Again, we are faced with three possible opponents, so let's take a little dive into these programs, starting with the opponent that has ruined our mood the last two years.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (3-0)
No conversation about Oklahoma State these days is sensitive enough unless it starts off with addressing the tragedy of the plane crash late last week. I didn't know Kurt Budke or Miranda Serna, nor came close to sniffing the Cowgirls' women's hoops program, but my thoughts and prayers definitely go out to their families. That's two plane crashes now that have devastated their basketball programs.
I will say this- those small planes are no fun. The one time I flew in to Pullman with the team and then to Wichita and back on those things, I feared for my life. They're shaky, and any bit of turbulence feels like it could be the end. Rest in peace to Budke and Serna.
Now to the men's side. After coasting through their first two games against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Arkansas Pine-Bluff, they had to pull a Stanford-against-Rhode Island just to get past UT-San Antonio and advance to MSG. The Pokes were down 11 with two-and-a-half minutes to go against the Roadrunners, and then down six with 18 seconds to play.
Lucky for them, they had one Cezar Guerrero. The frosh knocked down eight three-pointers, including a couple of huge ones at the end of regulation and overtime to get the victory.
How's this for confidence? Before the UTSA game, he went over to star shooter Keiton Page and said "I got you, don't worry about it. I'm here, I'm gonna support you and I'm ready to take on that role to become that leader for you." I didn't expect that from a freshman, but I admire his gumption. Page, by the way, didn't play in the UTSA game. A call to the Oklahoma State SID asking for an official word on Page's status for today's game hasn't been returned.
Granted, UTSA left Guerrero WIDE OPEN–I mean, nobody within 15 feet of the dude- on his late threes in overtime, but he still knocked them down. If the Cardinal leave him that open, it will make for a long game.
If Page does play against the Cardinal, he will be looking to get out of an early-season slump that has seen him start 2-of-13 from beyond the arc and average 30 percent from the field overall. We know all too well, however, that that cold streak won't last for long. He is one of the best dead-eye shooters out there, and his three at the end of the first half in Stillwater against Stanford last December set the tone for a second-half that would propel the Pokes to an 11-point victory over the team clad in cardinal red.
I don't need to remind you of this team's recent success against Stanford. This is a new year, and the Cardinal are better equipped to take down Oklahoma State this year than in either of the previous two seasons. Marshall Moses, who absolutely killed us last year, has graduated. They still have guys who can dominate the glass in Markel Brown, freshman Le'Bryan Nash and center Philip Jurick, but the intimidation factor won't be there. If the Card can hold their own on the glass and not leave Guerrero and Page (if he plays) wide open, then Stanford will be in good position to win this game.
It took Texas Tech and Northwestern four times to beat us, let's do one better against Oklahoma State and call the third time the charm.
Syracuse Orange (4-0)
This is my dream matchup. Stanford and Syracuse in the NIT Season Tip-Off Final in front of thousands of screaming Orange fans.
Of course, the big news about the Orange has been regarding Bernie Fine and whether or not he sexually molested a couple of ball boys for decades. I won't be one to condemn or support Fine since I don't know all the facts, but I will say this: if I were Jim Boeheim, I'd be defending my long-time assistant too (granted Boeheim isn't trying to cover anything up).
According to this article victims' rights activist Rev. Robert M. Hoatson said on behalf of the non-profit Road to Recovery, "We would like Syracuse to change its mascot (color) from orange to yellow because Jim Boeheim has been cowardly."
I disagree. I think Boeheim has done what he needed to do. Maybe it wasn't the best choice of words to say Bobby Davis and Mike Lang are liars and just looking to get paid, but until it's proven that Fine molested those two, Boeheim should show support for his longtime assistant. I know I would do the same thing if a longtime co-worker of mine was accused of a crime as long as nothing had been proven yet.
While this chaos has consumed the Orange off the court and has seen Fine placed on administrative leave, nothing has come close to stopping Syracuse on the court. They are slaying their opponents by an average of 33 points per game through their first four. They haven't played anybody (Fordham, Manhattan, Albany and Colgate aren't anything to write home about), but they've done what they've needed to do: pull a Royce Da 5'9, Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz and Crooked I and go slaughterhouse on all those mid- and low-majors.
