There are several things to like about what is shaping up for Stanford's 2006-07 men's basketball schedule. The breadth and depth of competition will help satiate those Cardinalmaniacs™ who are never satisfied with the quality of opponents in the non-conference slate. Never mind the fact that Stanford has come out of their preseason schedule with 6-4 and 4-4 records the past two seasons. The "softness" of those schedules were not the issue. Though not the primary problem, it is also worth noting that Stanford suffered seven of those eight losses away from Maples Pavilion. While the quality of some of Stanford's 2006-07 opponents may be appealing to fans, the fact that most of the games will be played at home may be of greater comfort and importance.
Some recent non-conference opponents return for the 2006-07 schedule, as part of home-and-home contractual agreements. For the third straight season, Denver is on the schedule and for the second straight year they will visit Maples Pavilion. The Pioneers are not a sexy opponent but provide an example of the leverage the Cardinal have in their scheduling against mid-major opponents, with a 2-for-1 contract that gives Stanford two home games for one away. Stanford is 5-2 all-time against Denver.
The most loathed mid-major opponent for Stanford fans - of almost any sport - this year has of course been UC Davis. The ignominy of the Cardinal's loss in football last September to the Aggies at Stanford Stadium still hangs over the entire athletic department like a black cloud, which intensified with men's basketball upset loss at Davis in December. The third game of a 2-for-1 basketball contract will bring the Aggies to Maples next winter for some eagerly anticipated revenge. Stanford owns a 12-1 advantage in the all-time series with UC Davis.
Another NorCal school who knocked off the Cardinal the last time the teams met was Santa Clara, who provided Stanford their putative "home court" while Maples Pavilion was in its final stages of renovation at the start of the 2004-05 season. But the Leavey Center left an unplanned present for Stanford that preseason when the Broncos also dealt a stunning upset, both for its outcome and for the lopsided nature of the contest. After missing each other in the 2005-06 season, the South Bay foes will face off again next season at Maples. The Broncos and Cardinal play in different conferences but have a longstanding relationship in basketball. The two schools have played 73 times previously, with Stanford owning an eight-game winning streak prior to their loss two seasons ago. The two schools have additionally held preseason intersquad scrimmages, making the match-up an almost annual affair in one arena or another. Stanford leads the all-time series with Santa Clara, 48-25.
Staying in the WCC, Stanford will welcome Gonzaga next winter for the fourth game in five years between the two schools. The Cardinal lost a chance at an upset of the #5-ranked Bulldogs last month in Spokane (Wash.), when they led every minute of the first half and several times in the second half but went for more than eight minutes without a field goal down the stretch in defeat. The two meetings between the Card and Zags previous to this recent home-and-home both came at the Pete Newell Challenge in Oakland (Calif.). Stanford won both of those games but lost the only home game they have ever played against Gonzaga, coming in the first round of the 1994 postseason NIT. Stanford is 2-3 all-time against Gonzaga after last month's loss.
Though not against Gonzaga, Stanford will once again play next season in the Pete Newell Challenge. This year's event is a special 10th annual edition of the game named for the Hall of Fame coach, and in recognition of the man and this milestone year for the event, a pair of active coaching legends will bring their teams to the Arena in Oakland. Stanford will face Bobby Knight and Texas Tech in their ninth trip to the Pete Newell Challenge, as part of a pseudo-home-and-home between the Pac-10 and Big 12 teams. The return trip will take the Cardinal to Dallas (Tex.) in the 2007-08 season for a similar "neutral site" game that is in fact played in the heart of one team's fanbase, in the annual December holiday Red Raider Challenge. Stanford and Texas Tech have never met in men's basketball. The other half of the Newell this year will boost ticket sales further still, with Mike Krzyzewski and Duke playing California.
Some Stanford fans will see the 10th annual Pete Newell Challenge slate and curse that the Cardinal are not the ones to play Duke. That match-up may still occur during the 2006-07 regular season, if the two teams can win enough games in the Guardians Classic. The annual tournament run by the NABC is played in November, with 16 teams from 16 conferences. The format is similar to the preseason NIT, in that the first two rounds are played at school sites, and the final four teams meet at one neutral site for semifinals, finals and a consolation game. One difference is that the Guardians Classic is structured with four "regions," with one power team hosting three other teams at their house for the first two rounds. In the 2005 edition, Texas, Iowa, Kentucky and West Virginia all hosted the opening rounds and unsurprisingly all advanced to play at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City (Mo.). Duke and Stanford are currently slated as two of the power teams for the 2006 field. Ironically, Texas Tech is also planned for the tournament, which could provide a second preseason meeting between the Cardinal and the Red Raiders. Marquette is expected to be the fourth banner team.
