Stanford Opens NIT Slate with UC Davis

For Stanford and UC Davis, the road to Madison Square Garden begins at Maples Pavilion.

The good news? Stanford is participating in its fourth straight postseason tournament. The not-so-good news? This year, it’s not the Cardinal's tournament of choice.

Once a near shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament, the Cardinal are in the NIT field for the third time in four seasons. Tuesday night at Maples Pavilion, No. 2-seed Stanford (19-13, 9-9 Pac-12; RPI #59) begins things with an opening-round matchup against No. 7-seed UC Davis.

The reasons for Stanford’s slippage have been well-documented. Injuries wreaking havoc on the Cardinal’s defensive depth. Defensive lapses at inopportune times. The inability to come through with big shots late to preserve leads and win games. And overall, a team that struggled to play with consistently high energy.

The Cardinal are coming off a two-game stay in the Pac-12 Tournament that was equal parts exhilarating (a last-second shot by Chasson Randle to beat Washington) and excruciating (a second-half beatdown by Utah). Those two games also seemed to be a microcosm of the Card’s fortunes during conference play.

Indeed, the splits for Stanford between the first and second halves of the Pac-12 season are particularly striking. In the first nine games of conference play, the Card averaged just under 79 points per game, hit over 44% from three-point range, had 28 more assists than turnovers, and went 3-2 on the road. Chasson Randle scored 20-plus points in seven games and shot 44% from the floor. During that span, Stanford went 6-3.

But in the second half of Pac-12 play, Stanford averaged just under 67 points per game, shot 31.7% from three, had 15 more turnovers than assists, and went 0-4 on the road. The Card had a halftime lead only once. Randle didn’t have a 20-point night at all, shooting just under 30% from the floor in the process. Stanford’s record during that span: 3-6.

While Stanford is in the postseason for a fourth straight season, this is all new for UC Davis (25-6, 14-2 Big West; RPI #75). The Aggies are playing their first postseason game as a Division I program, and it's their first postseason overall in 15 years.

The Aggies won the Big West regular-season mark, but fell to Hawaii in the conference tournament semifinals. UC Davis won just nine games last season, leading the nation with a 16-win turnaround, and going from worst to first in the Big West.

As a team, UC Davis hit 45% of its three-pointers, also the best rate in the nation. The Aggies have experience playing Pac-12 competition, but it wasn’t necessarily a positive one: on December 28, they dropped a 90-83 decision to Washington State.

Senior guard Corey Hawkins leads UC Davis with 20.4 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game. The 2015 Big West Player of the Year gets help from senior forward Josh Ritchart (12 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and junior forward Josh Fox (the Big West Sixth Man of the Year). Sophomore guard Darius Graham, senior guard Avery Johnson, and junior forward J.T. Adenrele round out the rest of the Aggies’ probable starting lineup.

UC Davis could also bring a sizeable contingent on fans to Maples Pavilion, as is usually the case when the Aggies head to The Farm. Stanford is 17-1 all-time against UC Davis, including an 83-56 pasting of the Aggies when the two teams met at Maples in December 2013.

Stanford and No. 5-seed Arizona State represent the Pac-12 in this season’s NIT. The tournament will also tinker with the rules, as the games will feature a 30-second shot clock.

Tuesday night’s winner at Maples will face either No. 3-seed Rhode Island or No. 6-seed Iona. The first three rounds of the 32-team NIT are held at campus sites, with Madison Square Garden hosting the semifinals and championship games.

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