On Dawkins: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

This is RJ Abeytia's first article for The Bootleg, and it takes a long, hard look at the performance of Stanford basketball under coach Johnny Dawkins after a topsy-turvy season that ultimately ended in a Sweet 16 hot streak and a sputtering loss to Dayton. Read on to see how Abeytia tackles a controversial question.

So now that the dust has settled and I've made it out of Memphis with most of my arteries clogged by fried chicken skin and barbecue sauce, it's time to move to the pressing question facing Stanford Basketball as it stands on the precipice of a significant opportunity for improvement. The first thing that has to be established is the burden of proof. Is it on Johnny Dawkins to prove why he should remain the coach or is it on outsiders to prove that he shouldn't? Furthermore, in the absence of concrete evidence favoring one path or the other, what can/should the program do?

We're going to start with the narrow focus of the Dayton game, and move further out to include Stanford's performance in March, in the 2013-14 season, and finally a revisit to the totality of Dawkins' six year tenure. Unfortunately, we're going to delve into a lot of areas where all the facts are not available, and much of the analysis is going to be sum of the subjective impressions of the author and others, but such is the nature of the task. Ultimately, if you care about the state of this program, you've got to get your hands dirty, and whatever side of this decision you find yourself on, it's just not one where the objective case alone is enough. (The objective case, by the way -- Part 1 of my analysis -- can be found on my blog here. This is my first article for The Bootleg.)

The Dayton Game
Stanford strutted into Memphis at the apex of its public perception in the Dawkins Era. Defenders of Dawkins were crowing on the board that the 80 minutes of basketball we saw in St. Louis
were the inevitable culmination and reward of all the good faith they'd showed for the previous six years in the face of scathing criticism of both the process and results from this team's leadership. Stanford had seemingly morphed into a battle-hardened, blue-collar defensive machine that many now viewed as a serious threat to make it to North Texas and the Final Four. As excited as I was about the win over Kansas, I still had the foresight to warn:

"I think it's a bit of a stretch to assign any long-term prognoses based on this stunning and complete identity transformation. This may not even be who they are this Thursday, let alone moving forward."

The reason for my caution was simple. The defense Stanford played in St. Louis was in no way reminiscent of the defense it had put together during the course of the season. Stanford won its 21 games prior to St. Louis primarily on offense, and the zone defenses the Cardinal used to defeat Kansas had hardly been the panaceas the national and local media (now awake from its season-long hibernation) hailed them as over the course of the year. Furthermore, the offense praised by the New York Times had been ground into an ineffective slog, an inconvenient truth getting in the way of the story the Times wanted to run.

Unfortunately, my statements were more prescient than I ever would have wanted, especially after shelling out for airfare to Memphis. The Four Factors tell the grisly details from the FedEx Forum:

School
Pace
eFG%
TOV%
ORB%
Stanford
71.0
.422
14.2
36.8
Dayton
71.0
.552
11.5
32.1

Stanford was, in effect, blitzed from the 8:50 mark in the first half to about the 3:00 mark, and in that stretch Dayton built the margin that would sustain it through an evenly played second half. The Flyers were magnificent, using spacing, ball movement, and aggressive fundamentals to put a blow torch to Stanford's defense, and an end to its postseason run. The broadcast media, much like its print brethren, displayed its ignorance throughout the broadcast, during and after the game. Most of the broadcasters settled for a narrative of the game being played "at Dayton's pace." The truth is that Stanford and Dayton played at basically the same pace all season long, and indeed were virtually identical teams statistically (see above). They certainly weren't identical in their tournament encounter, especially not in the crucial stretch as the first half wound down and decisive margin was built. I went to the DVR also expecting to see more of the same discombobulation from the Stanford offense, but really what stuck out was the difference between the two teams when Dayton had the ball.

Down 26-23, Stanford comes out in its 2-3 zone, and Dayton expertly uses formation to outflank the Cardinal. The Flyers put three guards around the three point line above the foul line extended. Stanford's got only two covering three. Two passes lead to a wide open three from the corner because the low corner man in the zone had to pop up to cover the man on the left wing. Simple. Splash. 29-23, Dayton.

