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November 12, 2012Not since the Lopez Twins roamed the streets of Palo Alto has there been this much excitement surrounding the Stanford men's basketball program. With its core (minus forward Josh Owens) returning from last year's NIT title team, and Cardinal and NBA alum back with the program as an assistant coach, expectations are sky-high for Johnny Dawkins and Stanford.
Cardinal Sports Report enlisted the assistance of former Bay Area resident and author of the popular Yahoo! Sports basketball blog The Dagger Jeff Eisenberg to preview the 2012-2013 Stanford basketball season.
This is part one of our two part preview. The first segment focuses on the Pac-12 men's basketball conference as a whole, while the second is more Stanford-specific.
Cardinal Sports Report: Pac-12 men's basketball has struggled mightily over the past few seasons. How do you think the conference as a whole in 2012 compares to past seasons?
Jeff Eisenberg: I don't think it can get worse than it was last year. I do think it's going to be quite a bit better. I don't think it's going to be back to its heyday in 2007 and 2008 when there were pros on every roster, but I think it's going to be quite a bit better. I think Arizona is going to be a legit top-25, top-20 program again this year, I think UCLA has the potential to be that as well, especially if Shabazz Muhammad is playing by mid-December or so, and then I think there are some intriguing teams behind those two.
I think it will really help the conference if those two are again kind of the flagship programs because it gives teams the chance to have some marquee wins in conference when they beat those two teams, which is something that's been lacking, especially last year when every conference win didn't help you too much and every conference loss was looked at as a bad loss.
In addition to those two I think that Stanford has a lot of potential if they can build on the NIT run from last year. I really like Colorado's young talent. I think they're kind of a year away from winning the conference or at least contending to win it, but I still think that they'll be in the NCAA Tournament mix. I still think that Mike Montgomery teams tend to finish one or two spots ahead of where we expect them to every year and the Cal team may be no different. And I really look for USC to be one of the more improved teams in the country this year with the influx of talent that they have coming in and with Jio Fontan healthy. I think those six, I don't think they'll make the NCAA Tournament, but I think those are NCAA Tournament contending type teams and you could potentially see Washington joining that group too if some of their young talent comes together.
CSR: For the conference race in general, UCLA and Arizona like you mentioned are the two teams getting the most pub, but how do you see playing that for the top three, top four? UCLA, Arizona, and then what other teams do you think have a chance to finish up high and what do you think would need to happen for another team to get in the mix?
JE: I think UCLA and Arizona are deserving favorites and yet I think there are question marks with both of those teams that it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see someone else jump in there and at least finish in the top-two.
As far as teams that can jump up, I mentioned a couple of them before. I like Stanford, I like Colorado and I like Cal. I would say that those are the three that I could see moving in to the top two if things broke into their favor.