The Road To Arlington
The Stanford basketball team’s Final Four quest begins today... and let’s be honest: You have the Cardinal going all the way in at least one of your dozen brackets. The road to Arlington certainly is no easy task, as Stanford could face some of college basketball’s elite along the way, including Kansas, Syracuse and #1 overall Florida Gators. But it’s that time of the year to dream and dream big. So get out your crimson-colored glasses and let’s take a ride all the way to Jerry World.
The Cardinal return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008 as a 10-seed where they’ll face the seventh-seeded New Mexico Lobos. New Mexico comes into the tournament on a bit of a hot streak after defeating San Diego State for the MWC Tournament Championship. Stanford, on the other hand, comes limping in, licking their wounds from a sizeable beatdown against UCLA in the semis of the Pac-12 Tournament. It’s easy to pick New Mexico in this matchup, but they’ve had their fair share of flops in recent tournament history. In fact, the Lobos haven’t made it to the second week of the NCAA Tournament since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. I’ll attribute some of that to the Mountain West being a very mediocre basketball conference. Stanford’s faced tougher competition all season long and a veteran Stanford squad comes out hot looking to prove the UCLA game was an anomaly.
My Prediction: Chasson Randle erupts for a big 1st half and the Cardinal ride the wave for a somewhat easy 1st round "upset."
Round of 32
After a surprising win over New Mexico, the Cardinal move on to face the two seeded Kansas Jayhawks. A couple of weeks ago, this might have seemed like a tall order considering the overall talent of the Jayhawks and the fact that the game will be played in St. Louis - which will be a de facto home game for Kansas. However, it was reported by the Kansas City Star that starting center Joel Embiid will be out for both Jayhawk games in St. Louis.
Cardinal players have to be licking their chops as Kansas has shown that they are a very different team without Embiid in the lineup. The Jayhawks sputtered in their final five games (in which Embiid did not play) going 3-2 and bowing out to Iowa State in the semis of the Big 12 Tournament. It’s worth noting that every four years under Bill Self the Jayhawks have historically laid an early tournament goose egg. It’s been four years since Kansas lost to Northern Iowa in the 2nd round and eight years since they lost to Bradley in the 1st . Last time I checked, though, Andrew Wiggins is still on the roster... but will it be enough to stop a very confident Stanford team?
My Prediction: Andrew Wiggins tries to do too much and the Cardinal receive a balanced scoring effort from the starting five to pull off the biggest upset of the second round.
Stanford returns to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008, where they’ll face Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange. At times, Syracuse can look unstoppable. The Syracuse vs. Duke game earlier this season at the Carrier Dome was an all-time classic and CJ Fair looked like a lottery pick. Then there were the Boston College and Georgia Tech games where ‘Cuse could barely scrape together 60 points. It’s clear that Syracuse is going to go as far as CJ Fair goes. Tyler Ennis is a reliable secondary scorer, but after that, production drops off considerably for the Orange. If the Cardinal can contain Fair and force the Orange to beat them with Ennis and Trevor Cooney, the Cardinal will be in position to pull off another upset. I actually really like this matchup for Stanford. They have a balanced scoring attack that can create problems for a Syracuse squad reliant upon two very good players.
My Prediction: CJ Fair can’t do it all and the Cardinal win a low-scoring affair, reaching the Elite 8 for the first time since 2001.
The #1 overall seed awaits the Cardinal with a trip to Arlington on the line. At this point in the tournament the Gators will have reeled off 29 straight victories, but what Top 10 team this season couldn't have run roughshod on the SEC? Don’t get me wrong - the Gators deserve the seed they received for taking care of business throughout the season - but you have to wonder what this team would have done in the Big 10, Big 12 or even Pac-12. However, Florida is one of the more veteran squads in the tournament with one of the best point guards in the nation in Scotty Wilbekin (and Casey Prather is as good as they come). But at this point in the tournament, I wonder Florida will be as battle-tested as a Stanford team that will have upset Kansas and Syracuse in consecutive weeks.
My Prediction: After shocking the world twice, Stanford truly believes that they can beat anyone in the nation and puts together a complete performance, propelling them to their first Final Four since 1998.
That seems pretty easy, doesn't it? See y'all in Texas.