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Why men’s basketball can/cannot make NCAA tournament
The Cardinal turnaround its season when senior guard Dorian Pickens came back to injury. They will still need a lot of luck to make the NCAA tournament.(BOB DREBIN/isiphotos.com)

Why men’s basketball can/cannot make NCAA tournament

You can’t trust a Trojan to do a Cardinal’s job.

USC’s recent loss to UCLA (at home no less!) means that the Bruins take the fourth seed in the Pac-12 and Stanford men’s basketball takes the fifth spot.

So what does that mean for the Cardinal’s road to a Pac-12 title, and more importantly, what does it mean for an NCAA tournament berth for Stanford?

First of all, it means that the Cardinal will not get a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament starting on Wednesday. Stanford instead gets the right to play its Bay Area rival, 12th-seeded Cal in the first round.

Naturally, the Cardinal, who have been snake-bitten this year with injuries to Dorian Pickens and Marcus Sheffield, will get the last-place team in the conference, and who plays them better than any other team?

The Trojan loss means that in order to make it to the Pac-12 finale, Stanford would have to beat Cal, UCLA and top-seeded Arizona, barring any miracles from Cal, Colorado or Arizona State. And that’s only to make it to the final where they could play USC or Utah, which are both teams that have defeated the Cardinal.

Stanford’s chances to win the tournament are slim, but it will basically have to do just that in order to make the NCAA tournament.

The Cardinal are ranked 75th in RPI and 86th in KenPom, and both ranking systems are being used by the selection committee to pick teams. According to the website “TeamRankings.com,” the Cardinal have a 5.2 percent chance of making the NCAA tournament.

You are probably thinking, “So you are saying there’s a chance!?” I’m saying there is but expect the Cardinal to miss March Madness for a fourth straight year (or equivalent to my entire undergrad career).

Winning the Pac-12 championship and earning a NCAA tournament berth are equal statements at this point.

But can they? Maybe, so here are the facts.

The Cardinal have wins against Arizona State, USC, UCLA, swept the Washington schools and played Arizona close in two games. Stanford’s 11-7 conference record is its best since Trent Johnson’s final year as head coach 10 years ago.

In conference play, the Cardinal are second in field goal percentage (47.5) and three-point percentage (39.5) and third in three-point defense (33.7). They are also the best rebound team (37.8) in the Pac-12.

Stanford has, arguably, the second-best player in the conference (first being Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton) in senior forward Reid Travis, the only player other than Ayton who is top-five in scoring and top-five in rebounding.

Inconsistency and turnovers plague this team, partly due to relying on freshman and a group that hasn’t had many big game experience while on the Farm.

However, when this team puts it all together, its length and scoring ability are too overwhelming for any team in a weak Pac-12 to handle.

Just ask Arizona when it was down 11 to Stanford with 10 minutes remaining. Well, that was before the Cardinal turned the ball over an inane amount of times and lost.

Stanford has a chance, more so than in a decade, to win the Pac-12, but don’t expect it to happen.

And don’t even ask me about winning the NCAA tournament … No matter how much of an optimist you are, you can’t make a half-empty glass full.

Fans should be happy that the Cardinal have a good chance of winning the NIT. But if they don’t beat Cal on Wednesday, then maybe the Cardinal can’t do the job either.


Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.