9. Stanford Cardinal (11-10, 4-5 Pac-12) LW: 9
Though Washington remains the favorite in the Pac-12, the difference between the second and ninth place teams in the conference stands at two games.
But to keep pace, the importance of finding ways to win can’t be stressed enough. Against Utah on Jan. 24, the Cardinal crumbled late in a loss. If the result is flipped, Stanford is 5-4 and in the thick of the race for a top-four seed at the Pac-12 Tournament.
Trailing California by seven with under six minutes to play, something clicked, enabling Stanford to propel itself past its rival with a 84-81 win over the Golden Bears.
At 6-foot-9 and 215 pounds, Okpala is expected to be a first-round pick come the NBA Draft in June. For now, he’s expected to be Stanford’s jack-of-all-trades as the Cardinal attempt to keep up.
Against Cal, the lanky swingman dropped a season-high 30 points, playing all 40 minutes to secure the win. While it’s unlikely Okpala continues to score at that rate, the likelihood of Stanford competing down the stretch is equally slim.
On Haase’s team, everyone other than Okpala and senior center Josh Sharma is expected to return in 2019-20, giving the Cardinal one of the more experienced rosters next year.
For Haase, it’s important to continue assisting Okpala in his development ahead of the NBA Draft process, primarily as a viable recruiting tool, but he’ll also need to test his less-experienced players to establish a baseline for next year.