Stanford MBB Preview: Poised for Berth in Big Dance

Cardinal look to return to the tournament for first time in 10 years

By Grant Avalon | 11-05-2023 04:03 PM PT

Photo by Stanford Athletics

The Cardinal have not been to the NCAA tournament in 10 seasons. This year's team has a real shot to change that. Bart Torvik gives them a 70% chance of going dancing, with a projected seed of a 7 or 8, should they make it.

As we prepare for Monday's season opener, Channel Tree will give you ten things to know and watch for this season:

(1) European Trip Could Pay off Early

Stanford embarked on a trip to France and Greece in August for their quadrennial foreign trek. They did some sightseeing, played some hoops, and even had the opportunity to visit Maxime Raynaud's family. The junior center said his parents were emotional hosting the team, as they never even met the staff in person during his recruitment due to Covid restrictions.

The players and coaching staff have stressed the benefits of this trip, as it not only allowed the team to build personal relationships, but also granted them extra practice time beyond the normally allotted amount.

They played excellent basketball, too. They had Nanterre on the ropes in the opener, a team in France's top league with multiple guys with NBA experience. The Cardinal took a 6 point lead into the fourth quarter before running out of steam late. They showed out in all three contests.

Four years ago, when Spencer Jones and James Keefe were freshmen, the Cardinal struggled in Europe. But when they returned home, they began the season on a tear, some of which they attributed to the summer experience. Teams often start the season strong when they have a foreign trip. The Cardinal look to begin the year in mid-season form.

(2) Maxime Led France to Gold, Primed for Big Year

In July, Maxime Raynaud represented his native France as they romped to a European U20 championship. Maxime tied for the team lead in scoring and was second in rebounds in blocks. Across the 7 games in Heraklion, he averaged 14 points and 5 rebounds on 67% from the field while making 7 of 8 three point attempts. He scored a team-high 26 points in their overtime win in the finals over Israel.

He told Channel Tree that the tournament was too short to make any significant strides in development, but that it allowed him to take on more of a leadership role and build confidence. Maxime looked outstanding during the tournament in Crete, and similarly showed out in the August games. During the open practice in September, he was absolutely dominant in the post, with noticeably more touch around the rim. He seems improved across the board entering his junior season. Haase has asked him to hold down the middle more this year, and he should have plenty of space to operate. If he takes the jump that I think he will, this team is going to be much more difficult to defend.

(3) Expect Improved Point Guard Play

Stanford had a lot of the tools of a good offense last season. They had shooters galore, and guys like Angel and Raynaud who could score inside and out. But what they did not have was consistent point guard play, and that was a recurring theme in postgame conferences with Haase. That will not be frequent refrain this year.

Jared Bynum alone will bring great stability to the position. The Providence transfer enters his 6th year of college basketball having played a key role on two NCAA tournament teams. In 2022 he was the Big East Sixth Man of the Year, and earned a spot on the Second Team All-Conference. In each of the last two seasons his assist rate would have led Stanford, and his turnover rate checked in well below the playmakers on the Cardinal roster. He finished with a 2.7 assist-turnover ratio last year.

Freshman Kanaan Carlyle figures to get first looks as the backup point guard. The top-50 recruit spent this last season playing in Overtime Elite, and by season's end was playing excellent basketball. In the OTE finals, he averaged 14.6 points per game against Amen and Ausar Thompson, and made some highlight reel passes. In every OTE game I watched, as well as the open practice, his ability to make any pass jumped out. I expect him to bring the greatest motor on the team, as well. Although he will likely have freshman moments, he will bring something dynamic off the bench that previous reserve guards have not.

Benny Gealer has earned a scholarship this year, and could also figure into the rotation. He got some looks as a walk-on freshman and made plays in limited action. He is a Pac-12 level player that should never have been a walk-on. I saw him blow past former Washington Wizard and Gonzaga Bulldog Joel Ayayi in the game against Nanterre. He can run the offense and play steady basketball.

(4) Power of Experience

By Bart Torvik's measure, this is Stanford's most experienced team since the 2013-14 season, when they made the tournament as a 10 seed and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. One of the issues in recent years has been a roster with substantially less experience than the median conference team. That will not be the case this year.

In Europe, Stanford ran out a starting lineup with two sixth years, one fifth year, a senior, and a junior. They brought another fifth year player off the bench. Michael Jones and Jared Bynum have both made NCAA tournaments at their former stops and know how to be part of winning teams. Jerod Haase says each year that he wants to find a way for his team to get old and stay old. He's finally accomplished that first part. That should pay massive dividends this season.

