The Not Invited Tournament isn't where any of us wanted the Cardinal to be at the end of the season. We certainly didn't expect it after a strong start, including an inspired performance against undefeated Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, fueled talk of a Pac-12 title and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Still, Stanford made the absolute most of an often disappointing season, capping its NIT run with a 75-51 dismantling of Minnesota in the title game.
Aaron Bright, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, and Chasson Randle scored 15 points apiece. The Cardinal, which led by as many as 30 points, shot 50% from the field and beyond the arc, and outscored the Golden Gophers 44-26 after halftime to turn a close game into a rout. Stanford guarded its face off, holding Minnesota to 37% shooting and grabbing 12 steals.
Johnny Dawkins praised Bright, who came off the bench yet again, for buying into his reserve role.
"When he comes in, he brings us energy. ... I think it's hard for teams to prepare for him because he's not out there right away. When he comes in, it gives us a big lift, and it gives our kids confidence in what they can do."
Senior starters Andrew Zimmermann, Josh Owens (more ripped than you), and Jarrett Mann combined for 30 points in their final game, and it was great to see that group go out with a win, but tonight was even more about the future of Stanford basketball. That future almost certainly involves Dawkins, who has watched his team play some of its best basketball over the last three weeks.
In addition to Bright and Randle, who will form one of the top backcourts in the Pac-12, if not the country, next season, Stanford returns Anthony Brown and Dwight Powell. Brown opened the scoring tonight with a 3-pointer and finished with 11 points and six rebounds. Powell added seven points, five rebounds, and two blocks off the bench. Factor in Josh Huestis and touted recruits Grant Verhoeven and Rosco Allen, and there's reason to be optimistic about next season.
Winning the NIT doesn't guarantee anything, of course. Of the past 10 champions, only four have made the NCAA Tournament the following year. Bright says the experience will help.
"We know what it takes to win the tournament now," Bright said. "We won five in a row, and I think we are going to use this experience for next year and making a run at the March Madness."
The Cardinal got pissed off at greatness and won an NIT title. It's time to get pissed off at not being in the NCAA Tournament. With Dick Davey retiring, maybe Ray Lewis would be interested in a part-time gig.