Small-time schools like Cal Poly, Pacific and obviously Eastern Washington have given Stanford all it could handle, with Eastern Washington able to pull off the upset. With ninth-ranked North Carolina looming on the schedule, what needs to improve for the Cardinal to have a legitimate chance at taking down the defending national champs?
Jose Saldana (JS): Stanford, right now, has no shot at beating UNC. The Cardinal just lost to an Eastern Washington team that hadn’t beaten a Pac-12 school in 15 years. They cannot break the zone defenses that every team has trotted out to counter their offense. Reid Travis and Robert Cartwright have played well but the perimeter offense and defense has been trouble once again for the Cardinal. Opposing guards are able to penetrate off the bounce and draw fouls or kick it to the open man for an open three point shot. Pacific guard Miles Reynolds and Eastern Washington guard Bogdan Bliznyuk each shot over nine free throws against Stanford.
To be fair, the Cardinal are suffering from a host of injuries. Senior guard Dorian Pickens and sophomore forward Kodye Pugh didn’t play against Eastern Washington on Tuesday. Junior guard Marcus Sheffield hasn’t played in any of Stanford’s three games due to an injury that has an indefinite timetable as of now.
The freshmen also need to adjust to the college game. After scoring 17 points on 5-of-5 made three-pointers in his debut against Cal Poly, Isaac White has shot 1-of-13 on three-point shots. Daejon Davis has started slow in the scoring department (0-5 from the field on Tuesday) and needs to produce in other ways while his offensive game develops. Oscar Da Silva was impressive in first start against the Eagles. He recorded a double-double (12 points, 17 rebounds) and he was everywhere on the offensive glass (six offensive rebounds).
The Cardinal will need everything to go perfectly to beat UNC. They need their perimeter shooters to perform, and Travis and Michael Humphrey to have huge games in the paint on offense and defense.
King Jemison (KJ): Right now, Stanford can’t afford to worry about North Carolina. They need to focus on beating Northeastern on Friday. After Tuesday’s loss to Eastern Washington, the Cardinal can’t take anything for granted. As David Shaw likes to say about his football team, they haven’t earned the right to look past anybody.
As Jose mentioned, Stanford just looks awful when teams play zone against them. The hot three-point shooting that we saw against Cal Poly was nowhere to be found against Pacific and particularly not against Eastern Washington. Until the Cardinal prove that they can consistently knock down open threes, teams will continue to run zone. It’s very hard to break a zone from the inside-out which Stanford would like to do with Michael Humphrey and Reid Travis. But those guys just won’t get the opportunities if the outside shooters like Isaac White, Dorian Pickens, and Robert Cartwright can’t hit from deep.
Once again, Jose hit the nail on the head when he talked about injuries. Stanford is beat up right now. They only played seven guys against Eastern Washington because three major rotation players are out right now, and a fourth (star frosh Kezie Okpala) is ineligible. To start the process of getting better, Stanford needs either Pickens or Sheffield back because, as of right now, the team has no wing production.
Of course, there’s an easy answer to how Stanford needs to improve: They have to start hitting shots, not just from the outside. Tuesday night, they shot a pitiful 12.5 percent from beyond the arc, but they weren’t so good from inside the three-point line either (41 percent). If you want to beat a good team, it starts with hitting open shots and taking advantage of layups. At the end of the day, Stanford is just one good shooting performance away from being able to compete with a team like North Carolina. It’s just that right now, a good shooting performance seems impossible.
Michael Humphrey answered a 0-point performance against Cal Poly last Friday with a 26-point game Sunday against Pacific. We saw a similar Humphrey last season, on one game and off the next. What is the difference between Friday’s Michael Humphrey and Sunday’s?
JS: Humphrey was just more aggressive all around. He was going up strong with the ball for drives in which he got fouled on and he knocked down his free throws (12-of-14). His length provided problems for Pacific and it caused the Tigers big men to get into foul trouble where then Humphrey could feast on the bench players. His shooting beyond the arc was stellar as he knocked down two of his four three-point attempts.
The guards were also finding him open in the post. Davis and Cartwright both had five assists and would deliver dimes to Humphrey for an open dunk or layup.
It was his night.
KJ: From the tip, you could see the energy Humphrey was playing with against Pacific. It seems like he was mad about his lackluster effort in the opener, and he took it out on Pacific’s overmatched frontcourt. He also delivered from distance, making two of three from beyond the arc. If he can consistently hit open threes and be a force on the interior, he will be a nemesis for opposing defenses. Unfortunately, he immediately regressed against Eastern Washington. He shot three of 13 from the floor and missed on all four of his three-point attempts. That kind of inconsistency will make it really hard for Coach Haase to create a game-plan focused on getting Humphrey the ball because as of now, you never know what you’re going to get from the senior.
In order to start to become a fixture on offense, he needs to play with that high-level of energy every game and start getting a little more dependable on open jumpers.
Isaac White was 5-5 from beyond the arc Friday and scored the second-most points ever for a Stanford freshman with 17. Was that game an anomaly or is White the real deal?
JS: Shooting 100 percent on three-point shots is always an anomaly but I don’t think games like he had against Cal Poly will be aberrations. White is an elite shooter who has shot well in international tournaments for Australia. However, he can only really contribute on offense right now with his outside shooting, so if can’t knock down his shots like against Pacific and Eastern Washington then he becomes a liability on the court. I don’t expect this slump to last but he should be getting plenty of open looks from Travis’ post ups. But with Pickens and Sheffield coming back, his playing time might get reduced so he could see less scoring opportunities.
KJ: It’s clear that White is never afraid to shoot from deep. He’s averaged six three-point attempts per game. What’s missing right now is consistency. One night, he’s perfect. The next two, he’s ice-cold (2-13 combined). That’s not unusual for a freshman. As he adjusts, I expect to see him become a steady 35-40 percent outside shooter.
Where he really needs to improve is on the defensive end. He plays hard, but he struggles to stay in front of quicker guards. It became pretty obvious that Pacific was trying to get him to switch onto their attacking ball-handlers because he couldn’t really guard them. If he doesn’t get better there, it’s going to be hard for Haase to keep him on the floor regardless of his shooting ability.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu and King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu.