Loudness: the attribute of a sound that determines the magnitude of the auditory sensation produced and that primarily depends on the amplitude of the sound wave involved
Sadness: a state or spell of low spirits
There are a lot of words we could use to describe Stanford men’s basketball and its 73-70 loss to Oregon on Sunday, but loudness and sadness are the two that immediately come to mind. Loudness – loud because Maples was party to a full crowd, and unlike the UCLA game, it was a roundly pro-Stanford one. Loud because it was Senior Night. Loud because Stanford’s NCAA tournament hopes may well have been riding on this one game – at tipoff, USA Today was projecting Stanford to miss the tourney; ESPN had Stanford barely sneaking into March; SBNation didn’t even put Stanford in the first four out.
And then there was sadness. Sad – because now that Stanford’s picked up its seventh conference loss of the season in a weak Pac-12, the Cardinal are decidedly on the outside looking in. Sad because the team lost an eminently winnable game in a season full of eminently winnable games. (The Cardinal played 10 close games and won three of them.) Sad because even though counterfactuals in basketball are incredibly silly, it’s hard to not look at the schedule and think, “If Stanford had closed out games properly it could have been 25-3 instead of 18-10.” Sad because unless Stanford works some magic next week in Arizona or during the Pac-12 Tournament, the Cardinal will miss the NCAA tourney for the sixth time in seven years. Sad because we won’t see the seniors donning Stanford uniforms ever again, and as frustrating as the last few years have been for us, it has been all the more frustrating for them.
The simple fact is: If we care, they care a lot more. The players are out on the court 30-40 hours a week; we’re not filling Maples Pavilion. I myself do not have a perfect home attendance record. Sometimes I have pressing conflicts. Sometimes I look at the opponent, shrug, and say, “Maybe not this time.” I understand why people don’t go. But the fact remains, there are times I could have gone to games and didn’t. It happens. I don’t go to most Stanford teams’ games, just as I don’t go to most musical performances and most student plays. I do go to every football game, but covering football is my job.
And to a large extent, my failure to go to games and cheer, to restore the fabled Maples Pavilion roar, to give the Stanford Cardinal a real home-court advantage – in short, to be loud – limits how much I deserve to be sad.
If I didn’t invest that much time into thinking about the team, I don’t have much justification to feel sad about it – and to be fair, if I’m not the sort of guy who’s going to schedule his life around basketball, I probably wouldn’t. To paraphrase Colin Powell, fans who do not watch the games lack a certain credibility. But if you are there and you see players that you cheer for and in some cases even get to know, it’s hard not to feel some kind of empathy for their loss.
This season is not over just yet, to be clear – this team was a tourney lock for much of the year, and it can recapture that magic again. But even if Stanford makes the tourney, losing a winnable game on Senior Night has got to suck. I can’t imagine how much it hurts – there are few, if any, analogues for Senior Night in the non-athlete college experience – but when you spend that much time on any one activity, a poor result inevitably leaves you mad.
And even for the most diehard fans, maybe there’s not really that much reason to be sad either. Stanford probably came into this season with expectations that were a bit too high. If we’ll be honest, the Sweet Sixteen last year was a lucky break; but for Joel Embiid’s injured back, Stanford likely doesn’t upset Kansas in the Round of 32. But basketball is full of lucky breaks. Players get injured all the time. It’s pointless to criticize teams for being lucky – Connecticut laughs as it kowtows to its statues of Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier – and the fact remains that in Stanford’s last two non-tourney seasons, the Cardinal came oh-so-close to making the Big Dance but barely missed the cut. You could argue that the NIT-winning squad of 2011-12 was a clearly deserving tournament team. You could even make a case for 2012-13, when the most popular advanced metric placed the Cardinal above six-seed (and first-round flop) UCLA. Stanford has not gotten much in the way of hardware or tourney berths, but this team has achieved some kind of success.
And if this is any consolation: Maples was hardly a madhouse this season, but more people were coming to games than in years past. Stanford’s most recent teams have rebuilt a good deal of the support that had trickled away over the last seven or eight years, and the seniors have played the biggest role in that turnaround.
It’s too soon to tell whether this resurgence is simply a case of bandwagoning or a long-term change in how Stanford basketball operates. The glow from last year’s tourney run still exists, although after this season, most of its key figures will have departed for a new beginning. But we will remember these players. And if students and alumni and townies begin packing Maples like they did last night, maybe the next generation of players will remember us.
Winston Shi would like you to note that that time he said he was busy, he actually was. Check out his schedule at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.