Down 31-23, Stanford experiences a defensive breakdown when miscommunication in transition leaves Verhoeven on the perimeter. Dayton immediately attacks him off the bounce, the help comes and it leads to a dish and another Dayton score. 33-23 Dayton, and the margin of victory is secure. The stat sheet does say that Dayton led 9-0 in fast break points, but the stretch above didn't include any of those fast break points. In other words, "pace" didn't kill the Cardinal necessarily, although fatigue can't be totally discounted in the equation (we'll get to that in a moment).

Stanford fought back in the second half and closed the gap to four points twice in the first eight minutes. The Cardinal even had the ball down 4 at 15:51 of the half. Two empty possessions put the ball back in Dayton's hands, and the Cardinal defense just couldn't hold firm. Dayton got lay-ups on its next two possessions. Stanford cut the lead down to six points but Dayton came right back with three-point play to extend the margin and the Cardinal would get no closer than nine points after that.

Subjective Analysis
  • Stanford looked tired during this game, and I'm not sure it was totally obvious on television, but in person, many players had slumped shoulders and looked winded. Time and again, Cardinal defenders watched Flyers blow by them off the bounce. In theory, there was no reason for this fatigue, and as usual with this program, that's where things get murky. Did Stanford get run off the floor by Dayton? The game was played at a pace faster than each team was typically accustomed to be sure, but not that much faster as to explain why Stanford was a step slow. Unlike the Pac-12 tournament, Stanford was working on three days of rest from its last game, something it had done repeatedly during the season (indeed, playing on two days rest on occasion). Was the Cardinal fatigued because the coaching staff put it through a grueling practice the day before the game and after its second cross-country trip in three days? It's hard to substantiate this without firsthand knowledge, but those boys looked gassed and it wasn't like Dayton was full-court pressing or playing at warp speed. The most likely culprit may have been Dayton's depth. One Flyer played 33 minutes, while Stanford had four players play 33 minutes or more. Chasson Randle definitely looked like a player who had been playing heavy minutes all season. It's hard not to put some of the cumulative effect of the load he carried on his 5-21 performance, including 3-11 from the three point line. Those 11 threes suggest a player settling for jumpers, and that is often a matter of fatigue.

  • There can be no question that Dayton was the better coached team during and before this contest. The Flyers used basic fundamentals of ball movement and catching the ball in triple threat position to get the jump on the Cardinal defense, and the coaches had the team prepared for the very zones that befuddled Kansas four days earlier.

  • The only ‘tactical' move made all night was Coach Dawkins' technical foul. Again, the broadcasters were quick to identify this, but even Len Elmore caught himself on the verge of praising the move when he realized it had failed to move the score needle at all. Sometimes a team is a bad match-up, sometimes they have a great night, sometimes they're just better. Regardless, nothing about this game can be viewed as evidence that Stanford is being coached by the right individual.

Stanford in March vs. Tournament Teams
Dawkins' defenders want to use St. Louis as the shield against his detractors, while
it seems tempting to combat that with the letdown of the Dayton game. Frankly, I think it's just too small a sample size, even if they are ultimately the three games most people care the most about in the entire era. Let's widen the view to Stanford's performance in March vs. teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament:

Record: 3-4

The Cardinal did improve its defense cumulatively in March against top-flight competition. Its defense rating of 100.6 was a significant improvement from the 103 rating it posted in conference play, and that includes twice taking advantage of the basketball-like substances known as USC and WSU. So Stanford should get some credit, and there really was a change, right? Well, like everything else Stanford achieved during Coach Dawkins' tenure, it's murky. The same systematic inconsistency that has plagued the Cardinal offense clearly showed up during March on defense. To wit:

Opponent
Defensive Possessions
Points Allowed
Arizona
69
79
Colorado
64
59
ASU (P12T)
66
58
UCLA (P12T)
66
84
New Mexico (NCAA)
63
53
Kansas (NCAA)
70
57
Dayton (NCAA)
71
82

So again, we have a cumulative improvement of the team's defensive effort against the most rigorous competition, four games of which occurred under the pressure of postseason play. But the Cardinal juxtaposed four exceptional defensive efforts with three games in which they were absolutely owned. So is that enough to speak assertively about a defensive identity? In my opinion, it's not.

