And 1: Syracuse 69, Stanford 63

Kevin Danna brings his insights and observations from Stanford's gut-wrenching Preseason NIT loss to Syracuse, 69-63, on Friday afternoon in New York City. Check out what Kevin thinks about their efforts on the floor and how the future looks bright for the young, but maturing, team.

We had it. The NIT Season Tip-Off Championship was ours for the taking.

Before the tip, you just hoped the Card would be able to hang around and play respectably. As the first few minutes wore on, you prayed Stanford would be able to bounce back from an early 6-2 deficit. Then an 8-0 run for the Farm Boys gave one some circumstantial evidence that the Farm Boys wouldn't go down easy.

As the first half came to a close, it became concrete. It was sloppy. It was ugly. A baker's dozen in turnovers and 39 percent shooting from the field. Heck, the Card had more turnovers than made field goals in the first frame. But somehow, someway, Stanford had one-upped the fifth-ranked team in the country for the first 20 minutes. 25-24, Dawkins.

As the second half played itself out, hope turned into belief. Stanford extended their lead to eight. The Farm Boys were playing with confidence. Big stones John Gage was unconscious from downtown. Chasson Randle made a nice baseline move for the short-corner finish. He followed that up with two freebies, and Stanford was up six with less than five minutes to play.

Then Syracuse decided they wanted to win.

A press like the Cardinal hadn't seen since they played the Cardinals in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, and much like that game five Marches ago, Stanford couldn't break it.

Syracuse started to warm up a little more on offense. Although Wells Fargo had closed a couple of hours earlier, the bank was open for Kris Joseph to give the Orange the lead, one they wouldn't give up.

The Card had one more strike in them - a bank shot right back at the Orange from long range for Chasson, but that was their final tally. Stanford had a chance to take the lead back, but two more turnovers sealed the deal.

It felt all too much like the Kentucky game of two Novembers past. Dawkins had out-coached another high-profile head honcho, and his boys had outplayed a team with superior talent for the vast majority of the contest. But in the end, the fifth-ranked team won out. A program-defining victory just slipped through the fingers.

But it's not fair to compare the two games. This is a whole new squad on The Farm with a lot more horses. Andrew Zimmermann and Jarrett Mann are the only two that played in both games. 

It's hurts all the same, but in different ways. In 2009-10, the Big Dance was pretty much out of the question already by the time the Kentucky game rolled around thanks to some bad-RPI losses to the gamblin' Toreros and Oral Roberts. This year, Stanford has a real shot at the tournament, and a marquee victory over the Orange in their home away from home would have earned the Card a Top-25 ranking and put Stanford not just in at-large consideration, but a potential early-season lock, provided they handle business in conference play. A victory over the Orange would have been more than just an upset and quirky win; Andy Katz, Dick Vitale, and Joe Lunardi would be GUSHING over Stanford and calling them the new pick to win the Pac-12.

The pundits won't come calling now, but it's certainly not the end of the world. Quite the opposite.

Twenty-four turnovers were a sight for sore eyes, but they won't play against a defense like that again this year. They won't play against a team like Syracuse again, period, until March.

Considering how the rest of the Pac-12 has looked so far, there is no reason why Stanford shouldn't finish higher than their pre-season ranking. Nobody else in the conference has done better than Stanford so far, taking into account the opponents all 12 teams have faced. Oregon State is a close second with their win over Texas and hard-fought loss to Vanderbilt and maybe Oregon is third for hanging tough with the Commodores and winning at Nebraska.

Outside of that though? Cal got absolutely embarrassed by Missouri in pretty much the same situation Stanford faced in the Garden- playing a team in a neutral site in their backyard. Arizona has lost to a couple of teams they would probably beat later in the season. UCLA has gone all 2009-10 on us. And don't get me started on the rest of the conference…

Back in September, I said 11-1 was doable and should be the goal in the non-conference with this exact start in mind. Halfway through the pre-post-Christmas slate, the Farm Boys are on schedule. Stanford lost out on an opportunity last Friday, but they showed a lot of heart and promise and earned some respect in the process. An at-large bid is still very much a possibility.

I like this team. A lot.

The key now is to take care of business. Stanford will be the favorites in the rest of their non-conference games without question.

Two three-game sets remain, each cluster with two "cupcakes" and one "big name." It starts on Monday with Pacific, a 2-2 squad that has yet to beat a Division-I opponent.

Monday might have "letdown game" written all over it, but Stanford needs to SLAUGHTER the Tigers. It shouldn't be close to close. Our guys need to have a "you don't belong on the same court as us, and here's why" mentality. Go out there and never let the Tigers get a sniff of success. Take that frustration of the ‘Cuse loss out on another orange-clad side.

Time to dominate.
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