Not since the Lopez Twins roamed the streets of Palo Alto has there been this much excitement surrounding the Stanford men's basketball program. With its core (minus forward Josh Owens) returning from last year's NIT title team, and Cardinal and NBA alum back with the program as an assistant coach, expectations are sky-high for Johnny Dawkins and Stanford.
Cardinal Sports Report enlisted the assistance of former Bay Area resident and author of the popular Yahoo! Sports basketball blog The Dagger Jeff Eisenberg to preview the 2012-2013 Stanford basketball season.
This is the second segment of our two part preview. The first focused on the Pac-12 men's basketball conference as a whole, while the this is more Stanford-specific.
Cardinal Sports Report: With Stanford specifically, we're now in year five of Johnny Dawkins' tenure. The program has really recruited remarkably well given the minuscule pool of academically qualified players, but I think there's still some unease and anxiety about the team's continued absence from the NCAA Tournament. From your perspective, what are reasonable expectations for this Stanford team? Is it NCAA Tournament or bust?
Jeff Eisenberg: I think it's NCAA Tournament or bust this year, to be honest. That changes if there are injuries or something like that, but when you come off of an NIT Championship, when you have some of the wins that they had out of conference last year and when you return pretty much the entire roster with the exception of Josh Owens and Andrew Zimmerman, I think that the expectations need to be that this program needs to get to the NCAA Tournament this season.
I understand why it took a while for Johnny Dawkins to get the program to this point. I don't think he was left with much by Trent Johnson. I think people nationally kind of tend to remember that Lopez twins team in 2008 that Trent led to the Sweet-16, but outside of the Lopez twins they didn't recruit particularly well under Trent Johnson and there was almost zero talent when Johnny Dawkins took over. So I think that it's good that they've given him some time. I think that he's deserved that time and deserved that patience, but at the same time, I think this is the year when you need to start some seeing some results or you're going to start having some questions about the direction of the program.
But I agree with you. I think that they've recruited really well. I like the talent that is in the program, I like the direction that the program is headed. I just think that now all of that needs to translate into wins and losses, especially in conference play, and into an NCAA Tournament bid.
CSR: What do you think the biggest question marks are for Stanford? What could potentially go wrong to prevent an NCAA Tournament bid?
JE: I think to start with the frontcourt. There's not a ton of size there. I think that neither Dwight Powell nor Josh Huestis are natural centers. If those two are your starters, which I certainly think they should be, I think that's an issue against a team like, say, for example UCLA, which has a mammoth kid like Josh Smith which will be a tough matchup for them defensively, or even against an Aziz N'Diaye or against some of Arizona's freshmen. That might be a little bit of a challenge because of the lack of size there.
In terms of issues, I mean I still come back to Powell. I think that if he isn't able to make that next step and go from a complementary guy to one of Stanford's leading scorers and leading players, I think that handicaps the team a little bit and that would be something that would kind of curtail the growth that we're talking about that they could have from a decent but not great team to an NCAA Tournament team and team that could potentially even do some damage there if everything broke in their favor.
CSR: Finally, what is the x-factor for the 2012 Cardinal? Which player's emergence do you think could turn the Card into viable Pac-12 contenders?
JE: I still think it's Powell, but another one that I haven't mentioned that I think could kind of all into that x-factor category is Anthony Brown. Kind of the same thing as Powell, he came in with a lot of expectations. I don't think that he was healthy last year, similar to Powell. I know his knees have kind of given him chronic problems. I am less optimistic that he will have that breakout season that I think that Powell will have and has the potential to have because I'm not sure that he's going to be able to get that explosiveness back that he had in high school and maybe even at times as a freshman. But, if his knees really are healthier and if he's able to get to the rim and be more than just a spot-up shooter like he was for most of last season, then that's definitely a potential x-factor for Stanford because that gives them something that they wouldn't have from that position. Right now you would think that Chasson Randle and that Aaron Bright are probably the two guys that are going to be able to get to the rim and create off of the dribble. If Anthony Brown is another guy that can do that in addition to his jump shot that only strengthens that Stanford backcourt and gives them another weapon.
Behind Powell's career-high 27 points, the Cardinal won its season opener against USF at Oracle Arena 74-62 on Friday night. Stanford will play its home opener at 8:30 p.m. this evening at Maples Pavilion.