Mar 27, 2012; New York, NY, USA; Stanford Cardinal bench reacts during the second half of the semifinal round against the Massachusetts Minutemen at the NIT held at Madison Square Garden. Stanford won 74-64. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE
Stanford has relied on two factors throughout their run to a championship. Their biggest strength has been their overall defense. Other than a barrage of Illinois State three pointers, the Cardinal defense has held the remainder of their opponents under 40% shooting, which is a pretty nice pathway to victory. The other important factor is the youth movement, as Chasson Randle, Aaron Bright, Anthony Brown and Dwight Powell have all stepped up at various points, sometimes all at once. Josh Owens has been a solid rock, but the young ones have been the key to keeping the Cardinal going.
Stanford does have one final test in the upstart Gophers. They are surprisingly similar teams, relying on their defenses to take control of games and plenty of young, promising talent that could be rising in the near future. Minnesota isn't quite as good as the Cardinal at holding things down, but they are a good defense that'll aim to make things close.
Minnesota has a few nice advantages. They can get to the foul line against a Cardinal team that loves to foul. However, Minnesota is not an excellent free throw shooting team. Rodney Williams and Coleman get to the line a lot, but neither of them are all that great when they get there. The bigger advantage is two point offense, which they should be able to execute. In all their NIT contests, Minnesota has been very efficient on the inside, and if they can do the same against the Cardinal two point defense then they should be in good shape.
Stanford has one clear advantage aside from having a slightly better defense: Forcing turnovers. The Cardinal can get the ball a lot if they pressure the Gophers, who aren't a great ball-handling team. Add in good shooting defense, particularly if they guard the interior, and the Cardinal stand a good shot at being the last one standing at Madison Square Garden.