Offensively, the story is even more discouraging. Clearly, the New York Times had no interest in this information:

Opponent Offensive Possessions
Points Scored
Arizona
69
66
Colorado
64
56
ASU (P12T)
66
79
UCLA (P12T)
66
59
New Mexico (NCAA)
63
58
Kansas (NCAA)
70
60
Dayton
71
72

The "magic" of the Triangle Offense was reduced to a collapsed house of cards in March. The Cardinal was far, far too easy to guard when put on the floor against elite competition, and that's frankly been the case for the last six years, with rare exception. Stanford's 91.4 rating would have been last in the conference and worse than 339th in the nation if it had played offense this ineffectively all season long. The hesitation and frustration that curbs my enthusiasm every time I am about to watch a Stanford basketball game stems from this side of the ball. As documented time and again, Stanford just doesn't have it together on the attack -- not as individuals, and not as a team.

Stanford on the Season
Of course you expect a team to drop off in performance against the best competition, but this is
Niagara Falls we're talking in terms of offense. Stanford took steps towards rectifying this by adopting the Triangle. The coaches deserve credit for at least improving spacing and somewhat reducing the stagnation that had metastasized over the course of the previous five seasons. However, I am still troubled by the fact that Stanford's offense is fundamentally rotten at the core. There's no base upon which to build success. Again, here comes the murkiness. Do we condemn Coach Dawkins for taking five seasons to figure out what many viewers picked up during season one? Or do we chalk it up as sunk cost and focus on the fact that he gets it now, and moving forward things will be different as the coaches get more experience teaching and implementing the Triangle? I loved hearing that the coaches had sessions with the women's coaches, who have been running the Triangle successfully for years. Again, though, why did it take six years? You have a resource like Tara VanDerveer down the hall, how are you not utilizing that from the get go, especially as a first-time head coach?

Regardless, simply adopting the Triangle was not a panacea, nor will it necessarily be going forward. Stanford basketball players are some of the most fundamentally unsound players in the country, a fact illustrated throughout this tournament. I'm tired of the arguments about the level of athlete, or talent, or whatever that the Cardinal  can recruit. Teams with lesser athletes and less heralded recruits made hay all Tournament and season long. Look at Wisconsin. Those boys can shoot, yes, but that offense is maximizing everything they do well and minimizing what they don't. Dayton killed Stanford with the simplest, most fundamental, Day 1/Drill 1 of basketball camp: The Triple Threat. When was the last time a Stanford player caught a pass in triple threat position? When was the last time one even threw a pass from the triple threat? Yes, there is an extent to which I see the game through the eyes of Norman Dale, but the truth is simple: Many schools are talented enough to eschew the fundamentals, but the ones with talent who embrace the fundamentals are the ones who are good year after year.

Yes, Michigan State and Florida get great players, but watch the Spartans run sets and set screens. They are being coached and they move in sync more often than not. Watching Florida live in Memphis I couldn't get over how well it ran pick and roll. Unlike Stanford and most teams, it had the cutter sprint to the pick, so the defense had to react quickly to the play. Stanford time and again trots out from the block to the wing and by the time the screener is set, the entire defense is able to react, and there is activity and no achievement.

This is the subjective review, but I dare somebody to prove me wrong: No team gets less out of its on-ball screens than Stanford. And don't even get me started on off-ball screens, which hardly ever occur (despite running the Triangle) and yield even less than their on-ball counterparts.

