March Madness

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (7) New Mexico vs. (10) Stanford

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New Mexico Lobos 27-6, 15-3
A March 8 loss to the San Diego State Aztecs cost the Lobos a regular season championship. They had to settle for second, but they got their revenge in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship, upsetting the Aztecs 64-58 for the second time this season. The Lobos are making their 15th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and have now made it three years consecutively. This season senior center Cameron Bairstow has exploded, averaging 20.4 points (his previous career-high was 9.7), 7.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.6 assists. He combines with the 7’0, 250 lbs. Alex Kirk in the paint to give the Lobos as productive of a post duo as college basketball has to offer. Together they help the Lobos outrebound their opponents by five on average and block 4.3 shots a game. The Lobos are 19-3 when winning the battle of the boards and just 5-3 when they don’t. Senior guard Kendall Williams prevents teams from being able to just pack it in against Bairstow and Kirk; he’s second on the team in scoring at 16.4 a night and is shooting 40 percent from distance. The 61 threes he’s made this year is a career-high, but the Lobos do not rely much on the long ball. They only average 5.9 makes a game. They went 3-3 against the RPI top 50, with their best win other than SDSU coming against Cincinnati. They were upset by Harvard in their opening game of last year’s tournament and they haven’t played past the opening weekend since 1974. If they don’t get to the Sweet 16 at the very least it will be looked at as a disappointment. Expectations are high and justifiably so.

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Stanford Cardinal 21-12, 10-8
When Johnny Dawkins took over the Stanford men’s basketball program in 2008 they were a perennial NCAA Tournament team. They missed making the field just once in the 13 years prior. He came from Duke with great credentials, but it’s taken six seasons to guide the program back to the Big Dance. In his defense they did win the 2012 NIT after ending up on the wrong side of the bubble, but his seat was getting really hot and if the Cardinal weren’t dancing for the 17th time in school history this year, a coaching change may have been on the horizon. Dawkins is bringing a veteran team to the field as his regular rotation is compromised almost exclusively with upperclassmen. They played the 19th most difficult schedule in the country, going 5-9 against the RPI top 50. Junior guard Chasson Randle has really blossomed into a star for the Cardinal, putting up 18.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists a game. Senior forward Dwight Powell is having another strong season, putting up 14.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game. A lot of NBA eyes are going to be on him as he finally gets the opportunity to play on the biggest stage. The Cardinal didn’t defend the three particularly well, allowing their opponents to shoot 36 percent from distance on the year. They can also be susceptible on the glass at times despite having good size on the frontline. If they draw a team who can successfully attack them in both areas, their return to the tourney will be short lived.