It’s a make-or-break year for Stanford basketball coach Johnny Dawkins … and he knows it.
The Cardinal haven’t been to the NCAA tournament during Dawkins’ five years on the job and athletic director Bernard Muir hasn’t exactly been secretive about his desire for Stanford to return to March Madness in 2014.
“Absolutely, I think for this year to be a success for our group we should make the tournament,” Dawkins told the Associated Press. “We have the experience and our kids have been through a lot. I think part of that adversity is what helps you. It’s what you do with it. So our guys realize that this is a special year. We have five seniors and so we’d like to see these guys leave their legacy. And so that would be a fair statement [that the Cardinal needs to make the tourney]. I think that’s an attainable goal.”
Dawkins got a big boost when Dwight Powell opted to forego the NBA Draft and return for his senior season. Powell, a 6-foot-10 forward, was a first-team All-Pac-12 pick last year after averaging 14.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game—the only player to rank in the top 10 in the conference in both categories.
Powell was also named the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player after averaging 5.8 points and 4.6 boards in 35 games as a sophomore.
Both of the other Cardinal to average double figures for last year’s 19-15 team that lost to Alabama in the second round of the NIT are also back this year. Senior Josh Huestis averaged 10.5 points and nine rebounds per game last year and junior Chasson Randle scored 13.6 points per game a year ago while leading the team with 170 3-point attempts.
The Cardinal suffered a tough loss when forward Andy Brown’s career came to an end after suffering the fourth torn ACL since 2009. But Stanford is getting back swingman Anthony Brown, who missed all but five games a year ago with a hip injury. Two years ago, Brown averaged 8.1 points and four rebounds a game and was an All-Pac-12 freshman team selection in 2010-11.
Many teams have followed up a strong run through the NIT with a run into the NCAA tournament the following year, but Stanford wasn’t able to do that in 2013 after taking home the NIT crown in 2012.
Dawkins is 94-74 in five years on the farm, 45-26 after back-to-back losing seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11. Stanford definitely has the experience to challenge for a tournament bid and is a very deep squad, too.
Dawkins knows there are no excuses and after getting snubbed two years ago in part because of a weak non-conference schedule, the Cardinal challenged themselves in the early going this year, including back-to-back games in November at Connecticut and at home against national finalist Michigan just 72 hours later.
“We scheduled based on the fact that we had a lot of experience returning,” Dawkins said. “I thought it was the appropriate schedule for our guys to compete against. When conference play starts, we’ll all be 0-0 and we’ll all be competing heavily for a Pac-12 title.”