Stanford and Dayton square off for an unlikely Sweet 16 matchup, but for the upperclassmen that led them here, it’s been years in the making.
It might be a surprise to a good percentage of college basketball fans to find Stanford and Dayton in the South Regional semifinals. Coming into the tournament, neither team was given much of a chance to move past the first round. Now both teams find themselves on the verge of an appearance in the Elite 8.
You won’t find freshman phenoms on either of these squads though. No, teams featuring the likes of Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins will be watching the second weekend of the tournament from home. Instead, Stanford and Dayton got here by with a mix of tenacious defense, balanced scoring and herculean efforts from the third- and fourth-year players on their rosters.
The aforementioned Andrew Wiggins was a non-factor due in large part to senior Josh Huestis playing lockdown defense on the talented freshman. Senior Dwight Powell came up huge against Kansas with 15 points and 7 rebounds despite playing in foul trouble for most of the second half. Junior Chasson Randle, who might be Stanford’s tournament MVP thus far, contributed 13 points, six steals and 4 assists. Even junior Stefan Nastic came up huge by sinking his first 4 field goals while finishing with 10 points against the Jayhawks.
For the Flyers, it was senior Vee Sanford’s go-ahead basket with 3.8 seconds left that lifted Dayton past Syracuse. Junior Jordan Sibert and senior Devin Oliver have also been integral pieces to the Flyers’ Cinderella run in this year’s tournament.
It’s not just Stanford and Dayton, though, that find themselves still playing because of an experienced lineup. Look around at the teams still playing and you’ll see starting lineups stocked full of upperclassmen. Remember that Tennessee team that scratched its way as one of the last four in? They’re now one of the hottest teams in the country with a starting five that consists of all seniors and juniors. The six-seed Baylor Bears start four upperclassmen and have steamrolled their first two opponents by an average of 22 points.
The UConn Huskies are surging at the right time, led by senior All- American PG Shabazz Napier and a supporting cast of three juniors. Higher seeded teams are also benefiting from experienced lineups. The defending champion Louisville Cardinals are led by two of college basketball’s better players in seniors Luke Hancock and Russ Smith. The best team in the tournament and potential Elite 8 matchup for the Stanford/Dayton winner could very well be the Florida Gators who roll out a starting five consisting of four seniors.
Whether it’s the overall number one seed in tournament or an eleventh seeded Cinderella, experience is the common denominator for teams making deep runs in this tournament.
We’ll see if it’s Stanford or Dayton’s upperclassmen that will have their teams still dancing after today.