Deep Car­di­nal take aim at NCAA tour­ney berth

San Francisco Chronicle - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - By Tom FitzGer­ald Tom FitzGer­ald is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: tfitzger­ald@ sfchron­i­ Twit­ter: @tomg fitzger­ald

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 Wed­nes­day 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.”

“We’re go­ing to rely on them to pro­duce con­sis­tently.” Jerod Haase, head coach, on Stan­ford’s fresh­men

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 6-8 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 at Wash­ing­ton af­ter 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 year’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, the 6-8 Travis is ex­pected to drive more to the hoop and shoot more from the out­side, Haase said. He’s 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 on 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 UCLA at home on Jan. 4.

Mar­cio Jose Sanchez / As­so­ci­ated Press

Head coach Jerod Haase en­ters his sec­ond sea­son at Stanford with an ex­pe­ri­enced team, but also with a highly re­garded fresh­man class.

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