Stanford men’s basketball begins it’s Pac-12 Tournament with a first-round battle against Cal. King Jemison and Quinn Barry discuss the Cardinal vs. Cal, Stanford’s chances to beat UCLA and Arizona and which players should perform in Las Vegas.
The Pac-12 Tournament begins today as the Cardinal play Cal at 2:30 p.m. The Golden Bears have given Stanford plenty of trouble this season, including a defeat at home. Will Cal cause even more trouble on the third time around?
King Jemison (KJ): Hopefully Stanford has learned its lesson from the first two meetings with their archrival. Cal is not a good team, but college basketball is weird and upsets happen all the time, particularly when you factor in the added emotion involved with rivalry games. Cal has nothing to lose and everything to play for, so they are very dangerous in this game once again. But Stanford is considerably more talented, and the young Cardinal have really hit their stride since the last meeting with Cal. I think this time Stanford jumps all over the Bears early and cruises to the finish for an easy win to start the tournament.
Quinn Barry (QB): Cal always plays their best ball against Stanford, so this is going to be a tougher matchup than the typical No. 5 vs. No. 12 conference seeds. Still, at a neutral site, with a full-strength Cardinal squad that just took down Arizona State on the Road and hung with No. 1 Arizona until the final minute, I am confident Stanford will win comfortably. Add in that every game could be Dorian Pickens’ last, that Reid Travis has been unstoppable of late, and that Davis and Okpala have played much more consistently. I just do not see how the Golden Bears, losers of seven straight, can match up with a red-hot Stanford that’s 4-1 in their last 5.
Stanford’s route to the Pac-12 finale is daunting. It would have to beat Cal, fourth-seeded UCLA and presumably top-seeded Arizona. What will the Cardinal have to do to make it to the championship round?
KJ: A lot. After Stanford finished up their thrilling road win over Arizona State last Saturday, they were hoping to sit back and watch Utah and UCLA lose to give them the second seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. Instead, things went a little differently. Both those teams took care of business, giving them the same conference record as the Cardinal. But thanks to head-to-head losses to both teams, Stanford fell to the bottom of the pecking order and ended up missing out on a double bye and got thrown into Arizona’s half of the bracket. That was a rough break.
The way I see it, Arizona and UCLA are the most talented teams in the conference, and it’s not even close. UCLA, led by perennially underrated superstar Aaron Holiday and a cadre of talented freshmen, knows they need at least one win to secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament. ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has them in his “Last Four In” category. They are teetering on the edge of elimination, but they are talented enough to beat anybody when they decide to show up, as we saw in their huge victory over USC last Saturday. Arizona has the Pac-12 Player of the Year and likely number one overall draft pick in Deandre Ayton, and now he has his running mate in the backcourt available once again since Allonzo Trier won his eligibility appeal. Plus, they have a coach in Sean Miller who feels like he has everything to prove after the allegations that have been throw his direction recently. Both these teams have a lot to play for, and that’s bad news for Stanford.
BUT there is hope. Stanford already beat UCLA once this season, and the Bruins have shown a remarkable propensity to play down to the level of their opponent, sometimes seeming like they have no interest in playing defense. If that happens again in the tournament, Stanford can definitely take advantage. Plus, the Cardinal have competed hard with Arizona in both contests this regular season. Arizona is a lot more talented, but this young Stanford teams is rapidly improving and has shown a tremendous amount of heart during Pac-12 play. All I can say is, never say never.
QB: I think Stanford’s most recent performance against Arizona, where it lost 75-68, but had multiple opportunities to get within one possession in the final two minutes, provided a blueprint for Cardinal success.
In that game, Stanford was just a few threes away from truly making it competitive. Pickens hit 2 triples ad Davis, Travis, and Oscar Da Silva added one apiece.
While Stanford has been one of the best three-point shooting squad in terms of percentage in the Pac-12, they simply do not get enough shots up to close deficits that can quickly unravel against higher-ranked teams. If they find a way to take and hit more threes, that could be the difference in a tight contest against UCLA, for example.
Further, the Cardinal need to continue dominating on the boards. Reid Travis has to show up and absolutely ball out. If they can do that, hit threes and dominate the boards, Stanford has the athleticism to play with anyone. They have proven that by beating every Pac-12 team but Arizona. And they are clicking at the right time.
Which player(s) do you expect to come up huge in the tournament?
KJ: I would expect Reid Travis to once again dominate in the paint. He was snubbed from the Karl Malone award finalist list, proving that the national media does not even consider him a top ten power forward in the college game. Trust me, he is. Hopefully, that serves as bulletin board material and gets the big man motivated to carry his team to a conference championship. I also think that seniors Dorian Pickens and Michael Humphrey will have a big final run in Vegas. Pickens has really been playing well of late, and his second half against Arizona State was something special. He willed his team to victory while playing his final regular season game in his hometown. Hopefully that momentum will carry over to the tournament. Humphrey was quiet on the Arizona road trip, but before that he was rolling as well. Both of them know this is their last shot to reach the NCAA Tournament. They’ve helped change the narrative on Stanford basketball during this successful run in Pac-12 play. Now, they have a chance to help the program reach that next step, prolonging the short time they have left in a Cardinal uniform.
QB: King chose Travis. And I agree. But if I was picking a player other than him, I would go with Okpala. His defense will be critical for locking down players like Justin Holiday on UCLA and Allonzo Trier on Arizona. Dorian Pickens and Daejon Davis also need to hit threes and drive to open up space for Cardinal bigs down low and get points in bunches. I’m pretty confident that these four will step up. But, returning to Okpala, Stanford’s chances may come down to defense if players on both teams are hitting their shots.
Contact King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu and Quinn Barry at qmbarry ‘at’ stanford.edu.