Then there is the Cardinal's dribbling. Again, this was the worst dribbling team, man for man, that I saw all year in college basketball. Anthony Brown, a player who displayed tremendous talent and was a phenomenally efficient player, still dribbles far too high, upright, and weakly to be the absolute monster he could be. This flaw had a terrible ripple effect. On a team without a true point guard, it meant that Randle had to be on the floor more than was optimal, and that of course compromised Stanford's best player in the Dayton game. So when Dawkins praised Dayton's depth, there was some veracity to that sentiment, but part of me also wanted to say, "Yes, but if we taught our players to dribble properly, it might not have been so devastating."

Virtually every frustrating and fruitless Dwight Powell foray into the lane can be traced back to his weak dribble, a weakness he had when he arrived on campus and which should have been corrected before he played his second season. These are talented players who have very high ceilings. The fundamentals held them back. The jump stop is a maneuver that would have served every Cardinal player well this year, but I don't remember the last time I saw a Stanford player execute it either as a ballhandler or a screener.

  •  Passing is no better, as evidenced by the fact that Stanford had the worst assist percentage of any team in the conference this season.
  • Shooting? Stanford was right in the middle of the conference from the free throw line and the three point line. Mediocrity, defined.
  • Dribbling/Passing? Stanford was 8th (or 5th Worst) in the conference in assist to turnover percentage.

The Whole Enchilada
Jump Stops. Triple Threat. Dribbling. Screen Setting. Free Throws.

These are the building blocks of the game, from the lowest level to the highest level. Whatever your perception of Stanford's talent is from year to year is irrelevant. There is nothing stopping the Cardinal players from proficiency in these areas of the game. NOTHING. You instill these fundamentals into your program so that in seasons when the talent is lower, your fans and your program can take solace in the fact that the team maximized its potential. In seasons like the one concluded when you have a good amount of talent, you instill these fundamentals so that great tournament runs can become magical runs, and an entire season can be spent legitimately chasing championships (League, League Tourney, National, not National Invitational.)

Stanford was never going to reel off six straight victories in the Tournament. How do we know? Aside from the fact that it never had a winning streak of six or more than four at any point in the season, the real reason was that it never established a foundation of strength built on sound fundamentals. It never excelled at any aspect of the game for any sustained period of time. This is how you win championships and games when you have bad shooting nights, when the other team is having a great shooting night, or beat teams that are more athletic, or more experienced.

And yes, sometimes you do everything right and you still come up short. But the greatest coach of all time defined success as the knowledge that you did everything you could do to be as successful as you could. Can Stanford really say that about its basketball program? Maybe my favorite game of all time is a loss: The '98 National Semifinal against Kentucky. I felt no shame in losing that game, and I actually felt as proud of my team as I ever had, because it played sound basketball, and took a more talented, athletic, tournament tested team to the wire. The Cardinal forced Kentucky to make a few more great plays than they could match, and that's how the game was decided. Now that was a team that knew how to use triple threat, set screens, off-ball movement, dribbling, and play together. It all crystallized towards the end, when from the floor, I watched Arthur Lee trigger a baseline to baseline sprint from Ryan Mendez with a simply mouthed "Go!", make a move on his defender with a strong dribble, then swing the ball on time and right in place to a Mendez emerging from a crisp, solid downscreen which bought him just enough time to catch in triple threat, rise and fire. The play didn't bring Stanford a victory, but it was perfect basketball synchronicity executed under pressure on the game's biggest stage.

No Stanford fan expects outcomes like the Final Four to be the norm, or even play at the level I described in the last paragraph. However, they can be well-coached. And ultimately this is where we're at with regards to our basketball program. I have always said that for Stanford to be successful in football or men's basketball, the coaching must be elite. There is no argument to be made that Stanford's head coach or its staff is elite. None. So any argument in their favor is ultimately one that either says that they are about to become elite, or they can be elite. Can anybody say with any veracity at all that either is the case? If the answer is no, then it's clear that it is time for a change. Here some final questions to ponder:

  • With his second top 15 recruiting class matriculating this fall, do we judge Dawkins on what he did with his last cycle with a top 15 class (the current seniors)? Yes, and I don't see how it engenders any optimism about the incoming group. Put it this way, if he duplicates his performance in the next six years with what he did in the first six, nobody can advocate retaining him. So the expectation that he is going to improve is a leap of faith, pure and simple.

