Stanford was good enough to reach the NCAA tournament last season. With virtually the entire team returning for 2007-08, anything less than a return to the field of 65 would be a disappointment.
The 23rd-ranked Cardinal open their season at home Friday night in the Basketball Travelers Classic against Harvard and its new coach, Tommy Amaker.
Stanford finished last season 18-13 overall and 10-8 in the Pac-10, good for sixth place in the conference. The Cardinal earned a bid to the NCAA tournament - their 14th consecutive postseason appearance - where they lost 78-58 to Louisville in the first round.
With 12 letterwinners and the entire starting lineup from the 2006-07 team returning, Stanford figures to be improved - an expectation underscored by its return to the preseason rankings after spending the bulk of last season out of the Top 25.
“We are clearly a much better basketball team than we were last year,” Stanford coach Trent Johnson said. “We should be a very good defensive team and a very good rebounding team. We need to be more consistent throughout the season whether it’s rebounding the ball, shooting the ball, etc.
“Consistency will be a huge key for us in this league and we need to play extremely well in the non-conference.”
But the Cardinal will open the season without 7-foot sophomore Brook Lopez, who is academically ineligible and has also been suspended for a violation of team rules. Johnson expects Lopez, who averaged 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game as a freshman, to return by late December.
Although Lopez was Stanford’s second-leading scorer, the Cardinal have several other options in his absence. Junior forward Lawrence Hill scored a team-high 15.7 points per game and shot 50.9 percent from the field last season, while guard Anthony Goods chipped in 12.8 points per game. Guard Landry Fields averaged only 4.2 points off the bench as a freshman, but could be poised for a breakout sophomore season.
“Individually, the most improved player is Landry Fields,” Johnson said. “I look for him to have a very good year.”
Stanford has won all eight previous meetings between these schools, seven of which have been home games for the Cardinal. The most recent matchup was a 100-59 Stanford win at home on Dec. 28, 2003.
Harvard is trying to end its string of five consecutive losing seasons, and hired a coach with a major-conference pedigree in order to do it. Amaker compiled a 109-83 record at Michigan over the last six seasons. Prior to his stint coaching the Wolverines, the 1987 Duke graduate coached in the Big East at Seton Hall, guiding the Pirates to a 68-55 mark over four seasons with an appearance in the NCAA tournament’s regional semifinals in 2000.
The Crimson went 12-16 last season, and placed sixth in this year’s Ivy League media preseason poll. Their top returnee is junior guard Drew Housman, who averaged 13.3 points per game in 2006-07.
The Basketball Travelers Classic is a four-team round-robin tournament taking place over three days. Stanford will face Northwestern State on Saturday and finish the tournament Sunday against UC Santa Barbara.