Can new faces change old fortunes?

Things might finally be looking up for Stanford men’s basketball.

Coming off a disappointing 14-19 (7-13 Pac 12, 10th) season — where Stanford missed the NCAA Tournament for the eighth year in a row — the Cardinal were looking for any spark that might change their fortunes. 

And they may have found just that. 

Despite the underwhelming season, head coach Jerod Haase secured a massive recruiting class, signing McDonald’s All-American Andrej Stojaković and four-star recruit and former USA Basketball youth team player Kanaan Carlyle. This was the first time Stanford landed two top-25 recruits since the Lopez brothers in 2006. 

But the Pac-12 is as competitive as it’s ever been, with old powerhouses retooling their rosters and a new slate of up-and-coming challengers. The Cardinal will have to dig out some big-time wins if they want to rise to the top of the final Pac-12 basketball season. 

Roster

The most exciting changes to the Cardinal’s roster are the additions of Stojaković and Carlyle.

Stojaković, the son of former NBA All-Star Peja Stojaković, is a consensus four-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American. The 6’7″ shot-maker is the third-ranked player in California and the fourth-ranked small forward in the country. Like his father, Stojaković is a multi-level scorer and comfortable both in the mid-range and beyond the arc. He’s also big for his position and highly skilled, making him a great asset for explosive scoring and defensive versatility. 

Carlyle is also a four-star recruit and the fifth-ranked combo guard in the country. Playing his senior season at Overtime Elite, the 6’3″ two-way guard impressed scouts with his three-level scoring and competitiveness, which will allow him to make an immediate impact on both ends of the floor. 

Haase was also able to score in the transfer portal, landing graduate point guard Jared Bynum from Providence. Bynum averaged 10.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists in his career at Providence, earning All-Big East second team and Big East Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2022. The transfer adds a proven veteran at a position that Stanford has lacked consistency in over recent years. 

However, the big question is whether these additions can fill the shoes vacated by star forward Harrison Ingram, who transferred to UNC in the offseason. The former five-star recruit and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year had been one of the Cardinal’s best players, starting almost every game last season and leading the team in average assists (3.7) and coming in second in points (10.5) and rebounds (5.8). Replacing his production will be tough, but Stanford must find a way if they want to improve on last season’s results.

Despite these changes, much of Stanford’s core remains intact. Fifth-year forward Spencer Jones returns off of a Second Team All-Pac-12 campaign last season, where he averaged 14.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists on an efficient 43.3% from the field and 38.9% from three. Jones also led the team in minutes played (29) as well as steals (1.2) and blocks (0.9). In his final season of eligibility, Jones is expected to be the face of the team and carry much of the load again for the Cardinal. 

Other important returners include Academic All-American senior forward Brandon Angel and sharpshooting graduate guard Michael Jones. Angel started almost every game last year, averaging 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds on an impressive 51.6% from the field, 39% from three and 79.2% from the stripe. Jones was a spark plug off the bench — he was second on the team in 3-point attempts with 4.1 per game. 

Junior center Maxime Raynaud is also a player to watch. The 7’1″ stretch big showed his great potential last season, averaging 8.8 points and a team-leading 6.1 rebounds while shooting 54% from the field. Stanford fans are expecting Raynaud to take another step forward this season, which could see him dominating the paint for the Cardinal while also being a threat from three. 

Schedule

Stanford will start the season at home with four matchups against mid-major teams before traveling to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis. There, they’ll have their first big test of the season against No. 14 Arkansas before facing either Memphis or Michigan in their second game and potentially No. 19 UNC, No. 22 Villanova or Texas Tech in their third. This will be a huge challenge for the Cardinal, but big wins against ranked opponents early on would be massive in setting the tone for the rest of the season, and it would give the Cardinal a boost when pushing for the tournament. 

