Just a couple of weeks after it seemed as if Stanford may be on their way back to the NIT yet again, but after pulling off two upsets, Stanford is one win over a 10 seed away from getting to the Elite 8 for the first time in 13 years. Fueled by efficient offensive and defensive play and some hot shooting from Chasson Randle (and honestly, the fortunate absence of Kansas' Joel Embiid), the Cardinal now face off with a Dayton team whose presence in the Sweet 16 is just as surprising at theirs.
Like the Cardinal, the Flyers also pulled off two upsets with efficient defense, holding Ohio State and Syracuse to less than 60 points in grind-it-out affairs that they won in the final moments, holding on for dear life. With both teams taking part in Thursday's contest limited offensively, expect another low-scoring affair that comes down to the final seconds and the key for a Stanford victory will likely come down to how well their big men play defense down low and if they can keep riding Randle offensively along with getting scoring from star forward Dwight Powell.
Powell, along with fellow big men Stefan Nastic and Josh Huestis were huge for the Cardinal down the stretch against Kansas, getting four blocks along with some crucial rebounds. If the big trio can hold down the fort, and stay out of too dire of foul trouble, the Cardinal should be able to push the Flyers into another low-scoring game and force them to knock down outside shots (something they didn't do well against Syracuse). Their big men will also need to stay out of that aforementioned foul trouble, as Stanford will have a very, very hard time scoring even in the 50s if Powell and Huestis have to spend too much time on the bench.
On the offensive side, actually knocking down some shots from the outside will be essential. The Cardinal were somehow able to get past Kansas despite going 0-9 from behind the arc, but it is unlikely that they will be able to win another game in the tournament if they turn in another performance like that from deep. Randle was efficient from inside the arc, but only was able to get off two threes and missed them both. If Randle can go off from three like he did against New Mexico, the Cardinal become an incredibly difficult team to stop, and will further open up the inside for Powell and Huestis.
Like almost all NCAA Tournament games, the most important factor for the Cardinal will likely be how they play in the final moments of the game. Maybe more than any tournament I can remember, no lead under 15 is safe and almost every game will come down to who knocks down shots and limits their mistakes in the final minutes. The Cardinal have done an excellent job of this thus far, but so have the Flyers, but one is going to have to finally come up short Thursday night.