Deep Cardinal take aim at NCAA Tourney berth
With one of the most experienced teams in the country, Stanford has big hopes to be the surprise team of the Pac-12 this season.
That means making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 and only the second time since 2008.
“Our desire to get to the tournament is greater than it’s ever been,” guard/forward Dorian Pickens said Thursday at Pac-12 media day. “It’s our senior year. We haven’t made the tournament since we’ve been here. That’s definitely a goal of ours. Not only do we want to make the tournament, we want to make a good run in it as well.”
The Cardinal were picked fifth in the conference media poll, getting a higher berth than normal because of All-Pac-12 forward Reid Travis and returning starters Pickens, Michael Humphrey and Robert Cartwright.
Stanford players have 493 total games under their belts, but secondyear head coach Jerod Haase said, “In some ways, I feel like we’re the least experienced team because we have so many new faces as well.”
As a group, the Cardinal’s four incoming freshmen were ranked eighth in the country (and second in the Pac-12) by Scout, 12th (third) by Rivals and 14th (fourth) by 247Sports.
One man to keep an eye on is slender 6-foot-8 forward Kezie Okpala, whom Rivals labeled a five-star recruit and called “perhaps the most improved (high school) senior in America.” Another is point guard Daejon Davis, who decommitted from Washington after head coach Lorenzo Romar was fired.
The other freshmen are Oscar Da Silva, a German big man who was impressive at the Under-18 European Championships and Australian guard Isaac White.
“We’re going to rely on them to produce consistently … consistent effort and concentration,” Haase said.
Speaking of consistency, Stanford will need more out of junior guard Marcus Sheffield. He pumped in 35 points in last season’s Pac-12 opener against Arizona State but averaged just 5.7 in the other 30 games he played.
Haase is cooking up a more attacking offense and a more aggressive defense than what he called the “vanilla” iterations of last season.
For one thing, Travis is expected to drive more to the hoop and shoot more from the outside, Haase said. Travis is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer (17.4 points per game) and rebounder (8.9).
Pickens, as well, will be driven more to supplement his fine outside shooting, and 7-foot junior Josh Sharma should be an intimidating shot blocker
“We have versatility on both ends of the floor,” Haase said.
Stanford opens against Cal Poly at home Nov. 10, and in key early games, hosts North Carolina on Nov. 20 at Maples and plays Kansas at Sacramento on Dec. 21. The Cardinal’s Pac-12 season begins against Cal at Maples on Dec. 30.
Tom FitzGerald is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: tfitzgerald@ sfchronicle.com Twitter: @tomg fitzgerald
Head coach Jerod Haase enters his second season at Stanford with an experienced team, but also with a highly regarded freshman class.