After three wins that don't tell us a whole lot about the young team, the Stanford Cardinal head on the road (or at least to a neutral site) this Thanksgiving week to get a better sense of where they stand. The Cardinal kick off the 2010 76 Classic in Anaheim, California, where they will take a serious step up in competition over the next few days. Although this is a tournament, they'll play three games in four days no matter how many they lose.
This year's 76 Classic features a strong field of under the radar teams. The lineup includes the Cardinal, Murray State Racers (their opponent today), Virginia Tech, Cal-State Northridge, Oklahoma State, DePaul, Tulsa, and UNLV. While none of the teams are ranked entering this week, Virginia Tech and UNLV are both near the top of teams receiving votes. The field includes recent NCAA tournament appearances by UNLV, Oklahoma State, and Murray State, as well as NIT appearances by Virginia Tech. It might not be quite the field that we're seeing at the Maui Invitational, but these are some teams you'll be hearing from in March.
Stanford's first opponent, Murray State, has a habit of taking down some big dogs during March Madness. Last season they won 21 out of 22 games at one point, which included a buzzer-beating upset of the No. 4 seeded Vanderbilt Commodores. They followed that up by narrowly missed upsetting the eventual national runner-up Butler Bulldogs.
Although they have lost some talent from that team, Murray State remains an incredibly dangerous team this season. In fact, the odds open with them as -2 1/2 point favorites over Stanford in this first round matchup. The defending Ohio Valley conference champions are the prohibitive favorite to win the conference this season. The Racers are 2-1 with their loss coming at Mississippi.
Murray State is shooting 41.2 percent from three-point territory and 40.9 overall. Isaiah Canaan (11.7 ppg) and Donte Poole (11.3 ppg) are the two players averaging double-figure scoring for Murray State. Stanford could have a size advantage over them as the Racers seem to stick with a fairly small lineup, generally not going with no more than 6-6 or 6-7 of height. Stanford averages nine more rebounds per game than the Racers so this will be an area of the game to keep an eye on.
Of course, the Racers are a veteran team with solid tournament experience last year. They have one sophomore with extensive time in their rotation, with much of the rest filled by juniors and seniors. Even if Murray State is outsized, they certainly have a huge edge in experience. Much will be made this season of the youth up and down Stanford's roster. However, youth also means that we can't really make any predictions, good OR bad about the team. They're 3-0 against less than stellar competition. Starting today they get to see how legit they really are before Pac-10 play gets underway.
We'll have coverage through the weekend as Stanford looks to show they're for real. Make sure and check out Rule of Tree as well for more on the nitty-gritty of Stanford basketball.