The beauty of the Guardians Classic is several-fold. First of all, it is an exemption event, which means that it counts as only one game against the NCAA's 27-game regular season maximum for a school. Every participant is guaranteed two games, however. Even a first-round loser is afforded the opportunity to play a second game in a consolation contest. Should a team advance through the first two rounds and play in Kansas City, they play a third and guaranteed fourth game, as well. Stanford's exceedingly young team next year will be a decided underdog to win in a field that the Guardians Classic affords. The final four this past year were all ranked in the Top 20 and all were NCAA Tournament teams at the end of the season. But if the Cardinal can make it out of their first two games at Maples, they will enjoy the experience of playing two talented teams in Kansas City, which will help the team and also give a boost to their strength of schedule. The Guardians Classic also offer the attractive format of giving a team like Stanford two games at home, which is rare among exemption events. Playing in the Great Alaska Shootout or the Maui Invitational, for example, sends a team a long distance for travel and puts them on a neutral court.
Stanford will play two away games in the 2006-07 preseason. One trip will take them across the country to play Virginia, who is a familiar foe after the Cardinal and Cavaliers just faced off last Tuesday in the opening round of the (postseason) NIT. Stanford won the game with surprising ease, but nobody will expect a repeat outcome in Charlottesville (Va.) next winter. Virginia brings back their entire roster, save one senior who originally walked onto the team, while Stanford loses their three top scorers. Nobody else for the Cardinal this year averaged even half of what senior and third-leading scorer Dan Grunfeld (12.0 ppg) produced. Virginia will be further improved in their second year under head coach Dave Leitao, and they will host Stanford on the court where they were 11-3 at home this year. Virginia, like Stanford, suffered a much worse road record than their home fortune, so you can throw out the window what happened at Maples Pavilion last week. These two teams will meet again in the second half of the home-and-home contract at Stanford in the 2008-09 season. Stanford owns a 4-1 record all-time against Virginia after last week's win.
The other away game which Stanford hopes to schedule would be much closer to home. The Cardinal are working on a contract with Fresno State, which is one of the few Division I teams inside the state who have not appeared on Stanford's schedule in recent years. You have to go back to the 1953-54 season to find the last meeting between these two schools, located less than 150 miles apart. The Bulldogs are not where they once were during their heyday, finishing 8-8 in their league this year and 15-13 overall, but they are a program with name recognition. Fresno State also recorded wins this year over both Nevada and Utah State, the WAC's two teams in the NCAA Tournament. There is the additional angle of playing in Fresno (Calif.), the home of Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez, the two McDonald's All-Americans who will be freshmen on The Farm next season. You could expect a packed house and a lot of hype for the Lopez Twins' homecoming as well as the first game from Stanford at Fresno State in 80 years. Though all the games were played in antiquity, Stanford owns a 6-1 all-time advantage over Fresno State. The one loss came in Fresno in 1926-27.
The Denver, Santa Clara, UC Davis and Gonzaga games all fulfill previous contracts and thus should be set in stone. The other games may not have the ink yet dry on their contracts, so they can all be considered "tentative" for the schedule at this time. Basketball schedules are not like those in football, signed and sealed years in advance. There is a fluidity, maddening though it may be for both coaches and fans, to basketball scheduling that can leave games and dates up in the air for several more months. Last spring, for example, it was thought that Stanford and Alabama would meet in a neutral site game in Denver (Colo.), but the Tide rolled out of that agreement before the final contract was signed.
Additionally, you might have done the math by now and determined that all of the above would not complete Stanford's 2006-07 schedule. With the Guardians Classic counting as just one game against the 27-game limit, and this non-conference schedule amounts to 26 games when added to the 18-game Pac-10 season. Even if all of the above games become a reality, that would leave one more game to schedule.
Not counting against the NCAA's 27-game limit, Stanford will play their maximum of two pre-preseason games. Trent Johnson says that only one of those two will be public, however. Echoing what the Cardinal did in both the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons, they will use one of their November non-counter games to play an intersquad affair behind closed doors.
"We are going to have one exhibition game, and we are probably going to go scrimmage a collegiate team that's a pretty good team - been in the Top 20," the Cardinal coach shares mysteriously. "We'll go over and shut the doors, and scrimmage all day long and all night long until we get it right."
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