Good, Bad, and Ugly: Ice Cold From Downtown

Stanford lost 78-70 to No. 13 Missouri to open the Battle for Atlantis in the Bahamas on Thanksgiving, but plenty of Cardinal plays from the loss are worthy of an encouraging double-take -- beyond the team's impressive 22-for-26 free throw performance.

The Good
Take Chasson Randle's running left-handed hook in the midst of heavy contact in the paint, a floater that nearly brought down rain in the Bahamas and found nothing but net. Degree of difficulty for that and-one, on a scale of one to ten: 13.

Or try a pair of Josh Huestis turnaround jumpers, both preceded by professional-quality separation footwork and followed by a sweet swish. Never in doubt.

There was also the time that six-foot-nine freshman Rosco Allen beat the Tigers at their own game, charging back in transition for an easy bucket off the glass, or the moment fellow newbie Grant Verhoeven -- known for his motor in high school -- hurtled in from the baseline to rip an offensive rebound from the air and kick out to Dwight Powell for a smooth trey.

The Bad
But along come Stanford's alarming stretches, the ones that temper the enthusiasm. The primary such time on Thursday was sparked by a lack of physicality inside, one that is especially exacerbated by muscular teams like Missouri, who jumped out to a 28-16 lead by completely choking off the Cardinal's paint and reaching the foul bonus less than four minutes into the contest.

The good news, a byproduct of the beef that Stanford added during the offseason and the influence of assistant coach Mark Madsen (who knows a thing or two about throwing his weight around; he's done so with Shaq), is that these these muscle-lacking bouts don't last as long as they did in 2011. Johnny Dawkins' timely switch to a zone defense -- coupled with Robbie Lemons' three pointer, steal, and hustle basket -- unleashed the Cardinal's physical revenge and a 12-0 run that tied the game at 28. Stanford, despite a lingering muscle disadvantage that comes without the anchor of a sturdy veteran center, was never physically intimidated by the Tigers again.

The Farm Boys battled. They hung in there against the thirteenth-ranked team in the country. They were out-rebounded by a only a respectable margin, 43-39. But that small gap ended up being the difference, because of one simple problem: Stanford -- at least for the moment -- cannot connect from downtown to save its life.

The Ugly
A game after a 2-for-17 three-point shooting drought led to a 70-62 home loss to Belmont, the Cardinal clunked their way to a 6-for-26 long-range exhibition. This group is shooting only 23 percent from downtown on the season. For a guard-oriented team, that's a big problem. It's possible for a club to get away with such inaccurate showings when it has a distinct physicality advantage over its opponent, but that certainly wasn't the case for Stanford against Missouri -- nor will it be the case against a slew of other respectable teams who stand in the way of the program's first NCAA Tournament berth since 2008.

The Tigers, in fact, beat the Cardinal Thursday while shooting even worse than them, registering a 4-for-19 three-point clip and a pedestrian 36.6 percent overall mark from the floor. That goes to affirm that Dawkins' squad will live and die in the tough games by the hot hand from the perimeter. The first two tests have not ended well: they've instead been sullied by abysmal percentages and Aaron Bright's absence (sprained ankle). The junior guard, by the way, is 0-for-12 from downtown so far.

The Hope
It's impossible for a team with a handful of talented perimeter playmakers to stay cold forever, right? Bright's torrid NIT run, just eight months ago, suggests that hotter times lie ahead -- provided that he recovers from his ankle sprain quickly and soundly. That's the hope -- and the key -- for Stanford basketball moving forward.

David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.

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