Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - On March 9 last season, the Stanford Cardinal were the definition of a bubble team.
With the Pac-12 Tournament looming, they had a record of just 19-11, which was a single win off the mark of the 2013 NIT squad. The day before, they had only narrowly topped Utah in the regular season finale following a three-game losing streak. Most prognosticators had them on the outside looking in when it came to the "Big Dance."
That is what is so great about March. Just over two weeks later, the Cardinal were a team busting brackets from New York to Palo Alto.
It all started when they won a pair of games in the conference tourney, including a 79-58 domination of third-seeded Arizona State. Although the Cardinal fell to UCLA in the semifinals, the two wins proved to be enough to get them into the field of 68.
That wasn't all. In the NCAAs, the Cardinal marched past No. 7 seed New Mexico and No. 2 seed Kansas on the way to the Sweet 16.
Just think, without those two wins in the Pac-12 Tournament, Stanford would likely have been relegated to the NIT or worse. Instead the Cardinal got a chance to play the spoiler to the Lobos' and Jayhawks' postseason plans.
Those two wins likely had even more far-reaching effects, especially for head coach Johnny Dawkins.
Last Wednesday, Dawkins received a contract extension, continuing his reign as the man in charge of Stanford's basketball program. Although the details of the extension were not be released, per school policy, it was excellent news for Dawkins. That is doubly true considering he was a name tossed around in a number of coaches-on-the-hot-seat columns at this time last year.
The firing of other coaches in the Pac-12, such as Craig Robinson at Oregon State, has made it clear that records hovering around .500 and appearances in lesser postseason tournaments are not the building blocks for a sustained run on the sidelines, especially in a very contentious league. The Pac-12 sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament last season.
Stanford was one of those six squads. That was enough evidence for the Stanford brass to entrust Dawkins with the continued build of the program, one that hopes to be at the same level as such in-conference national powerhouses as Arizona and UCLA.
"Johnny Dawkins is a phenomenal educator and tireless worker," Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir said in the release announcing Dawkins' extension. "Our on-court success last year combined with ongoing academic accomplishments and the overall development of our student-athletes illustrates Johnny's ability to lead this program into the future."
While he may not have the recruiting classes or familiar stars who roam the halls at Kentucky or Duke, Dawkins has made a habit of molding players into NBA-ready talent.
Just this past June, Dawkins watched a pair of players hear their names called in the NBA Draft, as forward Josh Huestis was selected 29th overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder and first-team All-Pac-12 forward Dwight Powell was chosen in the second round by the Charlotte Hornets. Huestis and Powell join Landry Fields as former pupils of Dawkins to have made it to the professional ranks.
Likely to join that trio this spring is Chasson Randle, who has enjoyed unprecedented success while playing for Dawkins. Randle has had an exceptional three seasons, all with Dawkins as his coach, culminating in All-Pac-12 first- team honors last season.
Dawkins has done more than provide opportunities at the next level to a handful of players, he also has shown that he knows how to run a program and consistently improve and succeed. In his six years at Stanford, he has a record of 117-87. The Cardinal's NCAA Tournament appearance last season may have been the first of Dawkins' run, but he has led the Cardinal to three 20-win seasons and has had a winning record in each of the last three years.
The trajectory Stanford has set on under Dawkins should continue. First off, the team still has Randle to handle the duties of lead scorer (18.8 points per game) and point guard this season. On top of that, the Cardinal had one of the top recruiting classes in the country in 2014, ranking 16th overall according to Rivals.com. Dawkins snagged three different players ranked among Rivals' top 100, including power forward Reid Travis (44), center Michael Humphrey (47) and Robert Cartwright (82).
The Cardinal also have one of the 20 best recruiting classes for 2015, ranking 18th. The last time Dawkins had a top-20 recruiting class was in 2010. Powell and Huestis were both members.
It hasn't been all bright skies at Stanford, however. While the Cardinal have continued to rise, the progression has been slow, especially in Pac-12 play. Against conference foes, the Cardinal are just 49-59 in Dawkins' six seasons. For the squad to take the next step, and join the prestigious standing of David Shaw's football program, it needs to begin knocking off league rivals more frequently.
By giving Dawkins an extension, Muir and the powers that be clearly have confidence he can do just that.