After returning home, the Cardinal will face two more mid-major opponents before ending the non-conference schedule away against No. 17 San Diego State. Playing last year’s national championship runner-up is another huge opportunity for a Q1 win and would help the Cardinal with final tweaks before heading into Pac-12 play. 

Even if the Cardinal can make it out of the non-conference schedule relatively unscathed, their conference schedule will be even more difficult. Multiple teams in the Pac-12 are expected to make deep tournament runs. No. 12 Arizona is projected to be the best team in the conference again; they’ll see the Cardinal twice this year. Despite losing four starters from their Pac-12 championship squad from last year, the Wildcats were able to keep guard Kylan Boswell and center Oumar Ballo, while also adding guard Caleb Love from UNC, who was a pivotal piece of the Tar Heels’ run to the 2022 national championship game. 

Stanford will also face both Los Angeles teams twice. No. 21 USC fields arguably the best starting backcourt duo in the country with freshman guard (and No. 2 overall recruit) Isaiah Collier and guard Boogie Ellis. Meanwhile, UCLA brought in seven freshmen and returned sophomore forward Adem Bona, last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. 

Add to that a Colorado team with one of its best rosters in recent history and an Oregon team trending upwards with multiple highly-rated recruits, and the Pac-12 could easily see three-to-four teams still dancing late in March. 

Having such a strong conference can be both a blessing and a curse. While each game is that much more difficult, a few big conference wins and a Pac-12 tournament run could see the Cardinal sneaking into the NCAA tournament. That’s definitely easier said than done, but Stanford will have plenty of opportunities to prove itself throughout the season. 

Keys to success

If Stanford is to escape its recent woes and break its NCAA tournament drought, it will be because of a few key factors.

Elite shooting

Stanford’s greatest strength, by far, is its shooting. The Cardinal returned three qualified players who shot over 40% from three in the conference: senior forward Max Murrell, Spencer Jones and Michael Jones. Angel and sophomore guard Ryan Agarwal also did the same on fewer attempts. Add a sharpshooting forward Stojaković and three-level scoring Carlyle to the list, and Stanford has the capacity to be one of the best shooting teams in the nation. 

While this does make the Cardinal susceptible to the inevitable poor shooting game, having an abundance of skilled shooters makes it less likely that the whole team is cold on any given night. But on a good night, when multiple players are hot, it will be nearly impossible for opponents to cover them all. 

Improved guard play

To take advantage of its weapons, Stanford’s guards must do a better job at facilitating the offense. Recent Cardinal teams have struggled at this position, with inconsistent guard play hindering offensive efficiency. However, the addition of Bynum and Carlyle aim to change that. Bynum’s veteran presence and proven experience will allow him to control the offense and distribute the ball, while the constant threat of Carlyle’s scoring can open up the game for his teammates. Stanford will be relying on these two to create open looks for its knockdown shooters, especially after Ingram’s departure. 

Player development

On top of the new additions, Stanford will be hoping to see significant development in some of its returning players, including Agarwal and Raynaud. Agarwal showed flashes of exceptional shooting last season and will hope to maintain his efficiency with more looks this season. Raynaud will also see an expanded role, given Stanford’s poor depth at center. The Cardinal will be looking for him to take another big leap this season and anchor the team on both sides of the ball. 

Replacing Ingram’s production

It was a massive blow to the program when Ingram left. While the Cardinal added new pieces, it’s never easy to replace one of your stars. Ingram’s impact, not just on scoring but also on the glass, as a ball-handler and as a playmaker cannot be overstated. Stanford’s success this season is highly dependent on whether the additions, as well as growth in the returners, can replace the role Ingram played. 

Verdict

This year’s Stanford team pairs youth and developing players with veteran experience, a combination that could make some noise this season. If they can improve on their consistency and play up to their potential, the Cardinal can compete with the best in the conference. But it remains to be seen if it is enough to see the Cardinal in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014.

Stanford opens up the 2023-24 season on Monday against CSUN. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. PT at Maples Pavilion.


Posted

in

by