Stanford has more talent than you might expect for an unranked team with a 6-3 record, particularly one with a loss to DePaul on their resume. While they are still trying to replace two NBA draft picks - Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis - from last season's team, the returning players are more than capable of making a run at another NCAA Tournament bid, if they can get any help from the younger players in the program, particularly from a highly-rated group of freshmen, including a McDonald's All-American.
Reid Travis is the type of player that Stanford doesn't usually get and one of the most encouraging signs from their 79-77 loss to BYU on Saturday was his emergence, as he had 15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block on 11 shots. If they can get consistent points and minutes from Travis and one or two of their other freshmen, it changes the dynamic of the team. They aren't that far away - they only lost by 11 to Duke.
The heart of the team is their three seniors, who have started together for most of their career and helped to rescue Johnny Dawkins, who was on the hot seat coming into last season. Dawkins has been able to bring talent into Palo Alto - the problem has been utilizing it. He plays a very deliberate half-court offense with a lot of Triangle influences, which doesn't allow his players the chance to rack up a lot of statistics and doesn't do much to excite audiences at home or on TV either.
The ideal game for Stanford is a lot like what happened to them in the second round last season, when they took the air out of the ball and zoned a gravely wounded Kansas team without Joel Embiid. However, their comeback against BYU came off changing the pace and pressuring the ball in the last few minutes, so it will be interesting to see what style that Dawkins chooses to play, especially if they get off to a slow start in Austin. He doesn't have a lot of great choices, but that's what happens when you play a Top 10 team on the road.
PG - Chasson Randle (6'2 185) - He's more of a score-first player than a true PG. He seems like the perfect type of player for DeMarcus Holland to defend - a reasonably sized guard who isn't a great athlete and who depends on his guile and his shooting stroke to get shots off. If Holland can lock up Randle and prevent him from getting a lot of easy looks, Stanford will have trouble scoring enough points to win.
SG - Dorian Pickens (6'5 210) - They haven't been getting much from Pickens, a four-star SG recruit. In the second half, they replaced him with another freshman - Robert Cartwright - who could run point and allow Randle to play off the ball. Stanford, as you would expect from a team with so many freshmen in key roles, is still figuring out who they are.
SF - Anthony Brown (6'6 205) - This game will be an interesting match-up of two senior SF's who are trying to play their way into the NBA. They are opposite archetypes - Holmes is a forward who doesn't have the size to be a PF and Brown is a guard who doesn't have the speed to be a SG - so it will be interesting to see which one can get the upper hand in the 1-on-1 match-up.
PF - Reid Travis (6'8 245) - A freshman who came into the college game with the body of a grown man. He's built like a football player, with wide shoulders and long arms, which allows him to battle on the boards like a much older guy. He could present a size problem for Connor Lammert, but it's nothing Myles Turner shouldn't be able to handle. You want to make Travis, a 41% foul shooter, beat you from the perimeter.
C - Stefan Nastic (6'11 245) - Nastic has quietly turned himself into a very solid big man, averaging 15 points, 7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 blocks a game on 53% shooting as a senior. He's not huge and he's not crazy athletic, but he knows how to play and he is just big enough and just fast enough to maybe sneak onto an NBA roster. This would be a nice game for Cameron Ridley to play well in.
PF/C - Rosco Allen (6'9 220) - A very slippery stretch 4 from Hungary. He's a good player who can shoot the ball and put it on the floor. At the very least, he plays like a stretch 4. If he can ever shoot better than 41% from the field and 27% from 3, they could be tough.
It was hard to get a feel for their other bench guys, none of whom has done much with the playing time they have gotten. Most of them are young, though, so it's not impossible they emerge in a game like this.
Keys to the Game:
1) Attack their depth - Johnny Dawkins doesn't trust a lot of guys on their bench. If you can get any of their key guys in foul trouble and make this a game of attrition, they aren't going to have much of a chance.
2) Holland vs. Randle - This is the kind of game where you can really see Holland's value. We're going to need him to slow down the other team's main perimeter scorer in Big 12 play.
3) Use our athletic advantage - Stanford is a very deliberate team that generally likes to play the game at a slow pace. If you can attack them laterally and get the game going up and down, they probably don't have the athleticism or the firepower to keep up. At the same time, though, Texas doesn't want to be too over-aggressive and negate the size advantage on the block. Stanford has a lot of seniors who have been around and know how to execute in the half-court, so you would rather not let them have a chance to steal the game late.
This is a game Texas should win, but crazier things have happened. Michigan State just lost to Texas Southern. The week before Christmas can be tough since campus is empty and everyone is already thinking about the holidays. Hopefully, the team takes care of business and puts themselves in position for what could be a very special second half of the season.
The game is at 6 PM Central on ESPN2 on Tuesday.