Making the NCAA Tournament in March is more than just something Stanford Cardinal fans are hoping for this year; the coaching career of Johnny Dawkins depends upon it. Now that we’ve made it nearly to the end of non-conference play, it’s time to take a look back at how Stanford did and really ask the big question: Did Stanford do well enough in non-conference play to be worthy of a berth in The Big Dance? I think the answer is yes, and here’s why.
First of all, their overall record is well over .500; it’s 8-3. Stanford has won the games they were supposed to win, which is something no team making the NCAA tournament in March should be unable to do. They also won a game they shouldn’t have won on paper. That’s right, Stanford upset the only top-25 team they faced so far this season, the 10th-ranked Connecticut Huskies, 53-51. This win is huge because it puts a little doubt in the minds of people who think the 21-point loss to Pittsburgh (88-67) wasn’t a fluke. Also, Pittsburgh and BYU not being in the top 25 teams should help Stanford. The reason is simply that the selection committee will look and see The Cardinal beat the only ranked non-conference team they played.
Stanford has also showed signs of improvement. Ever since their loss to Pittsburgh, The Cardinal has stepped up its game. They did more than just show they can be a ranked team (and a top-10 team at that), they showed they could turn the ball over less. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Turnovers are the number one thing The Cardinal needs to work on. Stanford kept the turnovers less than 10 (only eight) and walked away with a win against Connecticut. Stanford, this is what happens when you take care of the ball; I’m proud of you guys! They did lose to a decent Michigan team, but it was close and low scoring compared to their other losses (68-65). If The Cardinal is going to lose a game, a one-possession loss looks a lot better than a 10 or 20 point margin.
Stanford has done well thus far, but keep in mind the real challenge will be conference play. Over all, Stanford’s non-conference schedule hasn’t been too terribly hard. The PAC-12 has a lot of teams that are playing very well: Arizona (ranked No. 1), Oregon (ranked 12th), Colorado (ranked 21st), UCLA and California are some teams that come to mind. The Cardinal will need to keep winning against ranked opponents as much as they can while also showing signs of improved play. The good news is they are currently doing just that and just need to keep doing it.