The seat under Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins cooled off this weekend after the surprising victory at Oregon.

Instead of scalding, it's now merely hot -- and probably will remain that way for the rest of the season.

The awkward situation is the result of Dawkins' failure to lead Stanford to the NCAA tournament in his first five seasons and athletic director Bernard Muir's decision, made last spring, to bring Dawkins back for Year 6.

While explaining his reasoning, Muir indicated that Dawkins' future employment at the school was tied to a berth in the NCAAs.

"We clearly have set the expectation that we want to be playing this time of the season next year," Muir told this newspaper in March.

Stanford Cardinal’s head coach Johnny Dawkins during their game against the BYU Cougars in the second half at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif. on
Stanford Cardinal's head coach Johnny Dawkins during their game against the BYU Cougars in the second half at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif. on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) ( Nhat V. Meyer )

He wasn't talking about the NIT.

"Next year is a critical year for us," Muir added. "Johnny has high expectations of himself and his program. He knows we need to make this next step."

The prospects for taking that step looked bleak after the Cardinal's unimpressive nonconference season -- the victory at unbeaten Connecticut lost luster when the Huskies were subsequently sideswiped by Houston and SMU -- and then a lousy start to league play.

Stanford lost at home to Cal and was beaten soundly by second-rate Oregon State. Then came a players-only meeting, the gutsy performance in Eugene, and rekindled optimism.

But the challenge remains arduous: Stanford's power rating is No. 58 -- outside the traditional range for bubble teams -- and the Cardinal has six games remaining against the league's best, including two against top-ranked Arizona.

How many victories will it take for the Cardinal (10-5, 1-2 Pac-12) to earn an at-large berth?

There is no magic number -- the selection process is far more intricate and nuanced. But this much is certain: In order to make the tournament and save Dawkins' job, Stanford must play exponentially better over the next nine weeks than it has over the past 51/2 years.

  • After a 9-0 start, the Saint Mary's men have dropped five of their past nine games and fallen off the NCAA tournament bubble.

    In other words: They must win the West Coast Conference tournament to reach the NCAAs.

    The Gaels' flawed resume includes losses to four teams (South Carolina, George Mason, Hawaii and Santa Clara) with a combined record of just 35-31.

  • The Brownridge Watch: Santa Clara freshman guard Jared Brownridge continues to sizzle.

    The 6-foot-2 guard from Aurora, Ill., made the winning 3-pointer at Saint Mary's (with two seconds remaining) and has scored at least 20 points in eight games.

    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.