  • Is there anything to suggest the next six years will be better than the first six? There is the institution of the Triangle offense, the collaboration with the women's staff, the hiring of an assistant staff that led to the implementation of the hyped zone defense, and two wins in St. Louis, plus the fact that Coach Dawkins has the previous six seasons under his belt.

  • What role did Coach Dawkins' program play in the rash of injuries? This is a very delicate and crucial aspect of the program that got buried under the praise during Stanford's run to the Sweet Sixteen. The rumors of the 4 hour practices after losses need to be addressed explicitly, because this was a 12-loss team heading into the Dayton game. That's 48 hours of grueling practice time over the course of a season. You can't bemoan the loss of key players as the cause for a lack of depth if you aren't managing your team properly before and during the season. If the only answer the coaches continue to have in season is to just work the players physically harder, then frankly I'm done with this conversation right now.

  • What about Rotation Roulette? And lest we forget, I actually considered the injuries a blessing of sorts (taking no pleasure in injury to players, needless to say) because it safeguarded Dawkins from his constantly displayed struggles to establish a consistent rotation of players within the context of both a single game and a season.

  • Where are the in-game adjustments? So far, the technical foul is the only tool I've seen in the toolbox. There were the vacillations from zone to man which did help against Kansas, but frankly -- throughout the course of the larger season -- this most usually was just swapping one poor defense for another, in my opinion.

  • What is happening in the Cardinal's in-game huddles? Stanford coming out of a time-out....Good Grief. See this year's home games against Cal and Colorado, for extreme examples.

  • What is the identity of this program? Defense has been the buzzword, but aside from two seasons ago, it's been lip service. Identity is TBD at this point.

  • Why can't Stanford set screens or execute consistently? See above.

  • Has the systematic inconsistency this team exhibits been addressed? By me, in multiple thousand-word posts, but on the court, no.

  • How do we reconcile the stunning drop off in attendance, both from regular fans and students? And this is the real killer. If everybody is so jazzed up about a turnaround, where is the announcement of the spike in season ticket orders? There is no way Stanford would sit on news like that. My conclusion can only be that there is no spike. Keep in mind that Stanford's inability to fill its 750 seat student section and its 7,500 seat arena with the same folks filling its sold out Red Zone and 50,000-seat football stadium is a reality that cannot be spun.

Bottom Line: Stanford's coaching is not elite. Stanford can do better. Whether you think better is working at VCU, Dayton, Portland, or on staff as an assistant somewhere else, I believe there are better, available choices out there.

Despite all this, I am at peace with the fact that Dawkins will be returning for his seventh season. I'm OK with it for a couple reasons. First, I like him as a person, as it seems that most others do. He is a man of integrity, class, and sincerity, and you don't dismiss traits like that.

More importantly, however, I believe that athletic director Bernard Muir's silence has established an ultimatum just as definite as last year's verbal one. Dawkins has two years left on his deal, and has not been extended. If he does not establish this program with a well-coached regular season, I think he's gone, because you don't let a coach move into his walk season if you don't plan to keep him. So if Dawkins is not extended this year, he will not be extended without success on the court in 2014-15. If Muir believes with conviction that he's got his man, there is no reason to avoid extending him now, especially at the height of the program's state going into Memphis.

I'm fine with this situation. This recruiting class cannot be ruined with one year of coaching, and there would be a "full cupboard" opportunity going into 2015-16 if it comes to dangling that carrot to a potential candidate.

So, in finality, should Dawkins stay or should he go? He should go, but he's going to stay for another year, and I hope with every fiber of my being he proves me utterly wrong.


R.J. Abeytia ('99) lives in Los Angeles and has been rooting for the Cardinal his whole life.  Home football Saturdays he can be found in Chuck Taylor Grove.  During the week he writes and teaches.  He recently published his first novel, Me vs. Life.

