As quickly as it began, the end of college basketball is nearly upon us, as the Stanford teams make the final turn into their final five (four for the women) games of the season and gear up for whatever tournaments they wind up in come March. The Stanford teams went a combined total of 4-0 against the Southern California teams this weekend, with the women rebounding from some rough patches and the men continuing to improve. But what does the future truly hold for both of these teams? The Daily’s King Jemison, Daniel Martinez-Krams and Asia Zhang pull out their crystal balls and weigh in on the men’s recent successes, the women’s performances against top national talent and the slim, slim chances for the men to make March Madness.
Men’s basketball has gone from being 0-3 in the Pac-12 to being in contention for a top-four seed in the conference and a possible bye at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. They are 5-1 in their last six games, and looked utterly dominant over UCLA. How on earth did this happen, and how do they make sure it keeps happening?
King Jemison (KJ): During the ugly start to the season, Coach Jerod Haase said over and over again that his team just needed to find some consistency. They could play good basketball for a half (like the second half at North Carolina), or even for a game (going to OT at Kansas), but they could not string together multiple good performances in a row. Now, they can. That’s the number 1 reason why this team has managed to turn things around and get themselves back into the upper echelon of the Pac-12. To make sure this glorious run continues, they need to continue to get big performances from their swing players like Josh Sharma and Oscar Da Silva. Sharma just won his second Pac-12 Player of the Week award of the season after amassing 22 points and 12 rebounds on Saturday, and he went 17-20 from the field in the two victories over USC and UCLA. According to KenPom, he is by far the most efficient player on Stanford’s roster, and yet he can get lost for long stretches of games. When he puts up double-double numbers, Stanford can be an elite offensive team. The same goes for Oscar Da Silva. When he plays well, Stanford plays well. In fact, the team is 5-0 when he scores more than 13 points. If Sharma and Da Silva can be their best selves more consistently, Stanford could climb all the way to 2nd in the Pac-12.
Daniel Martinez-Krams (DMK): This recent run was by no means unexpected, but should also not be overstated. That one loss, a blowout against Oregon, was arguably the team’s worst of the season. The victory against a winless Cal on the road was less than impressive. Most importantly, the team is experiencing a bit of Maples Magic. The team is 9-2 in home games, and 5-9 in all other contests. It is no surprise that the statement game against UCLA came in front of the 6th Man whereas the showing in Oregon was in front of a notoriously hostile Oregon crowd. Stanford has also won 4 of 5 games in which KZ Okpala scores at least 23, but the Joe Buck-esque da Silva stat means a lot more. It means the team is sharing the ball, playing at a fast pace in transition and not relying too much on one superstar. Success happened because a young team developed over the course of a season and began to buy into a head coach’s system moving through his third year at the helm, and for that to continue look no further than the remaining four of six home games.
The women’s team is back in the top 10, as they claim the No. 7 ranking nationally. With Alanna Smith averaging a double-double on the team’s road trip to Southern California, she claimed her third Pac-12 Player of the Week award this season. The Cardinal women seem to be back to their winning ways, but now that we’ve seen how they perform against a top team in the country in No. 2 Oregon, what have our postseason expectations for this team become? How much can they actually accomplish in the tournament?
KJ: Stanford still has every chance to reach the Final Four. The loss to Oregon was ugly to say the least, but the Cardinal simply didn’t show up in that game. We can’t forget that Stanford owns a win over #1 Baylor in a game they dominated throughout, and they have a big three (Alanna Smith, Kiana Williams, DiJonai Carrington) that can match up with anybody. This team will go as far in March as that big three can take them. More specifically, Stanford will go as far as the three-ball can take them. The Cardinal have a Top 30 scoring offense in the country which ranks 17th nationally in three-pointers per game. If Stanford can hit shots, they could very well find themselves in Tampa this April.
