Stanford men’s basketball started the season by winning four games in a row, and it will have to repeat that win streak again in order to keep the season alive.
The Cardinal travels to Las Vegas this week for the Pac-12 Tournament, where it will face Arizona State in the first round on Wednesday. To bring home the title and receive the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, Stanford needs to win four games in four days, with the championship game scheduled for Saturday night.
Stanford’s regular season ended with two wins in a row, including one at California in the season finale. The victories put Stanford back at .500 in Pac-12 play with a 9-9 conference record, and an 18-13 record overall.
The Pac-12 has been a lesson in parity all season, which means the tournament is wide open. Top-seeded UCLA has five losses and the next three teams all have six. Those teams have first-round byes while the remaining eight square off first.
The first hurdle will be getting past Arizona State (20-11, 9-9 Pac-12), who Stanford beat 62-59 in their only meeting this season.
Both teams have identical records in conference play, but Stanford owns the eight seed and Arizona State the nine seed for the Pac-12 Tournament.
Stanford’s backcourt dominated the first meeting as both Junior Dwight Powell and Junior Josh Huestis recorded double-doubles. Powell led all players with 22 points to go with 10 rebounds. Huestis had 13 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Huestis and Powell played a major role in holding Arizona State to only 34 percent shooting as well, with the duo combining for six blocks.
Since the loss, the Sun Devils have tumbled, having lost five of their remaining seven games, including the last four.
Stanford has been average but steady, going 4-3 over the home stretch. Despite not having a regular-season league title or NCAA at-large bid to play for, head coach Johnny Dawkins has liked the attitude and demeanor of his team during the tail end of the season.
“Our guys still want to play a lot of basketball. Guys are still staying around in the gym, they still come in early, they’re still leaving late,” Dawkins said after the final home game of the season.
That mentality and extra work paid off as Stanford finished its season sweep of Cal.
The Golden Bears are the only team with a bye in the tournament that Stanford has not lost to. The Cardinal split its series with Oregon, lost the only game against Arizona and was swept by UCLA.
In Stanford’s favor, though, is its recent success in March. Starting with last year’s NIT run, Stanford has won seven games in a row in this month.
The Cardinal is 2-2 in neutral site games this season, with both losses coming in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament during preseason non-conference play. Stanford also won a game there, as well as its season opener against San Francisco, which was played in Oakland.
The first round matchup will be familiar for Stanford, as it is the same as last year’s. In the 2012 Pac-12 tournament, Stanford blew out Arizona State 85-65, propelled by sophomore guard Chasson Randle’s 30 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
Stanford faltered in the second round in a 77-71 loss to California. It would later receive a bid and win the NIT tournament. Going into last year’s postseason, Stanford had a slightly better 10-8 conference record.
Colorado, which was the fifth seed, ended up winning the Pac-12 tournament last year. The Buffs also won their first game in the NCAA Tournament and are the fifth seed once again this year.
The Card’s only hope of making it to The Big Dance this season is by winning the Pac 12 Tournament–improbable, but not impossible. Its journey will either end or begin Wednesday against Arizona State.