The ‘Cuse has also shown some nice depth, as the bench chipped in 60 points in a 92-47 rout of the Colgate Raiders. In fact, both of their leading scorers so far, James Southerland and Dion Waiters at 13.8 per game, are reserves. Fab Melo has also looked stronger and better this year, which isn't saying all that much, but it's a step in the right direction.
Stanford might have its most talented team since the Twins were on campus, but Syracuse rolls deep. I will write what I wrote going into the last time Stanford faced a No. 5 team in the country (Kentucky in the Cancun Challenge). We have a fighter's chance should it get to this point. Punch and kick. Scratch and claw. Knock down open threes against the 2-3. It can be done.
But just getting to that point would be a victory in my book. Whatever happens against Syracuse should they meet in the finals happens. As long as it's not embarrassing, it will be a major positive.
Virginia Tech Hokies (3-0)
Why does it seem like Seth Greenberg's team is always on the wrong side of the bubble come March?
Maybe it's because they are.
The Hokies have been in the NIT the last four seasons, three of which were 20-win years with winning conference records. Quite frankly with Stephen A. Smith, this program has been flat-out screwed over the years. You would think that a team that is tied for the third-best ACC record over the past five seasons would have more than one NCAA bid and four NIT appearances to show for it. I suppose not.
Let's not count this team out. After continually missing out on that big non-conference victory that has essentially relegated them to the small dance (losing to Kansas State by 22 and Purdue in overtime last season), the Hokies will be more than hungry to make a big splash in the Big Apple.
And with a nice freshman class and a healthy Dorenzo Hudson, don't put it past them to shock the ‘Cuse on Wednesday. They too haven't played anybody yet East Tennessee State (though they have a pretty good squad by A-Sun standards)–Monmouth and Florida International (the land of Charles Payne!)–but they have handled business, winning all three of their games by double digits. One of their freshmen, Dorian Finney-Smith, has two double-doubles already, including a ten-point, 16-rebound performance in his collegiate debut.
If worse comes to worse, or if VA Tech pulls off the upset on Wednesday, this won't be an easy game by any stretch of the imagination. While my money would be on Stanford, it would be a cautious $20 bet instead of a "I'll put my house on Stanford to cover"-type wager. [No, I don't bet on my teams, so don't get any ideas–I'm no Brandon Johnson! (Too soon?)] Like us, the Hokies are picked to finish sixth in their 12-team conference. It could be a battle for preseason middle-of-the-pack conference supremacy!
The prospect of beating an ACC team yet again is reason enough to get up for this game. The last loss Stanford has had to an Atlantic Coast squad came against these Hokies in the 2005-06 season in Las Vegas. Other than that, it has been smooth sailing against Virginia with four victories over the Cavaliers. I wouldn't mind going 2-0 against the ACC this year if it came to it (NC State has looked pretty decent, beating a tough-minded Princeton squad and knocking off Texas in the Ticketcity Legends Classic Monday night after giving Vanderbilt a tough game on Sunday).
Well that's a lot of words, and probably a lot more than you cared to read. In summary, I think 1-1 is a very realistic goal on this trip to New York. I'd LOVE to get some revenge on the Big 12's version of a Halloween OSU school, but beating Virginia Tech would be pretty nice too. Of course, knocking off Syracuse would be the ultimate prize and would send me into a euphoria some can only get by taking a hit of ecstasy in a nightclub in Miami on a Friday night, but let's get to that stage first.
Can Coach Dawkins pull off the biggest non-conference coup in his tenure as head honcho? Tune in to find out.
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The immediate goal has been accomplished: no early-season letdowns and, more importantly, get to New York City. It's the NIT Season Tip-Off, it's Madison Square Garden, and it features your Stanford Cardinal. 2-0 here and the Farm Boys put the hoops world on notice. 0-2 and we are all reminded of last year's 76 Classic. 1-1, and, well, I say we achieved our baseline goal.
Cardinal men to face Oklahoma State in tonight's opener, and Syracuse or VT Sunday at MSG