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The Bootleg Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nSo now that the dust has settled and I've made it out of\r\nMemphis with most of my\r\narteries\r\nclogged by fried chicken\r\nskin and barbecue sauce, it's time to move to the pressing\r\nquestion facing\r\nStanford Basketball as it\r\nstands on the precipice of a significant opportunity for\r\nimprovement. The first\r\nthing that has to be established is the burden of proof. Is it\r\non Johnny Dawkins to prove why he should\r\nremain the coach or is it on outsiders to prove that he shouldn't? Furthermore, in the absence of\r\nconcrete evidence favoring one path or the other, what\r\ncan/should the program do?\r\n \r\n

We're going to start with the narrow focus of the\r\nDayton game, and move further out to include\r\nStanford's performance in\r\nMarch, in the 2013-14 season, and finally a revisit to the\r\ntotality of\r\nDawkins' six year tenure.\r\nUnfortunately, we're going to delve into a lot of areas where\r\nall the facts are\r\nnot available, and much of\r\nthe analysis is going to be sum of the subjective impressions\r\nof the author\r\nand others, but such is the nature of the task. Ultimately, if\r\nyou care about the state of this program,\r\nyou've got to get your\r\nhands dirty, and whatever side of this decision you find\r\nyourself on, it's just not\r\none where the objective\r\ncase alone is enough. (The objective case, by the way -- Part\r\n1 of my analysis -- can be found on my blog here. This is my\r\nfirst article for The Bootleg.)
\r\n

\r\n

The Dayton Game
\r\nStanford strutted into Memphis at the apex of its public\r\nperception in the Dawkins Era.\r\nDefenders of Dawkins were crowing on the board that the 80\r\nminutes of basketball we saw in St.\r\nLouis
were the\r\ninevitable culmination and reward of all the good faith they'd\r\nshowed for the previous six\r\nyears in the face of scathing criticism of both the process\r\nand results from this team's leadership.\r\nStanford had seemingly\r\nmorphed into a battle-hardened, blue-collar defensive machine\r\nthat many now\r\nviewed as a serious threat to make it to North Texas and the\r\nFinal Four. As excited as I was about the\r\nwin over Kansas, I still had the foresight to warn:\r\n

\r\n

\"I think it's a bit of a stretch to assign any long-term prognoses based on this\r\nstunning and complete\r\nidentity transformation.\r\nThis may not even be who they are this Thursday, let alone\r\nmoving forward.\"\r\n

\r\n

The reason for my caution was simple. The defense\r\nStanford played in St. Louis was in no way\r\nreminiscent of the defense it had put together during the\r\ncourse of the season. Stanford won its 21\r\ngames prior to St. Louis primarily on offense, and the zone\r\ndefenses the Cardinal used to defeat Kansas\r\nhad hardly been the panaceas the national and local media (now\r\nawake from its season-long\r\nhibernation) hailed them as over the course of the year.\r\nFurthermore, the offense praised by the New\r\nYork Times had been\r\nground into an ineffective slog, an inconvenient truth getting\r\nin the way of the\r\nstory the Times wanted to run.\r\n

\r\n \r\n

Unfortunately, my statements were more prescient than I\r\never would have wanted, especially\r\nafter shelling out for airfare to Memphis. The Four Factors\r\ntell the grisly details from the FedEx Forum:\r\n

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
School
\r\n
Pace
\r\n
eFG%
\r\n
TOV%
\r\n
ORB%
\r\n
Stanford
\r\n
71.0
\r\n
.422
\r\n
14.2
\r\n
36.8
\r\n
Dayton
\r\n
71.0
\r\n
.552
\r\n
11.5
\r\n
32.1
\r\n
\r\n

