A season that started with promise is hanging by a thread as the Stanford men’s basketball team hosts rival Cal this weekend.
Stanford entered the 2012-13 campaign with their eyes set on an NCAA Tournament berth after capturing the NIT postseason title last season. But the Cardinal (10-7, 1-3) could be watching March Madness on TV again this year if they’re unable to pick up a crucial win against Cal (10-6, 2-2) at Maples Pavilion on Saturday.
“It would put us in a big hole [to lose] back-to-back home games,” coach Johnny Dawkins said. “That’s something that we have to avoid at all costs.”
With a deep lineup returning, Stanford was picked to finish fourth in the conference by the Pac-12 preseason media poll, the team’s highest projection since the 2005-06 season. But the Cardinal lost a lot of muscle and experience up front with the graduation Andrew Zimmerman and Josh Owens last spring.
“Those guys are missing,” Dawkins said. “They were our senior leaders.”
But the most noticeable difference to date is the drop in the team’s shooting efficiency. The Cardinal shot 48.1 percent from the field and 46.1 percent from beyond the arc during last March’s NIT run. Right now, however, Stanford is last in the conference in field-goal percentage (40.7 percent) and 3-point shooting (30.1 percent).
“If they’re shooting the ball like I know they’re capable of, I think this team is better than last year’s team,” Dawkins said.
The Cardinal need to shoot the ball well to account for their undersized backcourt. Sophomore Chasson Randle and junior Aaron Bright are two of the best guards in the Pac-12, but they rarely play on the court together because of their size. Randle is 6-foot-1, while Bright stands at 5-foot-11.
This could prove to be a problem against Cal, which features a long, dynamic backcourt with freshman Tyrone Wallace (6-foot-4), junior Justin Cobbs (6-foot-3) and junior Allen Crabbe (6-foot-6).
Crabbe is the conference’s top scorer, averaging 20.1 points per game, and he and Cobbs have combined to score 50.5 percent of the team’s point this season.
“If those guys, of course, are having great nights, they can pretty much beat anybody,” Dawkins said.
He said the key to beating the Bears is finding a way to contain the duo.
“You have to be committed to trying to slow them down,” Dawkins said. “I don’t know if you can ever really stop guards like that.”
If Stanford does pull out a win, Randle said it could shift the team’s momentum.
“We’re close,” he said. “If we do the little things we could be a really good team.”