Stanford men’s basketball might have missed out on the midnight train to Georgia (the Final Four is in Atlanta), but the Cardinal will open the defense of its National Invitational Tournament title on Tuesday night at home against Stephen F. Austin.
A four-seed in the NIT after losing to Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament last week, Stanford (18-4, 9-9 Pac-12) is hoping to follow in the footsteps of St. John’s (1943, 1944) and South Carolina (2005, 2006) as the only teams to capture back-to-back NIT championships. The Cardinal rode junior Aaron Bright to last year’s title, defeating Minnesota 75-51 in the championship game.
But the opening-round matchup with SFA will be a battle. The Lumberjacks (27-4, 16-2 Southland Conference)) have the most wins in the 32-team field, and was destined for the NCAA Tournament until Northwestern State made a second half run and pulled out a 68-66 upset win over the `Jacks in the championship game of the Southland Conference Tournament on Saturday.
In addition, SFA upset Oklahoma (a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament) earlier this year on the road in Norman, Okla.
The ‘Jacks aren’t usually in the NIT, having played in the tournament just three times and not since 2008 when they lost to UMass in the opening round.
“Our guys have put together a very special season, and we cannot forget that it is not over yet,” SFA coach Danny Kaspar said. “We came up just short of our ultimate goal of the NCAA Tournament, but these guys still have earned a conference championship ring and have a chance to make some noise in the NIT.”
Stanford is 35-20 all-time in 23 postseason appearances overall, including 12-4 in six NIT appearances. The Card is 3-1 all-time against teams from the Southland Conference, most recently defeating Central Arkansas 91-52 last season, but this will be the first meeting between Stanford and Stephen F. Austin.
The first three rounds are played at campus sites, with the semifinals and championship game played at Madison Square Garden in New York on April 2-4. A win over the Lumberjacks would send Stanford to the second round against either No. 1 seed Alabama or No. 8 Northeastern. Maryland, Iowa and Virginia (bubble teams for the NCAA Tournament) are all on Stanford’s half of the draw, with Kentucky, Arizona State, Washington and Tennessee all on the other side of the bracket.
Tickets for Tuesday’s game will go on sale Monday, March 18, at 9 a.m. Courtside seating is priced at $30, lower level reserved seating is priced at $15 and upper level general admission is $10 ($8 for children and seniors). Admission is free for all Stanford students. Tickets can be purchased online at www.gostanford.com, by calling 1-800-STANFORD or in person at the Stanford Athletic Ticket Office.
Tipoff from Maples Pavilion will be at 8 p.m. and televised on ESPN2.