I still have faith, however. Two unsurprising losses have some reaching for the panic button, and others getting ludicrous and mumbling bullshit like 'Right now, the only teams CU may be better than are Washington State and USC.' Overreact if it makes you feel better, but this is still a strong CU team, and no one will be taking the Buffs lightly over the next few weeks. Count this bunch out at your peril - watch them surprise us all and make the 3rd-seed happen.
Tip-off from Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto, CA is set for 7pm this evening. Coverage can be found on ESPN2, with the radio call on 850 KOA.
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When last we met -
Because the schedule has been oddly worked this season, here we are in the final week of the campaign, and the Buffs and Cardinal are just now meeting for the first time in over a year. Just as odd, back in late-February of 2013, Colorado was in a pretty similar position to where they are this season. Facing long odds, they traveled to the Bay Area in search of a win that would help them solidify a less-than-perfect Tournament resume. Behind heroic efforts from Andre Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie, CU managed to squeak out that win, 65-63, to all-but punch their ticket.
|'Dre dropped 24 in his finest offensive game as a Buff. From: CUBuffs.com|
I'm being overly unfair in blaming Roberson and Dinwiddie for their defensive lapse on the final play. Not only were they trying to avoid a foul that would've put Powell on the line, but they had been simply fantastic up to that point. Roberson, especially, shone throughout the proceedings, posting a career-high 24 points to go along with eight rebounds despite the beginnings of his bout with mono. For Spencer, his 19-point night was highlighted by this massive dunk past Powell and over defensive dynamo Josh Huestis. In reality, CU was only competitive that night because the pair was on the court, and I can't help but note that Colorado heads back into Maples this evening without either of the two stars available to gun for a repeat showing.
|Spencer helped take over in the second half. From: the SJMN|
The Cardinal in 2014 -
Finally, after years of inconsistent disappointments, Stanford seems to have put their talent into practice, finding enough consistency to tailor a campaign commensurate with their skill. Quiet, yet solid, they're owners of a respectable 18-10, 9-7 record, and currently sit in 5th place in the Pac-12. Nothing earth-shattering, but it's good enough to put them on the cusp of a Tournament bid for the first time since the Lopez twin-fueled run in 2008 - a drought that has been hanging over this proud basketball program for far too long.
The high point of their season to date came two weeks ago, when they finished off a sweep of the SoCal duo with their 83-74 win over UCLA. Combined with their 53-51 non-conference scalp of Connecticut back in December, those two wins form the crux of their Tournament argument. Well earned both, they're victories any team would love to have, and certainly ones that the recent vintages of Cardinal basketball would've been incapable of securing. Beyond just the top-line wins, however, they've got a respectable Tournament resume - top-50 RPI, top-30 SOS, and only one bad loss (@ OSU). A lost weekend in Arizona did them no favors, but, really, the only flaw on their Dance card is the lack of about one more top-50 win, a fault they could patch-over with a defeat of the Buffs this evening. Just my way of saying that the Cardinal will be hungry for this one.
|The win over UCLA came as a big boost to Stanford's Tournament hopes. From: the AP|
Overall, it's a picture that justifies their above average record, but not much more. This bunch is good, not great. A team that will push you, but never challenge for a league crown or anything magical. Hey, at least it's better than the milquetoast they've been stringing together throughout the Johnny Dawkins era.
Star Players -
Undoubtedly, the straw that stirs the drink in Palo Alto is junior guard Chasson Randle. The 6-2 junior had taken a step back from a stellar freshman campaign a year ago, but the former Illinois high school player of the year has really blossomed this season. He's averaging 19/4/2 in '13-'14, and has earned my vote for inclusion on the All-Pac-12 team (I get one of those, right?).
|Randle is good, and only getting better.|
Playing off the guard antics of Randle is the overly talented Dwight Powell. A preseason conference player of the year candidate, the 6-10 senior from Canada has been a slight disappointment this year (only averaging 15/8), but he is still one of the most gifted players in the league. He has the speed, handle, and shot to turn any defender into mincemeat on the offensive end, and is more than serviceable defensively. A little soft at times (probably an understatement), Powell is a star talent that will push Colorado throughout the front court.
|Powell is one of the most purely talented players in the region.|
|Huestis is fun to watch, even with the shorter hair.|
Despite his best efforts to avoid it, Johnny Dawkins probably saved his job this season. He had produced next to nothing over his first five seasons at Stanford, but a run to the Dance this year will keep the former Duke Blue Devil in possession of the world's most obnoxious coaching title. Congratulations?
I kid about it, but Dawkins has shown a surprising knack for doing substantially less with substantially more. On paper, the Cardinal have had a treasure trove of talent the last few seasons, highlighted by a dream core of young stars that have stuck around in the system. Despite all of that promise, however, the teams have routinely struggled to live up to the hype. Besides that NIT championship in 2012 (which, really, who cares?), there is essentially nothing to show for the Johnny Dawkins era. To-date he's 48-58 in conference play, with only two sub-par post-season appearances to his name. That'd be acceptable at some of the other programs in the Pac-12 (*cough* Pullman *cough*), but at Stanford, a modern basketball power, it's confusing and frustrating.
|Why hasn't Dawkins done more with the talent in place?|
To his credit, Dawkins has the ship pointed in a good direction in '13-'14. I'm still not convinced he's getting the most of the talent at his disposal, but the results have been acceptable. They've enjoyed two three-game in-conference winning streaks this season, and are in line to finally make the Tournament. Fair enough.
(My record on the season: 15-4. Against the spread: 10-9. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +1.74 pts/gm)
Lines as of Wednesday @ 12pm - Buffs +8 1/2
I think CU is closer to this one than would be expected, but, for key Cardinal, this is their last week of basketball in Palo Alto, and you have to respect those vets at home. I'll say CU loses, but give me the cover.
Stanford 74 - CU 68
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE CARDINAL!