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Stanford enters season with high hopes of ending their NCAA tournament drought

Nov 1, 2013, 1:00 PM EDT

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

“Next year, there’s no reason why we can’t get to where we want to be and have the opportunity to make a run in this thing. Coach is in his sixth year. There’s a reason why he was hired to be our Stanford guy, and I have full confidence he can get us there.”

Those were the words of Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir in a story written by Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group back in March, with the Cardinals on their way to the Postseason NIT and missing out on the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive season. Despite having the Pac-12′s Most Improved Player in forward Dwight Powell and other key contributors such as guards Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle and forward Josh Huestis, Stanford couldn’t get over the hump. With more than 90% of the scoring and rebounding from last season’s team back on The Farm the expectations are straightforward, both within and outside of the Stanford program.

“We have high expectations,” Powell told NBC Sports. “None of the guys on the team right now have played in the Big Dance, and I think that’s the dream of everyone who’s ever picked up a basketball. That’s one of our biggest goals, to get to the tournament and play on that stage and play against that level of competition. That’s our major goal.”

The 6-foot-10 senior from Toronto will be an integral part of the rotation for the Cardinal, and he’s coming off of a busy summer that included playing for Canada in the World University Games. Playing alongside the likes of Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim and Baylor’s Brady Heslip, Powell shot 61.9% from the field and posted averages of 12.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game as Canada finished fourth in the event. That performance came on the heels of Powell’s best season at Stanford, as he led the Cardinal in scoring (14.9 ppg) and finished second on the team in rebounding (8.4 rpg). He’ll be asked to lead the way for what should be a balanced club, and he’s got a highly dependable front court sidekick in junior Josh Huestis (10.5, 9.0).

“Their versatility is what makes them so special for us,” Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins told NBC Sports. “We play a system in which they’re not relegated to playing one set position on the floor. With that being the case they have to be skilled; they have to be able to pass, shoot and handle the basketball some. They’re both good enough at those things to be productive in our system. They’re both long, can rebound and block shots as well.”

CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Pac-12 Preview

The backcourt will possess depth, talent and experience, with veteran returnees Bright and Randle combining for 67 of a possible 68 starts a season ago. Randle was Stanford’s second-leading scorer (13.6 ppg), and he was second on the team in assist rate (18.7%) while factoring into more than 24% of Stanford’s possessions (only Powell and Stefan Nastic rated higher in possession percentage, per kenpom.com). And Bright led the team in assists while also averaging nearly ten points per game.

The Cardinal will add freshman twins Malcolm and Marcus Allen as well as Anthony Brown (8.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg in 2011-12), who returns to the lineup after a hip injury forced him to redshirt last season. And the return of Brown is important, especially when considering the fact that Andy Brown (no relation) had to retire this past offseason after suffering yet another knee injury. While the loss of Andy shouldn’t be glossed over, as he started 19 games last season and shot 49% from the field the return of Anthony, who was a Pac-12 All-Freshman Team selection in 2010-11,  will give Stanford a needed boost.

“We lose a man with a really good basketball IQ who would have given us a lot of experience and leadership, and his return was an inspirational story to our guys,” Dawkins said of Andy Brown, who suffered four knee injuries before being forced to retire. “Both Andy and Anthony are versatile players for us, and having Anthony back gives us the ability to mitigate that loss somewhat. It’s tough to lose Andy, but having Anthony come back does help.”

Another returnee of note is sophomore forward Rosco Allen, who gained some valuable experience this summer playing with Hungary’s Under-20 team in the U-20 European Championships. Currently out with a shin injury, Allen averaged 14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game for Hungary and earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team. A player with a great amount of talent, Allen’s still in the process of “finding out who he is as a player” according to Dawkins and he can be a major asset to the Cardinal once healthy. Overall there’s no shortage of options at each position for the Cardinal, but the question is a simple one entering 2013-14: will it all click?

CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories

Of Stanford’s nine conference losses in 2012-13 five were by five points or less, including two losses to USC by a combined three points. Games like those can come down to one or two possessions at any stage in the contest, with the ability to take care of every “minor” detail proving to be the difference between a win and a loss. That’s the area Stanford will need to address as they prepare to make a run at the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2008.

“I think most of those games came down to paying attention to detail,” said Powell. “Because any game you lose that’s within three, four or five points, that comes down to who wanted it more in regards to the little things. Whether it’s a loose ball or a long rebound that wasn’t chased down.

“Our focus has definitely been to just keep a strong attention to detail and reinforce that in practice, to make sure we’re maintaining a high standard of excellence and always focusing on each individual play,” continued Powell. “Because ultimately if it comes down to two points, it could have been an offensive rebound from the first half that ended up giving momentum to the other team that puts you in that situation.”

Turn around a few of those close losses and Stanford may have been able to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament last season, but that wasn’t the case in the end. The talent and experience are certainly there for Stanford to make a return to the NCAA tournament, and the expectations are present as well. How Stanford manages them will ultimately decide the program’s fate.

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