(5) Can They Win 8 Non-Conference Games?

Stanford will play 10 non-conference games this season. By my estimation, 5 of those are likely to be considered Quadrant IV games, with another looking to be Quadrant III (Santa Clara). That leaves a road matchup with defending national runners-up San Diego State and three games over Thanksgiving break in the Bahamas as the lone opportunities for marquee wins in the early season. All four of those games could easily end up being Quadrant I.

If Stanford runs the table in those softer games and splits the other four, they will be in Joe Lunardi's field of 64 when Pac-12 season begins. I estimate the average bubble team would win about 7.3 games against this schedule, so 7 wins isn't the end of the world. But if they can win 8 or more, things will be looking good before a tough conference schedule gets underway.

(6) Best Three Point Shooting Team in the Country?

Stanford has a stated goal to be the single best three point shooting team in America. That's not some pie-in-the-sky dream, either. Over the second half of last season, they actually held that distinction. They return their strongest three point shooters, as well as adding Jared Bynum and Andrej Stojakovic. Improved point guard play, as well as the further development of Maxime in the post, could lead to even greater spacing. I would argue the team's best pure shooter is Ryan Agarwal, and he had limited opportunities in 2023.

The biggest question mark for me is whether they can get earlier shots. I would like to see them push the tempo, and manufacture good shots early in the offense. Last season's team often needed to use the entire clock and struggled some against set defenses. If that improves this year, they should be right near the top nationally in three point percentage.

(7) Will They Have Rim Protection?

Last season the Cardinal finished 11th in the Pac-12 in blocks per game in conference competition. Spencer Jones led the team on the season in blocked shots, which is both impressive for a wing and troubling for the big guys. One exception is Max Murrell, who put up an excellent 6.2% block percentage in 14 minutes per game off the bench.

Maxime Raynaud mentioned that the coaching staff has emphasized being a rim protector. At 7'1", he stands four inches taller than anyone else in the rotation. For the Stanford defense to take the next step past a mediocre 2023, they will need better play in the paint. James Keefe is not as long as Maxime, but can certainly improve on his career average of 0.8 blocks per 40 minutes.

(8) What Size of Rotation?

Jerod Haase likes to play a lot of guys. There were games last season where 11 or even 12 players saw the court in non-garbage time. There are arguments both ways, but I think last year's team was better when they played a shorter rotation. Utah coach Craig Smith even credited that as one of the keys for Stanford's late season surge.

The Cardinal have 8 players in the top 60 of Pac-12 players, according to Evan Miya. That is tied for the most among all teams in the conference. The depth is there to play a good amount of guys. Jerod Haase was playing about 11 deep in Europe, for what it's worth. Redshirt freshman Jaylen Thompson was not one of those 11, but could even figure in situationally as a defensive stopper.

The Cardinal probably have the best depth they have had in at least five years, if not longer. The question is, will Jerod Haase shorten the rotation if certain guys are not helping the team win?

(9) Who is the Go-to Guy?

When Stanford needs a basket late in the game, or even late in the clock, where will they go? This question has not had an easy answer for many of the recent seasons. They have called a number of set plays for Spencer Jones, but he has not been the best at creating his own shot in isolation. Brandon Angel may be the best returning one-on-one scorer. Jared Bynum had a penchant for hitting big shots at Providence, and can effortlessly create space despite standing 5'10".

The wildcard here is Andrej Stojakovic. The freshman was a double figure scorer on the European trip, despite playing against professionals much older than him. He has a smooth three point stroke, but also a surprisingly strong mid-range game. Despite playing on a team full of elder statesmen, Andrej has a chance to be the guy who takes the final shot. If he plays at a high level, this team will unlock another gear.

(10) One Last Pac-12 Tournament

Thanks to U$C, the conference we know and love is dying. My favorite event of the year, the Pac-12 tournament, is going with it. This year will make my eighth consecutive appearance in Las Vegas, including during the closed door year. During those seasons, the Cardinal have never even reached the semifinals.

There is a real chance they will be fighting for their tournament lives that week. If they are on the bubble, they may need to get additional quality wins to punch their ticket. Will this be the year they answer the call? I certainly hope so, because I would do unspeakable things for a Pac-12 tournament championship in the final year.

--Stanford Men's Hoops National Champs '42 '91 '12 '15

TAGS: Maxime Raynaud Cardinal Guy NCAA Spencer Jones Maxime Raynaud's James Keefe NBA Stanford Nanterre Channel Tree Maxime Haase Best Three Point Shooting Team Providence Raynaud Angel Washington Wizard recruit Bulldog Joel
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