So with the ramp-up to football well underway, Stanford Basketball released its 2015-16 schedule in advance of its departure for Italy on August 19. It includes some intriguing and disappointing storylines, and why wait until November?
Games 1-2: vs. Wisconsin Green-Bay, vs. Charleston Southern
Once again, Stanford Basketball smartly schedules around a Saturday of Interest, we'll call it. There will be no shortage of Cardinal fans on The Farm this weekend, so I wonder what excuse the students and fans will have should Maples be in Morgue Mode while around the biggest football game of the season? Hopefully, some folks decide to warm up for Oregon's visit to Stanford Stadium by showing up for the lid lifter the night before.
Wisconsin Green-Bay starts the season off with the debut of new coach Linc Darner, who won the D-2 championship with Florida Southern last year. He'll be joining a flock of Phoenix that went 24-9 last year, culminating in an opening round NIT defeat to Illinois State. Green Bay finished second in the Horizon League to Valaparaiso, but with a new coach it'll be tough to guess how much last year's team will inform this year's roster and style of play. There is but one senior on Wisconsin Green Bay's roster and only two starters return. So like the Cardinal, it'll be a battle of relatively inexperienced teams.
Charleston Southern finished the year ranked 180 by Ken Pomeroy. The Buccaneers also met their season's end in the NIT at the hands of eventual Stanford NIT opponent Old Dominion. Charleston Southern operates out of the Big South Conference, so this will be the second consecutive year the Cardinal faces an opponent from that conference. Last year Stanford opened with Winthrop. These teams may not be total pushovers, but let's be clear: These are scheduled wins for Stanford. If the Cardinal's not 2-0 after this weekend
Game 3: vs. SMU
Stanford welcomes rumored one time head coach candidate Larry Brown to Maples. The Mustangs went to the NCAA Tournament last year, but have had a tumultuous offseason. They appeared before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in June to respond to a number of charges involved in the academics of departed Mustang Keith Frazier. It's all added up to a possible failure to monitor charge for the Hall of Famer Brown. At a school used to NCAA corruption, this registers as a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things, but certainly warrants monitoring. More relevant to Cardinal fans, the Mustangs also return only two starters from last year's team. Assuming Brown is on the sidelines for this game, it stands as Stanford's first real challenge of the season. Home court may be the difference here.
Game 4: At St. Mary's
Credit Coach Johnny Dawkins for scheduling a quality local rival out of conference. Coaches from major conferences are usually loathe to put mid majors on the slate, because many times they are viewed as no-win scenarios. A win would be a huge feather in the cap of St. Mary's, and Stanford fans could very easily find themselves facing a de facto road crowd as the game will surely draw interest from Moraga while the typically tepid Maples crowd may be tempted to pass on this one. This one stacks up as an interesting challenge for the Cardinal. A loss could really hurt Stanford's postseason resume here. The Gaels went 21-10 last year and suffered a home court loss in the first round of the NIT last year to Vanderbilt. Randy Bennett seems to have the Gaels rolling, last year's suspension notwithstanding.
Games 5-6: vs. Villanova, vs. Arkansas or Georgia Tech
Stanford gets its second game against NCAA Tournament competition against Jay Wright's Wildcats, as they once again go reverse Snake Plisskin and Escape to New York. The Cardinal returns to Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, site of last year's win over UNLV and dismantling at the hands of eventual National Champion Duke. This is the Preseason NIT Classic. Villanova was a 33-win team last year and they return four of their five starters. Arkansas had a 27-9 season end in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, while Georgia Tech will be looking to rebound from a 12-19 season that left the Yellow Jackets completely out of the postseason. Georgia Tech started two freshmen and a sophomore last year. In fact, five of the eight players who played in Georgia Tech's final game last year in the ACC Tournament were underclassmen. Have to expect the Ramblin' Wreck to be at least somewhat improved this year.
Games 6-7: vs. Dartmouth, vs. DePaul
Stanford returns from its annual winter break for exams to face a Dartmouth team that went 14-14 in the regular season, which earned it a trip to the CIT where Canisius dispatched them in the opening round. Then the Cardinal gets a rematch with DePaul who put a huge dent in the Cardinal's NCAA Tournament hopes by beating a lethargic Stanford team and then proceeding to be awful for the rest of the year. Stanford should return from the break with two home wins.
Game 8: vs. Texas
The biggest name(s) on Stanford's non-conference schedule come to Maples on December 19 when Shaka Smart brings his first Longhorn team to town. Texas was considered a top team when Stanford beat them last December, but the Longhorns' devolved into a bubble NCAA Tournament team whose slide brought down Stanford's resume with it. This will be a formidable challenge for Stanford, make no mistake. Smart gets the keys to a Power 5 school for the first time. He won't have his mark on the program fully this early in his tenure, but Stanford will almost certainly be up against an athletic team looking to push the tempo and pressure an inexperienced Cardinal backcourt the full 94 feet.
Games 9-10: vs. Sacramento State, vs. Somebody...Anybody
The Hornets went 21-12 last year while competing out of the Big Sky Conference. They didn't qualify for a postseason berth outside of their conference tournament. Stanford is still looking to fill a spot on December 27 before starting Pac-12 play Dec. 30 vs. Utah. So let's sum up their nine known non-conference games and for perspective compare them to those of Duke, Arizona, and Cal:
|Non-Conf. Games vs. 2015 NCAA Tournament
|Non-Conf. vs. Above .500 Non-NCAA Tournament
|Non-Conf. vs. Under .500 Teams
For me, the first thing that sticks out is that Stanford, like last year, just doesn't play enough games. I know the exam break makes it hard, but they really need to get to the 30-game mark. All three schools will play more non-conference games than Stanford. Aside from that, the Cardinal's slate holds up pretty well. The hyphens are there because these teams are involved in tournaments which, if they go to chalk, will result in the higher number of games vs. tourney teams, but nothing is guaranteed. You could argue that Stanford has the weakest of these slates becuase they have the fewest NCAA Tourney teams, but that's really a function of them having fewer games. They also have the fewest games against teams with losing records. Their cupcakes are tougher and less plentiful than the cupcakes of the other three. Arizona, who normally schedules very tough, has left themselves in a position to have a weak non-conference schedule by their standards.
However, I'd argue they may have scheduled the smartest. You want guaranteed wins or resume builders in college basketball. This is why Power 5 schools are reluctant to schedule winning non-Power 5 schools. Wins versus those teams don't move the needle too much and losses can be crippling to your resume. The difference between Stanford and Duke is essentially one more cupcake and a game against Kentucky. Does anybody really want to see Stanford play Kentucky at this point? In terms of our discussion, it wouldn't be the worst thing, since a loss would hardly be judged poorly and a win would be a monstrous boost to the team that would stretch past this season.
There are so many variables, and of course teams that may have made the NCAA's last year could step back this year. Stanford's win against Texas slid in value last year, and that could happen to any of these schools. Arizona has Gonzaga on the road, but other than that it's possible the best team they could face in the rest of the on-conference is UC Irvine (though more likely Michigan State). Also don't forget we don't know who that final opponent is going to be, though I'd bet it's not gonna be against a 2015 NCAA Tournament team at this late date.
Stanford takes the floor with a talented but very inexperienced group this year. I'd say this schedule is about right for the team it's running out there this year. Certainly if the Cardinal win 20+ games between this and the conference schedule, it should be an NCAA Tournament team. That may be easier said than done, but put it this way: Stanford won't fail to make the NCAA's because it's schedule was too tough or too easy. It's a solid slate that should ready the group for Pac-12 play.
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