By Sam McPherson
When a college basketball team doesn’t win enough games in January and February, then March truly does become a maddening time: Scoreboard watching isn’t fun for any athlete, especially those who know they could have avoided the situation by winning a few more times earlier in the season.
This is the reality now for the Stanford Cardinal men’s basketball team as they prepare to take on Arizona State tonight in Tempe. They have their nose pressed against the glass of the NCAA Tournament window, and even if the Cardinal beat the Sun Devils tonight, they have to hope for some other results to help them get a bid to March Madness.
Last night, for example, Stanford got some good news when Michigan State beat Purdue in a Big Ten conference matchup. That dropped Purdue to a projected 12-seed, according to the Bracket Matrix—the Boilermakers are the second-to-last team right now in the at-large bid pool for the NCAAs.
So it’s possible that with a win tonight, the Cardinal could leapfrog Purdue and be inside the bracket projections come Friday morning. Of course, that’s just one day’s action, and Stanford could find itself on the outside again after this weekend if it loses to Arizona on Saturday in Tucson.
Did someone say March Madness? Well, it begins even before the NCAA Tournament does, truly. And this is why the Cardinal have to be kicking themselves for losing some very winnable games earlier in the season. That two-point home loss to UCLA—another bubble team right now—in early February, for example, is just painful to think about right now for Stanford fans and players alike.
The fact that the Bruins swept the Cardinal this year doesn’t help, either: UCLA beat Stanford in Westwood back in early January in a double-overtime thriller. Those two close games alone, if they had gone the other way, would have the Cardinal basically in the tournament already if they had won them.
Another two-point loss, on the road at Brigham Young University, in December looms large. The Cougars are the second-best team in the West Coast Conference, and for Stanford to lose to a mid-major team like that hurts the Cardinal profile as the NCAA Selection Committee analyzes which teams are most deserving of the at-large bids.
Stanford is 18-10, but if they’d won those three close games against other teams chasing at-large bids, the Cardinal would be 21-7 and in a much better place. Those games got away, and now Stanford can’t afford to let any other opportunities escape their grasp. A win tonight at ASU is a must.
The Cardinal also have to hope teams like Texas, Illinois, UCLA and Pittsburgh lose. It’s ironic, however, that if Texas loses, that also hurts Stanford since the Cardinal have a win over the Longhorns this season. Those double-edged swords in the scoreboard-watching world can really be painful.
In the end, all a team can do is take care of its own business and wish for the best with the other games. The time for regret is over, that’s for sure. It simply becomes the same mantra we often hear in sports, a cliché for a reason: Win, and you’re in.
For the Stanford Cardinal, that’s never been more true than right now.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.