There were times during the regular season when the Stanford Cardinal looked like one of the worst teams in the Pac-12. By association, that basically meant they looked like one of the worst teams in all of the power six conferences.
That being said, Stanford didn't look too shabby on Thursday night. In fact, the Cardinal looked dominant for the better part of their showdown with the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the final game of the NIT tournament. They got hot and took a lead into the half, and then owned the second half en route to a 75-51 victory.
Just like that, Stanford had its first victory in the NIT tournament since 1991.
It's hard to get overly excited about such things. The NIT is not the Big Dance. Even the team that wins the blasted thing has not earned the right to be called one of the top teams in the country. At best, we can call Stanford the best team in the Pac-12, which is only worth so much in the grand scheme of things this year.
The best thing that can be said of this Stanford team after its win in the NIT final is that things are looking pretty good going forward.
The Cardinal have a lot of youth on their roster, and it bodes well for them that many of their young players also happen to be star players.
Chasson Randle led the team in scoring as a freshman this season, and he also scored in double figures in each of Stanford's final four games. He performed very well down the stretch, and should only be better and more consistent in his sophomore season.
Sophomore guard Aaron Bright put up modest numbers in the regular season, but he caught fire in a big way in the NIT tournament. He made a habit out of scoring in double figures, and ultimately took home NIT MVP honors. Look for him to take on a bigger and brighter role as a junior.
Sophomore swingman Anthony Brown was another guy who put up modest numbers in the regular season, but he came on strong in the NIT as well. He recorded a double-double against Cleveland State early in the tournament, and had a total of 29 points and 11 rebounds in Stanford's final two games. He's in line to see more playing time as a junior.
The one guy who will be sorely missed next season is senior big man Josh Owens, who was a key contributor all season long for the Cardinal. Replacing his presence will not be easy.
Even so, the amount of talent Stanford will be returning is highly encouraging. The Cardinal haven't qualified for the NCAA tournament since 2008, but there's a good bet that will change next season. Stanford is going to be a quality team, and it will be playing in a very winnable Pac-12 conference.
Judging from what we saw from Stanford on Thursday night and in the rest of the NIT tournament in general, the Cardinal know how to win. The experience will serve them well in 2012-2013.
In the event things do go south, all they have to do is remember the words of Ray Lewis. Shouldn't be too hard.