Last Season: After being unable to make the NCAA Tournament in his first five years at Stanford, Johnny Dawkins finally got off the hot seat last season and led the Cardinal all the way to the Sweet Sixteen taking out Kansas along the way. I don't know if one year of success outweighs five years of mediocrity, but that's what the decision makers at Stanford are banking on as they rewarded him with a contract extension this offseason. Dawkins has set himself up to build on last year's progress and retains one of the better rosters in the Pac-12 and brings in a top recruiting class as well.
Key Losses: Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell, last year's front court duo, were both drafted. The two combined for over 25 points, 15 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game and Huestis was named to the All Pac-12 Defensive Team while Powell was named to the All Pac-12 First Team. Both were versatile scorers and defenders and were a main reason to Stanford's top 50 defensive rating.
Notable Returning Players: Leading scorer Chasson Randle will be the focal point of the offense this season. Randle averaged 18.8 points, shot 58 percent at the rim, 45 percent on two-point jumpers and 38.9 percent on threes last season. And only 3.5 percent of Randle's two-point jumpers were assisted so Randle know hows to get up his own shot. But he took 27 percent of the shots while he was on the floor last season and that rate could skyrocket this season with less scorers on the team.
The Pac-12's most improved player of the year, Anthony Brown, is back as well. Brown, who averaged 33.5 minutes per game, had the highest offensive rating, best true shooting percentage and shot a team-best 45.3 percent from three. He is one of Stanford's better defenders and averaged 12.3 points per game last year.
Stefan Nastic is the third and final returning starter for Johnny Dawkins. The 6-foot-11 center is another strong defender who helped limit opponents inside and registered the second best block rate on the team. With Huestis and Powell both gone, Nastic should be able to improve on his rebounding; he averaged the least amount of rebounds per game out of all starters last season.
Grant Verhoeven and Rosco Allen are a pair of 6-foot-9 forwards that should help up front. Verhoeven hasn't seen much playing time as he averaged 5.7 minutes per game and Allen redshirted last season because of injury, but will likely step into the starting lineup. And twins Marcus and Malcom Allen will provide depth at the guard position.
Key Newcomers: McDonald's All-American Reid Travis is Stanford's most notable recruit and should step into one of the forward spots and help replace the size and rebounding lost from Powell and Huestis' departure. In addition to Travis, Dawkins also got commitments from 6-foot-9 Michael Humphrey, a lanky big that can shoot from the outside, and guards Dorian Pickens and Robert Cartwright. Pickens is an elite shooter and Cartwright is a true point-guard that could be starting next year.
Notable Non-Conference Games: Stanford's first test comes in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center when they take on UNLV and then they face Temple or Duke in the following game. After that, they have four manageable games against Delaware, DePaul, Denver and Loyola Marymount, but then will have a difficult road trip to BYU and Texas.
Conference Stretch to Look at: Maybe the most daunting stretch of Stanford's season comes in mid-January. The Cardinal will play at Cal and then play a non-conference game against defending champion Connecticut and follow that up with a home game against Arizona.
Best-Case: Johnny Dawkins shows last year was no fluke and Chasson Randle is in the conversation for Pac-12 Player of the Year. Anthony Brown improves once again and Stefan Nastic anchors the defense while Reid Travis makes the All-Freshman Team. The offense is one of the better ones in the Pac-12 and the Cardinal reach the Sweet Sixteen for the second straight season.
Worst-Case: Stanford regresses to its previous years under Dawkins and for a variety of reasons just can't put it all together. Randle tries to overcompensate for a struggling offense and the Cardinal lose some questionable games in the Pac-12 and end up as one of the Last Four teams out on Selection Sunday.
Projected Finish: 3rd