Stanford was, in effect, blitzed from the 8:50 mark in\r\nthe first half to about the 3:00 mark, and in\r\nthat stretch Dayton built the margin that would sustain it\r\nthrough an evenly played second half. The\r\nFlyers were magnificent, using spacing, ball movement, and\r\naggressive fundamentals to put a blow torch\r\nto Stanford's defense, and\r\nan end to its postseason run. The broadcast media, much like\r\nits print\r\nbrethren, displayed its\r\nignorance throughout the broadcast, during and after the game.\r\nMost of the\r\nbroadcasters settled for\r\na narrative of the game being played \"at Dayton's pace.\" The\r\ntruth is that\r\nStanford and Dayton played\r\nat basically the same pace all season long, and indeed were\r\nvirtually\r\nidentical teams\r\nstatistically (see above). They certainly weren't identical in their tournament encounter,\r\nespecially\r\nnot in the crucial stretch as the first half wound down and\r\ndecisive margin was built. I went to the DVR\r\nalso expecting to see more of the same discombobulation from\r\nthe Stanford offense, but really what\r\nstuck out was the difference between the two teams when Dayton\r\nhad the ball.\r\n

\r\n \r\n

Down 26-23, Stanford comes out in its 2-3 zone, and\r\nDayton expertly uses formation to outflank the\r\nCardinal. The Flyers put three guards around the three point\r\nline above the foul line extended.\r\nStanford's got only two\r\ncovering three. Two passes lead to a wide open three from the\r\ncorner because\r\nthe low corner man in the\r\nzone had to pop up to cover the man on the left wing. Simple.\r\nSplash. 29-23,\r\nDayton.\r\n

\r\n \r\n

Down 31-23, Stanford experiences a defensive breakdown\r\nwhen miscommunication in\r\ntransition leaves Verhoeven on the perimeter. Dayton\r\nimmediately attacks him off the bounce, the help\r\ncomes and it leads to a dish and another Dayton score. 33-23\r\nDayton, and the margin of victory is\r\nsecure. The stat sheet does say that Dayton led 9-0 in fast break points, but the\r\nstretch above didn't\r\ninclude any of those fast break points. In other words, \"pace\"\r\ndidn't kill the Cardinal necessarily,\r\nalthough fatigue can't be totally discounted in the equation (we'll get to that in a moment).\r\n

\r\n Stanford fought back in the second half and closed the gap to four points\r\ntwice in the first eight minutes.\r\nThe Cardinal even had the ball down 4 at 15:51 of the half. Two\r\nempty possessions put the ball back in\r\nDayton's hands, and the\r\nCardinal defense just couldn't hold firm. Dayton got lay-ups on its next two\r\npossessions. Stanford cut the lead down to six points but Dayton\r\ncame right back with three-point play to\r\nextend the margin and the Cardinal would get no closer than nine\r\npoints after that.
\r\n
\r\nSubjective Analysis
\r\n
\r\n\r\n
\r\n\r\n
\r\n\r\n

Stanford in March vs.\r\nTournament Teams
\r\nDawkins' defenders\r\nwant to use St. Louis as the shield against his detractors,\r\nwhile
it\r\nseems tempting to combat\r\nthat with the letdown of the Dayton game. Frankly, I think\r\nit's just too small\r\na sample size, even if\r\nthey are ultimately the three games most people care the most\r\nabout in the entire\r\nera. Let's widen the view\r\nto Stanford's performance\r\nin March vs. teams that qualified for the NCAA\r\nTournament:\r\n

\r\n \r\n

Record: 3-4\r\n

\r\n

The Cardinal did improve its defense cumulatively in\r\nMarch against top-flight\r\ncompetition. Its\r\ndefense rating of 100.6\r\nwas a significant improvement from the 103 rating it posted in\r\nconference play,\r\nand that includes twice taking advantage of the\r\nbasketball-like substances known as USC and WSU. So\r\nStanford should get some credit, and there really was a\r\nchange, right? Well, like everything else\r\nStanford achieved during Coach Dawkins' tenure, it's murky. The same\r\nsystematic inconsistency that\r\nhas plagued the Cardinal\r\noffense clearly showed up during March on defense. To wit:
\r\n