DMK: I expect Stanford to win a national championship. They have the star power, the defense, the clutch shot, the rim protection, the youth, the drive, the experience and the coaching to do so. We have a sample size larger than the Oregon game to compare Stanford to the nation’s top competition. As King mentioned, Stanford looked brilliant against Baylor, Tennessee, Oregon State and Arizona State. Show me a team that wants to face a Tara VanDerveer-led squad whose best player is a senior with national team experience, post moves for days and a killer outside shot. If any school starts to sheepishly raise its hand, you can remind them that Smith is playing off of the nation’s best point guard, a shooting guard named Kiana Williams, and DiJonai Carrington, a player who Coach VanDerveer would have to politely ask to not score. With the reemergence of Maya Dodson, the experience of Alyssa Jerome, the breathtaking development of Tara’s triplets and the Cardinal faithful behind them, Stanford is going far.
Asia Zhang (AZ): I continue to expect the best from the Stanford ladies. Starting the season with stellar game winning streaks, first with an eight game winning streak, followed by an eleven game winning streak after sustaining a single loss to Gonzaga, the Stanford women are absolutely exceptional in every aspect of the game, making 44.7 percent of their field goals, 35.5 percent of triples, 40.3 percent of rebounds and 70.1 percent of free throws. With these powerful statistics driving their team, the women are ready to take on any challenge that comes their way. Although the last few weeks have been a little rough for the Cardinal, adding three out of their four total losses within the last three weeks, their fiery Cardinal spirit still runs strong. With our queen from down under Alanna Smith, the sharpest point guard junior Kiana Williams and junior DiJonai Carrington carrying the team, the ladies will have no problem in the future under the guidance of the true basketball goddess Coach Tara VanDerveer.
Stanford men’s basketball currently has a NET (it’s the selection committee’s hip, new version of RPI) ranking of 97 (up from 108 last week!). If we take everything to work the way it should (let’s be honest, it won’t, it’s the NCAA), the top 68 teams will make the March Madness tournament. That means that Stanford is only 31 teams away from sneaking in on Selection Sunday. They currently sit tied with USC and Colorado for fifth place in the conference with Washington, Utah, Oregon State and Arizona State ahead of them. They’ve still got five (winnable) games left on the schedule and then the Pac-12 tournament. Can. They. Do it?
KJ: It would not surprise me if Stanford wins four of their next five to finish the season. Arizona State, Arizona, Washington State and Cal are all very winnable games. In fact, I believe Stanford should win every one of those games. Washington is a different animal because the Huskies are by far the best team in the Pac-12, but in Maples, anything can happen. Still, even if Stanford won out to finish 19-11, I think they would be at best a fringe bubble team on Selection Sunday. Their KenPom rating has them 102nd nationally. They have losses to teams ranked 93rd (USC), 100th (UCLA) and 114th (Utah), and their best win is over #62 Arizona State. That’s a tough sell for the Selection Committee, even with Stanford Athletic Director Bernard Muir as the Committee Chairman. Stanford’s best route into the NCAA Tournament is still through winning the Pac-12 Tournament, and they will have every chance to do just that if they can finish strong and get a top four seed that would afford them a first-round bye.
DMK: Winning out, including a win over 39th ranked Washington, would not be enough. Stanford needs an automatic bid. The only way the Cardinal can secure an automatic bid is to win the PAC-12 tournament in Las Vegas. Unlike all-expense-paid trips to watch the men battle it out, Stanford does not have the ability to hand out automatic bids for free. Stanford needs to win the Pac-12 title for the first time since 2004. I fully believe Stanford could beat any team in the conference on any given day. Even with the improved consistency, it’s hard to imagine Stanford putting it together to win out the regular season to secure the bye they desperately need in the conference tournament and then winning out through the semifinal. Of course, I say semifinal because Pac-12 officiating will guarantee that Washington loses that game so the conference will place more than one team in the tournament.
Contact King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu, Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu, and Asia Zhang at asiaz ‘at’ stanford.edu.