Five questions for men's basketball

The Stanford men's basketball team kicked off their season on Wednesday night with an exhibition victory against Cal State Monterey Bay, trouncing the Otters 87-56. The Cardinal's season won't officially begin until Monday against the San Diego Toreros, but perhaps the first game can give Card fans a few insights into the season ahead.

1. How will the Cardinal deal with a dearth of senior leadership?

Even though the world of college basketball is full of one-and-done players in this day and age, the issue of senior leadership is not a typical problem for Stanford basketball. Last year, the Card had five seniors on the roster (including Tavita Pritchard, who joined the team halfway through the season). This year is a different story – there are zero seniors on the squad. So how will Coach Johnny Dawkins try and alleviate this leadership problem?

UC-Monterey Bay was a good way for Cardinal fans to see that the junior class is capable of handling that burden. Jarrett Mann, Jeremy Green, Josh Owens and Andrew Zimmerman all contributed in a big way on Wednesday night. Green led the way with 26 points, as he went 5-10 from beyond the arc.

The junior class clearly controlled the pace of the game, with Owens crashing the boards and Green shooting the lights out, but I was also impressed by the increasing maturity of Jarrett Mann. Mann was efficient on the floor, with four assists and five rebounds to compliment his five points. If Mann continues to be a distributor, setting up Owens to attack the basket and Green to hit open three-pointers, I don't think the lack of seniors should affect the Cardinal at all. Simply put, the juniors will have to step up, but I believe they are up to the task of leading this young team.

2. How will Josh Owens' return to the hardwood affect the Cardinal?

It seems, after only one game, that Owens will make his presence felt in every game this year. He seemed a little feisty with the basketball at times, but 11 rebounds and 16 points in only 13 minutes of play speaks for itself. Owens will have to curtail his physical play (he racked up four fouls in that short time on the floor), but he also will draw a lot of contact from defenses this year, because he is such a big-play threat both on the fast break and in the half-court set. Owens may just have been pressing a little too hard on the gas (and it's hard to blame him for doing that), but overall his performance on Wednesday seemed to indicate that very good things are in store for Josh this season. Owens also had a thunderous dunk that was awe-inspiring in its authority, meaning that Stanford fans had better get their popcorn ready for some big slams this season.

3. Can Stanford replace Landry Fields?

Short answer: No. Long answer: Nooooo. But while Landry Fields may have taken his talents to New York, there is still reason to believe that a couple guys can score a ton of points on any given night. In particular, I expect Josh Owens and Jeremy Green to provide a nasty one-two scoring punch for the Card. Owens capitalized on dunks and putbacks on Wednesday, but he struggled a little bit with his jump shot. If Owens can convert a few more of those jumpers throughout the course of the season, Stanford fans could find themselves having déjà vu moments to the man who now sports the orange and blue. Green is a very different player from Fields, obviously, but I expect his dominance from beyond the arc to lead to some huge scoring nights for the Green-Owens tandem. When Green is feeling it and is putting up points in a hurry, defenses will be forced to adjust to the perimeter, opening up the lane, and opening up opportunities for Owens to dominate inside.

4. Can the freshman class play major roles right away?

Absolutely. The Cardinal's impressive recruiting class, which was ranked No. 15 in the nation by Scout.com, showed their talent was not to be taken lightly. Dwight Powell turned in a terrific 10-point, four-rebound performance in 16 minutes of work, as he dazzled the crowd with some pretty serious athleticism. A dunk, a blocked shot, and a nice left-hand finish past a defender on the block were some plays that really stood out for Powell, but he looks like he could spend a lot of time on the floor this season and contribute in a major way. Guard Anthony Brown started the game for the Cardinal, and played decent basketball in his first college game. He started slowly in the first half, but played better in the second half, getting all of his seven points after the halftime break. If Brown can play the more measured game he had in the second half, expect him to also play a big role, as the 6'6" freshman looks like he can develop into an excellent player because of nice passing touch and a good jump shot. Fellow guard Aaron Bright didn't score any points on Wednesday, but he showed a lot of great hustle, especially on defense. Unfortunately, Bright picked up four fouls, but his good hustle should earn him some time coming off the bench this season, especially when he can be used to cover a quick point guard. Stefan Nastic delighted the fans with seven points from off the bench to go with his four rebounds. Nastic is a bit undersized as a forward, but he could be used to spell the big men in physical games. John Gage and Josh Huestis looked a little uneven in their debuts, so they may be a work in progress. All in all, this recruiting class, dubbed the "Farm Fab Five", will play a huge role in determining just how successful the Cardinal are this season.

5. Do all of these things add up to a better than predicted ninth-place finish in the Pac-10?

I think this team is too good to finish in the cellar of the volatile Pac-10, so I can't see Stanford finishing that low in the conference. The ball has bounced against the Card many times in the last few years, and I think Stanford can step up and win some of the close games that have plagued the Johnny Dawkins era so far. The conference looks to have so many teams with much bigger questions to address this season, and I think Stanford has the talent to improve on last year's 7-11 conference mark. And even if (when?) these predictions don't turn out, when the season tips off Monday night against San Diego, Stanford fans should be ready for a fun season.


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