cardinal has gotten off to a solid start with a blowout exhibition win over visiting Seattle Pacific and an 8-point victory in the season opener at Yale. Stanford’s three returning starters, seniors Lawrence Hill, Mitch Johnson, and Anthony Goods, have played prominent roles in each of the team’s early victories. Johnson, a 6’1” Point Guard, is coming off a standout performance in the NCAA tournament in which he put up 29 assists in three games. The lack of Lopez, meanwhile, will leave Shooting Guard Goods far more scoring opportunities. He has already capitalized thus far with 15 shot attempts and 19 points against Yale. Of the three senior leaders, Hill figures to be most important to the team’s ultimate success this season at Forward. After a stellar sophomore season in which he averaged 15.7 points and 6 rebounds per game, Hill’s numbers and playing time dropped off significantly last year. However, he has already exhibited improvement this season with a 22-point, 11-rebound performance at Yale. The absence of the 7-foot tall Lopez twin towers means that Hill should see more opportunities around the rim. If the Cardinal is to have any hope of consistent offensive production, Hill must continue to step up with similar “double-double” digit points and rebounds showings.
Rounding out the Cardinal starting line-up this season will be Landry Fields at Small Forward and Josh Owens at Center. Look for Fields to have a breakout season as a junior with expanded playing time and the potential to score from inside and outside the paint. Owens, a 6’8” sophomore, will provide a considerable level of athleticism but a significant reduction in size at the post relative to last season. Off the bench, senior Kenny Brown and junior Drew Shiller will get some time in the backcourt, while a collection of raw talent will help out Owens and Hill at the posts.
Bring on the Dukie
The arrival of Coach Dawkins should bring significant change to the Stanford basketball program. He brings with him a wealth of playing and coaching experience from his days at Duke. He has stood on the sidelines next to coaching great Mike Krzyzewski for ten years and had a lengthy career in the NBA as a player. Dawkins brings with him Krzyzewski’s knowledge and use of “small ball,” which should figure greatly in the team’s court strategy this season. “We don’t have the overall size to play a strictly half-court game,” Coach Dawkins said. “We do need to use our speed and quickness to our advantage.” In fact, the Cardinal starting line-up mirrors Duke teams of the past in its shorter, athletic post players and its quick, shoot-friendly guards.
Before Pac-10 play gets underway, the Cardinal looks to have a light non-conference schedule that should leave them with a strong record going into the January 2nd conference opener against 15th-ranked Arizona State. Highlights of the non-conference schedule include home games against Air Force (Nov. 26), Colorado (Nov. 29), and Texas Tech (Dec. 28). Once conference play begins, however, the competition should get significantly tougher. Back-to-back games against Arizona State and Arizona in early January should tell us much about Stanford’s prospects in the Pac-10 this year. Realistically, it could be a long season for the Cardinal. Stanford is projected to finish 9th in a Pac-10 that features three preseason top-25 teams and at least four NCAA Tournament-bound teams. While victory against basketball juggernaut UCLA may be out of the question, a couple of wins against the rest of the Pac-10 elite (Arizona State, USC, Arizona) may be sufficient to get Stanford into NCAA tournament consideration. Experts are predicting that the Pac-10 will get five teams into this year’s tournament. If this prediction is true, however, it suggests that Stanford will have to outdo a strong Washington team that features Jon Brockman—one of the top big men in the conference. The Huskies did lose their season opener to Portland, which leaves hope for the Cardinal. In any case, a standout season for Lawrence Hill and a breakout season from Landry Fields will be necessary if there’s any hope of tournament contention.
That being said, here’s my final prediction: 18-11 overall (8-10 in the Pac-10) with an NIT bid.