While it is easy to overlook nonconference play, Stanford men’s basketball head coach Johnny Dawkins and his players understand that it is important to make a statement both in the Pac-12 and on a national level in the team’s first few games of the regular season.
Coming off of a 2011-12 campaign that saw the Cardinal capture its second National Invitational Tournament championship, the crew is projected to land an at-large bid in this years NCAA tournament, something the Card hasn’t done since 2008, but not if Stanford can’t successfully navigate its nonconference schedule.
Stanford (2-0) will look to improve its record to 3-0 tonight when it hosts the Alcorn State Braves (1-1) in its second of three straight home games. After pulling out a victory against Oakwood University to open their season, the Braves were dominated in their second game of the year, falling to Missouri by a score of 91-54. They will certainly be looking to right the ship against the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion.
Like Stanford, Alcorn State managed to retain the majority of its core from last year, losing only two seniors to graduation. The Braves are returning two double-digit scorers from last season in Marquiz Baker (11.0 points per game) and Twann Oakley (10.5 points per game). However, the two seniors have yet to see the floor thus far this season, leaving the Braves desperate for a go-to scorer heading into their game against Stanford.
Instead, the Card will have the task of slowing down 6-foot-4 senior point guard Anthony Nieves. Nieves scored a game-high 18 points in the Braves’ contest with Oakwood University and managed to drop 13 in the big loss to Missouri. He is shooting better than 50 percent from the floor over the course of his first two games, a very efficient mark. He has also distributed the ball well, accumulating five assists.
Sophomore guard LeAntwan Luckett has also stepped up for the Braves, proving that he should be considered for the starting spot when Oakley and Baker return to action. Luckett scored 15 points on 7-13 shooting to go along with four rebounds and three assists in Alcorn State’s first game. He didn’t have as much luck against Missouri, going a dismal 4-18 from the floor.
Stanford guards Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright will have the task of slowing down the Braves’ backcourt. The duo was effective on defense last season and should enjoy the opportunity to play against a couple of solid offensive guards.
However, Alcorn State is the team that needs to develop a fundamentally sound defensive strategy. After giving up 91 points to Missouri, they will almost surely struggle with a Stanford offense that has been very efficient through its first two games.
While many people were expecting Randle and Bright to excel, the inside-out game has appeared to be Stanford’s strong suit thus far. The guards have run the offense through their big men (juniors Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis), who have been very effective in the paint. Powell and Huestis have terrorized opposing defenses, using their unique combination of size and athleticism to score inside of the free-throw line. This has opened up the court, giving the sophomore Randle and junior Bright open looks on the perimeter.
In its first two games, the Card has enjoyed timely scoring from its veteran players. When Randle and Bright were struggling in the season opener, Powell was on top of his game, scoring a career-high 27 points. Huestis chipped in 11, helping the Cardinal secure a win. Conversely, the backcourt mates of Randle and Bright handled most of the scoring on Monday night, as Randle dropped a game-high 24 points to go along with 16 for Bright.
Stanford will look to continue showcasing their offensive efficiency tonight against Alcorn State, potentially improving their record to 3-0 in the process.
Contact Mike Schwartz at firstname.lastname@example.org.