Stanford University Cardinal
KenPom: No. 45 Overall (No. 34 Offense, No. 79 Defense)
Head Coach: Johnny Dawkins
2013-14 Record: 7-2
The 9-0 UConn Huskies make their triumphant return to organized basketball tonight at 9 p.m. in the XL Center to take on the Stanford Cardinal. It has been 12 days since they last took the court in what amounted to a glorified scrimmage against Maine. Their last competitive match-up was a Dec. 2 tilt against Florida that ended with Shabazz Napier hitting a last second shot for the win.
Stanford flies across their country from the casual confines of Palo Alto, Calif. to what must be the rudest and windiest of awakenings in Storrs. Currently 7-2, this Stanford team has lost to BYU at home and to Pittsburgh in Brooklyn, badly. As you can see by their KenPom ratings, this is an offensive minded team, ranked No. 13 in the country in field goal percentage and No. 14 in eFG% (awards 1.5 in the numerator for three pointers). The Cardinal's balanced attack features an experienced starting lineup with four double digit scorers.
Stanford has three bench players out for the season and sophomore forward Rosco Allen is out for a few weeks as well, so depth has been a concern for Stanford. Still, this is not a team to sleep on. Junior swing guard Anthony Brown has hit double figures in every game and is second on the team in scoring with 16.3 points per game. He's shooting absolutely lights out and is also Stanford's best perimeter defender. The team's leading scorer is 6-foot-2 point guard Chasson Randle with 18.3 ppg. In the ‘might give us fits' department, the 6-foot-10 senior Dwight Powell could be a deadly match for a Husky team that struggles down low. He averages 15.1 points in addition to 7.3 rebounds and could be trouble tonight. Powell is also an above-average passer for his height.
The Cardinal are led by Johnny Dawkins, currently in his sixth season as head coach. Dawkins is a former NBA player and seems like a kind, intelligent guy, which is all well and good until you remember he's a Duke alum. Dawkins was one of the better players for Duke in the late 80's and actually a Top-10 pick in the 1987 NBA Draft. After a nine-year pro career he moved back to Duke where he began a 10 year run as an assistant before taking the helm at Stanford. His run thus far has not been super impressive – his teams have yet to make an NCAA Tournament appearance – but he has recently been bringing in impressive recruiting classes and appears to have the program going in the right direction.
This is a game that the No. 10 Huskies should win if they are serious about contending this year. Our first quarter of the season saw the Huskies play down to some of their opponents, multiple times losing large leads and keeping the fans sweating at the end of games they should have comfortably won. They've played two games this month, so rust may be an issue, but hopefully Ollie has been working them into playing shape.
DeAndre Daniels has proven to be on an upward trajectory after stringing together a few good games since Loyola and it was very encouraging to see Kentan Facey get some run against Maine. Don't discount Facey's performance just because it was the Maine game, he was barely able to see the court in games against similarly weak teams like Detroit and Yale. To see him go from averaging two minutes per game to 18 in a 9 rebound performance has me absolutely giddy. In case you haven't noticed, Kentan Facey and his lack of playing time has become a borderline obsession for me.
Any gameday preview would be incomplete without a mention of our unquestioned team leader and best player Shabazz Napier. Oh how I have missed him so across these past 12 days. I can't wait to see 'Bazz fill up the stat sheets and add to his legend. Napier took a backseat in scoring for the Maine game, facilitating all over the place to the tune of eight assists. This allowed Omar Calhoun and Ryan Boatright to score 16 and 17 respectively. Should Shabazz struggle (yeah, right) do we believe enough in our other stars to pick up the slack? Let's hope we never have to find out.
Prediction: UConn 74, Stanford 69