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March 28, 2014

Looking forward





Stanford's NCAA Tournament run is over, the Cardinal doomed by a deeper and more efficient Dayton squad. The Flyers took the lead for good with about 10 minutes left in the first half, and enjoyed an advantage that hovered around 10 for much of the second half. Stanford trimmed the deficit to four at one point in the second and later six, but Dayton responded each time the Cardinal threatened. The Flyers ended up defeating Stanford 82-72.

"I thought Dayton did a really good job of executing their offense, especially in the first half, and now those kids also did a very good job of being very -- they were relentless is the best way I could put it," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. They came in waves."

Dayton's depth overwhelmed a Stanford team that relies heavily on its starters. Nine Dayton players received at least 10 minutes of playing time, and four scored in double figures.

"It's unique because not only are they putting bodies out there but they all are capable," Dawkins said. "I was watching them on tape, and I was appreciating what they do. You have a number of guys come in, and you don't know if the guy coming off the bench is going to be the leading scorer or the guy starting. It creates a unique dilemma. You have to focus in and ID each player and know what his tendencies are. A typical game, you're ID'ing five, six guys and their tendencies. But against them, you have to ID ten guys and get a understanding of what each is doing out on the floor, and that becomes somewhat difficult."

Stanford's defense, which was so stingy in the Cardinal's wins over Kansas and New Mexico, was porous against Dayton. The Flyers exposed Stanford's zone by hitting perimeter shots, and had little trouble navigating past the Cardinal when Stanford was in man-to-man. Dayton shot 48.3 percent from the field (compared to Stanford's 37.9 percent) and made eight three-pointers.

For Stanford, center Stefan Nastic had one of the best games of his career, scoring 15 points on 5-7 shooting. But like he has all season, Nastic was plagued by foul trouble and played only 20 minutes before fouling out with 5:04 remaining.

Seniors Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell also had strong efforts in their final collegiate games. Huestis scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds, Powell tallied 17 and 9.

But an uncharacteristically poor performance by Chasson Randle, who went 5-21 from the field on his way to an inefficient 21-point night, only four points from Anthony Brown, and only two from the bench (Dayton had 34 bench points) hurt Stanford's chances.

Still, in light of the program's most successful season since 2007-2007, there was a silver lining to the loss, Dawkins said.

"Like I told Dwight and the young men in the locker room, for those guys, they left their legacy," Dawkins said. "They left their legacy. They were able to compete in the NCAA Tournament. They were able to go into the Sweet 16 and compete. They'll always be remembered for that. That's something to be proud of, and I was very proud of them and their effort all season long."

However, in the immediate aftermath, it was difficult for Stanford's players to see it that way.

"I'm sure eventually I'll get to that point (of reflecting on what we accomplished), but right now, in this moment, we've got a bunch of guys who won't get to play with each other again," Huestis said. "The season's over, for some guys, their career is over. It's a sad time, but maybe later we'll be able to look back and pride for what we did. Right now, it's a tough pill to swallow."

Added Dwight Powell: "I mean, first and foremost, this is very tough for us. I mean, one of our goals is to make the tournament, obviously, but we definitely didn't -- we fell short of all of our goals, and that's always disappointing, especially when we're done, seniors are done. We don't have any more games. But hopefully, the guys that won't be with the team next year have left a legacy, like Coach said, and have left a path for those guys to follow and exceed. I mean, we're a family on this team. So whatever they do next year, I'll be there, as many games as I can, watching and helping the guys out in any way I can. I mean, right now it's just -- it's a very difficult pill to swallow."

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On the heels of its best season in six years, the Stanford program faces many questions heading into the 2014-2015 campaign. The Cardinal will have to replace two of its top players, Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell, who will graduate. Johnny Dawkins' job status is also in question. Dawkins will return next year - that much is certain - but with his contract set to expire after the 2015-2016, an extension could be in store. Does Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir want to see another successful NCAA Tournament caliber season from Dawkins before offering an extension, or has he seen enough already to pull the trigger?

Either way, there is reason for optimism. Stefan Nastic, Anthony Brown, and Chasson Randle will return next year and are locks to be in the 2014-2015 starting lineup. There's also every expectation inside the program that Reid Travis will be an immediate contributor. Travis is the most college-ready player Dawkins has ever recruited, and with the departure of posts Huestis and Powell, he'll be needed to assume a large role from day one.

Assuming Travis is ready, the fifth starting spot will be an intriguing question mark. If Stanford wants to employ a bigger lineup like the one it used this season, Grant Verhoeven showed the ability to rebound and hit the occasional midrange jumper in limited playing time this season. If Rosco Allen can successfully return from the injury that sidelined him for much of the 2013-2014 campaign, he, too, could make a major impact. Freshman Schuyler Rimmer could also be in the mix.

The other possibility is to move Anthony Brown to the small forward position and insert Marcus Allen, Malcolm Allen, Robert Cartwright or Christian Sanders into the starting lineup. Both Allen twins showed the athleticism and defensive intensity to make a major impact in their sophomore seasons. Sanders showed flashes of passing ability and outside shooting (though his decision-making was also questionable at times) during his freshman season. And Cartwright might be the most pure point guard on the roster the minute he steps on campus. It's uncertain whether he'll be ready for the challenge of high-level Pac-12 play right off the bat, but his passing and shooting could help an offense that was at times stagnant in 2013 without a true point guard.

At a minimum, Stanford's depth should be much better next season than it was this. That's contingent upon the Cardinal staying healthy, of course.

Stanford's other two incoming freshmen - Michael Humphrey and Dorian Pickens - were also highly ranked, highly recruited players. Pickens is a very good outside shooter and could fill some of the void left by John Gage's departure. (Pickens is a wing player rather than a post, but he's similarly adept at shooting from distance.) Humphrey, who spent much of his high school career focused on football, has plenty of basketball upside to realize. He's probably not as physically prepared for the college level as, say, Travis, but is a very skilled player who has improved drastically in the last year.

In the bigger picture, 2014-2015 will be a critical year in the progression of Stanford basketball. With a top-ranked incoming recruiting class and several key players returning, the program has more momentum now than at any point in the last six years. But while impressive, the Cardinal's tournament run doesn't complete erase the up and down 2013-2014 regular season and the previous struggles of Dawkins' tenure. As such, 2014-2015 will determine whether this tournament run is viewed as a springboard to Stanford basketball's return to the elite programs in college basketball, or merely an isolated blip in a disappointing multi-year stretch of Cardinal hoops.



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