After a 73-70 loss to Oregon, Stanford’s chances for a berth in the NCAA Tournament took a massive hit. With the regular season coming to an end and the tournament quickly approaching, we asked basketball writers Jack Seaton, Irving Rodriguez and Nicholas Radoff: What will you make of this season if Stanford doesn’t make the tournament? What can the Cardinal take away from this season going forward?
Jack: Following last year’s run into the Sweet Sixteen, there were always going to be huge expectations for the team for this season. However, with the loss of key players such as Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell reflecting the beginning of a changing of the guard of sorts, it was going to be difficult to replicate such a season. Should the team not make the tournament, Stanford will be left to contemplate what could have been had the UCLA games and the Oregon game fallen its way.
This year the team will be losing Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic, who together account for 48.2 points per game. With five players who were all instrumental in that 2014 tournament run leaving over the course of two years, it should be expected that the team will need time to adjust. In the opening half of the season, I would have said the loss of these three players would have absolutely decimated the chances of national or Pac-12 success for at least two or three years to come for this Cardinal team. However, the last 10 games, despite having been riddled with ups and downs, have shown that this team might actually be just fine. Sophomore Marcus Allen has fallen comfortably into a role as the team’s spark, a position that is vital to any successful team. Freshmen Michael Humphrey and Reid Travis have shown incredible developments that foreshadow a formidable post pairing that could shift the format of the offense to something similar to what we saw in the era of the Lopez twins. With Rosco Allen returning and inevitably some young talent coming from the upcoming Stanford class of 2019, Cardinal fans can remain optimistic for the years to come.
Irving: Consistency and execution. These are the lessons that head coach Johnny Dawkins should keep in mind in future seasons. We’ve written plenty about the Cardinal’s struggles in the heart of conference play and what they needed to correct in order to get back on track towards an NCAA berth.
Stanford sat comfortably at third in the Pac-12 after a 6-2 start to conference play. However, the failure to adjust in the last stretch of the season left the Cardinal with a 3-5 record in their last eight and on the very edge of the bubble.
The defense improved slightly, but the offense was slumping after back-to-back losses against Washington State and UCLA. Though the Card only lost by a combined 3 points, Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown weren’t getting off clean looks and the offense was visibly stagnant for the first time all season. What was once an electric and versatile offense began stalling as the level of competition ramped up and (properly, as it seems) designed their defenses to counter Stanford’s star-centric sets.
We can look at the Cardinal’s offense in their last eight games (including the loss to Oregon) to see part of the reason for Stanford’s gradual decline:
The offense couldn’t replicate its captivating early-season success, finishing with an eFG% well below its season average in seven of the last eight games. As I mentioned in the last roundtable, some of these struggles can be explained away by stingier competition. Still, the point stands: Stanford couldn’t quite overcome good teams that took away the Card’s biggest strength in the most crucial part of the season.
At the end of the day, I believe teams are exactly where they should be. That leaves Stanford as a program on the rise that still needs a few pieces to break the threshold into elite territory. If Stanford doesn’t find its way into the tournament in a few weeks, we should naturally be upset. However, we need to remember that the disappointment is only a reflection of the high expectations the Cardinal set with their fascinating play at the start of the season.
This season should serve as a sign that Stanford basketball is heading in the right direction and that there is still room for growth. Dawkins needs to get his team to play to its full capacity for the entirety of 30 games. That’s what the Cardinal should learn from this year, and that’s what they should strive for in the coming future.
Nic: While it’s true that Stanford lost a huge core of its team after last year’s excellent run that took the nation, and probably most Stanford fans, by surprise, I still think that there was a lot of excitement surrounding the team this year, especially with the arrival of McDonald’s All-American starter Reid Travis. There were a number of pleasant surprises, none more so than the emergence of Stefan Nastic as a dangerous offensive force and the performance of some key role-players like Rosco Allen. That being said, there were also high expectations, and not just because of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
Chasson Randle was well on his way to becoming Stanford’s all-time leading scorer, was one of the favorites for Pac-12 player of the year and was even shortlisted for the Naismith Award. Anthony Brown was also poised to have a great season. All of that in combination with a wide-open conference led many, myself included, to believe that this year’s team might have the chance to make some noise come March. Now it’s going to be very difficult to make the tournament. Stanford is currently ranked 56th in RPI and, more importantly, is 2-5 against RPI top-50 teams. Those wins over reigning champion UConn and Texas are looking worse and worse as we near the end of the season. With Oregon coming together as we approach the conference tournament, there is a distinct chance that the Ducks will take the spot that Stanford had, and the selection committee doesn’t usually like taking almost half of a conference into the tournament.
Right now, Stanford is fifth in the Pac-12. This year will likely be a year of missed opportunities. The two and three-point losses to UCLA and Oregon really hurt. I hate to play what-ifs, but if the Cardinal pull out one of those victories, their job gets a lot easier. As it stands, Stanford is down but not out. A victory over Arizona, for me, seals the deal. The surefire way to make the tournament, of course, is to win the Pac-12 crown in Las Vegas, but there is a chance that a deep conference tournament run will also be sufficient to get Stanford off the bubble and into March Madness. So while the current situation looks bleak, I encourage fans to keep their heads up. Sure, it’ll be difficult to beat the Wildcats, who are a lock for a one or a two seed and, in my opinion, are the third or fourth-best team in the nation. At the same time, Stanford may get two chances at them and even going 1-1 will go a very long way.
As far as this season being a disappointment, it’s really hard to say. Like I said, the Cardinal will rue a lot of their missed opportunities. Dawkins, who recently got an extension, now has the talent necessary to play with most of the teams in the country and this year does not fully reflect that talent. Even if Stanford doesn’t make the tourney, there are a number of reasons to be excited about the team for years to come.
Reid Travis looks like the real deal and will be a dominant force in the low-post for years to come. Marcus Allen has shown some real growth and Robert Cartwright has shown flashes of defensive brilliance and has the quickness to develop offensively as well. Michael Humphrey has blossomed in just the last five games of the season. I will say this: Most people had us making the tournament at the beginning of this season, and not just because of last year. The word of the season, and I’ll bet Dawkins will agree with me, is consistency. It just wasn’t there. Some nights the Cardinal looked fantastic and others (Washington State comes to mind) were, well, horrific. Still, the season is winding down but far from over. Stanford has control over their own destiny and you can’t ask for any more. We’ll see this weekend if Stanford has what it takes to play on the level worthy of a Tournament berth.
Contact Irving Rodriguez at irodriguez ‘at’ stanford.edu, Jack Seaton at jrseaton ‘at’ stanford.edu and Nic Radoff at nradoff ‘at’ stanford.edu.