Coming off their deepest NCAA Tournament run since the Lopez twins were still on campus in '08, many were curious to see if Johnny Dawkins could duplicate that level of success with another winning season in Palo Alto. Roughly halfway through the regular season, The Cardinal (14-5, 5-2) has resembled a team that will be contending for a tournament berth once again, as they are tied for 3rd place in the PAC-12 and have registered quality non-conference wins against Texas and defending national champion UConn. Here are a few takeaways from the first half of the season:
The Big Three Leading the Way
It's no secret that Stanford lives and dies by the play of their three best players and senior leaders Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, and Stefan Nastic. The "big three" have shouldered the scoring load for the Cardinal - accounting for 67% of Stanford's total points - and have helped to mitigate the loss of NBA draftees Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis. What makes this trio so dangerous is that they serve different functions on the court, and ultimately affect the game in very different ways.
Randle - an All-Pac-12 First Team selection last season - has continued to be the do-it-all point guard that he is by leading the conference in scoring at 20.2 points per game in addition to being a feisty defender and a steady ball handler and distributor.
Sharpshooting Anthony Brown has been a model of consistency for the Cardinal thus far, scoring in double-digits in all but two games this season, while shooting 47% from three-point range - good for second in the conference. Perhaps the most important aspect of Brown's game this season has been his team-best 7.3 rebounds per game, which has been critical after the loss of freshman power forward and former McDonalds All-American Reid Travis to a stress fracture.
Lastly, Nastic has continued to provide Stanford with a consistent and reliable low post scoring threat (14 ppg) and rebounder (7.1 rpg). With the aforementioned Travis missing an extended period of time, the onus has been on Nastic to be a strong interior presence on both ends of the floor, and he has elevated his game accordingly. The Serbian-born center has also added a positive intangible element to the team, as he is a favorite among the fans at Maples Pavilion, and often displays tremendous toughness and grit on the court. This was never more evident than when the big man got struck in the forehead against Uconn and closed out the win against Uconn rocking this look:
I am a big fan of Stefan Nastic. Loved his emotion tonight in a win over UConn as well as his Rambo look. pic.twitter.com/twQeFEVhJE
— Ben Blevins (@bennyblev) January 18, 2015
Emergence of Rosco and Marcus Allen
Coming into this season Randle, Brown and Nastic were known commodities, although the same could not be said about the rest of the players filling out the roster.
There was reason to believe that junior Rosco Allen could fit into a sixth man role considering he was a highly regarded recruit and showed promise as a true freshman, but he was coming off a year in which a shin injury sidelined him for all but one game. Sophomore Marcus Allen (no relation to Rosco) showed great versatility and potential in the 8.7 minutes per game he received as a freshman last year, but it was unknown how the swingman would fair if thrust into a larger role.
Midway through the season, both players have played significant minutes and the team would not be one of the best in the Pac-12 without their contributions. Rosco has stepped up his play admirably in the absence of Travis, chipping in with 10.4 points and 6.9 rebounds in the last seven games dating back to Jan. 4. In that same span, the 6-foot-9 forward has provided a spark with his three-point shooting, connecting on a robust 46% of his attempts from deep. Since replacing Christian Sanders as the starter at guard alongside Randle on Jan. 11, Marcus has made the most his increased playing time. The explosive guard has recorded a steal in each of his five games as a starter, going along with 4.6 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Depth a Concern
Once Travis is reinserted into the lineup - likely within the next week - either Rosco or Marcus Allen will presumably move to the bench, giving Dawkins the luxury of having a reliable sixth man at his fingertips. Where concern lies is what Dawkins has at his disposal beyond that. With reserve big man Grant Verhoeven sidelined indefinitely, Sanders serves as the lone upperclassmen remaining, leaving freshmen Michael Humphrey, Dorian Pickens, and Robert Cartwright to round out the bench.
Sanders had his sophomore season wiped out completely by a hip injury, and has filled in nicely when called upon this season, but he is largely unproven at this point in time. This leaves the trio of talented freshmen, who have shown signs of promise and will continue to improve with time, but are still a year away from being difference makers at the college level. This puts Stanford in a position where they simply can't afford for any of their starters to encounter foul trouble, which we saw periodically in the first half of the season. Going forward it will be imperative that Stanford's key players find a way to avoid picking up early fouls and stay on the court as much as possible.
The Cardinal have set themselves up well heading into the second half of Pac-12 play, and will look to keep the momentum going as they travel to the Pacific Northwest to face Washington on Jan. 28 and Washington State on Jan. 31.