SAN FRANCISCO -- It's March Madness or bust for Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins this season.

Athletic director Bernard Muir made that clear last spring when he announced Dawkins would return for the 2013-14 season despite not reaching the NCAA tournament during his first five years on the job.

"We have set the expectation that we want to be playing (in the NCAAs)," Muir said.

Dawkins believes the tournament is well within reach. The Cardinal returns its top four scorers from last season, including all-conference forward Dwight Powell.

"For this year to be a success, we should make the tournament," Dawkins said Thursday at Pac-12 basketball media day. "It's an attainable goal."

The public is skeptical.

Despite returning 96.7 percent of its scoring and 96.1 percent of its rebounding -- by far the most in the conference in both categories -- the Cardinal was picked sixth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll.

Arizona was the overwhelming favorite. Beyond the Wildcats, a handful of teams appear capable of finishing in the top tier -- including Stanford.

"We spent a considerable amount time off the court growing together to figure out what it takes to reach our goals," Powell said.

To improve its fitness and mental toughness, the Cardinal participated in a one-day Navy SEAL training program on campus last month.

The players were given no advance notice. They walked onto the court for what was described a as a team activity and were greeted by the sound of a bullhorn.

Colorado did the same thing earlier this fall.

"We can take away a lot from that as far as no excuses and fighting through adversity and fighting through pain," Powell said.

n Stanford won't reach the NCAAs unless it learns to execute in the final minutes. It was 2-6 in games decided by five points or fewer.

"We have a new way of playing and a new way of thinking," Dawkins said. "We didn't close very well last year."

  • Wing guard Anthony Brown is healthy after missing most of the 2012-13 season because of a hip injury.

    "You'll see him contribute and make the biggest jump of all," Dawkins said.

    For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.