Close, but no cigar. Such has been the life of Stanford basketball over the past decade, the Age of the Treadmill. Whenever Johnny Dawkins' team has taken a step forward, the surface underneath has sped up in the opposite direction. A flash of progress tantalized during 2012's NIT title run, but that turned out to be pyrite.
For a final 2013 evaluation, the Farm Boys' 9-9 Pac-12 finish and first-round tournament exit is fitting because it perfectly illustrates the mediocrity that has defined the program over the past half decade. The problem: Stanford is a place that strives for the extraordinary. Meanwhile, this year's pending NIT appearance is the epitome of ordinary, especially on the heels of an NIT championship the year before.
Stanford basketball's success in the Mike Montgomery and Trent Johnson years certainly makes Dawkins' time on the Farm pale in comparison, but the recent dominance of Stanford football may be athletic director Bernard Muir's biggest motivation in making a basketball leadership change. The success of Jim Harbaugh and now David Shaw has proven that Stanford can field consistently elite squads in the NCAA's biggest revenue arena. Basketball's moneymaking prowess is second in line, and rosters there are a seventh of football's size, so there remains no justification for mediocrity at Maples Pavilion.
Lack of talent has not been a Stanford problem, at least over the course of the past two seasons. But a lack of performance at critical junctures certainly has been an issue. The Dawkins era has seen the Cardinal go 13-25 in games decided by five points or fewer (2-6 this season, with both wins being of the "hang on for dear life" caliber). The team's record in road conference games has been worse: 13-32.
Contests away from home are strong litmus tests to determine a team's true quality, and .288 is simply not a competitive winning percentage in those games.
A handful of Stanford's players have improved individually. Dawkins' friendliness and grace make him an excellent off-court ambassador for the university. But there's no denying that Cardinal basketball's dull scoreboard performances juxtapose starkly with the brilliance of football and nearly every other Stanford sport. Muir may decide that Stanford's talented core of juniors may have enough of a shot at freeing Dawkins from the treadmill in their senior seasons, but when it comes to the Cardinal's recent on-court performance and Maples Pavilion attendance, he'll have to make such a decision in the face of difficult statistical truths.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!