\r\n

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
Opponent
\r\n
Defensive Possessions
\r\n
Points Allowed
\r\n
Arizona
\r\n
69
\r\n
79
\r\n
Colorado
\r\n
64
\r\n
59
\r\n
ASU (P12T)
\r\n
66
\r\n
58
\r\n
UCLA (P12T)
\r\n
66
\r\n
84
\r\n
New Mexico (NCAA)
\r\n
63
\r\n
53
\r\n
Kansas (NCAA)
\r\n
70
\r\n
57
\r\n
Dayton (NCAA)
\r\n
71
\r\n
82
\r\n
\r\n
\r\n
\r\n
\r\n

So again, we have a cumulative\r\nimprovement of the team's defensive effort against the\r\nmost rigorous\r\ncompetition, four\r\ngames of which occurred under the pressure of postseason\r\nplay. But the Cardinal\r\njuxtaposed four exceptional defensive efforts with three\r\ngames in which they were absolutely owned. So is\r\nthat enough to speak\r\nassertively about a defensive identity? In my opinion,\r\nit's not.
\r\n

\r\n \r\n

Offensively, the story is even\r\nmore discouraging. Clearly, the New York Times had no interest in\r\nthis information:
\r\n

\r\n

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
OpponentOffensive Possessions
\r\n
Points Scored
\r\n
Arizona
\r\n
69
\r\n
66
\r\n
Colorado
\r\n
64
\r\n
56
\r\n
ASU (P12T)
\r\n
66
\r\n
79
\r\n
UCLA (P12T)
\r\n
66
\r\n
59
\r\n
New Mexico (NCAA)
\r\n
63
\r\n
58
\r\n
Kansas (NCAA)
\r\n
70
\r\n
60
\r\n
Dayton
\r\n
71
\r\n
72
\r\n
\r\n

The \"magic\" of the Triangle\r\nOffense was reduced to a collapsed house of cards in\r\nMarch. The\r\nCardinal was far, far too easy to guard when put on the\r\nfloor against elite competition, and that's frankly\r\nbeen the case for\r\nthe last six years, with rare exception. Stanford's 91.4 rating would\r\nhave been last in\r\nthe conference and\r\nworse than 339th in the nation if it had played offense this\r\nineffectively all season\r\nlong. The hesitation and frustration that curbs my\r\nenthusiasm every time I am about to watch a\r\nStanford basketball game stems from this side of the\r\nball. As documented time and again, Stanford just\r\ndoesn't have it\r\ntogether on the attack -- not as individuals, and not as\r\na team.
\r\n

\r\n

Stanford on the Season
\r\nOf course you\r\nexpect a team to drop off in performance against the\r\nbest competition, but this is\r\nNiagara Falls we're talking in\r\nterms of offense. Stanford took steps towards rectifying this by adopting\r\nthe Triangle. The coaches deserve credit for at least\r\nimproving spacing and somewhat reducing the\r\nstagnation that had metastasized over the course of the\r\nprevious five seasons. However, I am still\r\ntroubled by the fact\r\nthat Stanford's offense is fundamentally rotten at the\r\ncore. There's no base upon\r\nwhich to build\r\nsuccess. Again, here comes the murkiness. Do we condemn\r\nCoach Dawkins for taking five seasons\r\nto figure out what many viewers picked up during season\r\none? Or do we chalk it up as sunk cost and focus\r\non the fact that he gets it now, and moving forward\r\nthings will be different as the coaches get more\r\nexperience teaching and implementing the Triangle? I\r\nloved hearing that the coaches had sessions with\r\nthe women's coaches,\r\nwho have been running the Triangle successfully for\r\nyears. Again, though, why\r\ndid it take six\r\nyears? You have a resource like Tara VanDerveer down the\r\nhall, how are you not utilizing that from the get go, especially\r\nas a first-time head coach?
\r\n

\r\n

Regardless, simply adopting the\r\nTriangle was not a panacea, nor will it necessarily be\r\ngoing\r\nforward. Stanford basketball players are some of the\r\nmost fundamentally unsound players in the\r\ncountry, a fact\r\nillustrated throughout this tournament. I'm tired of the\r\narguments about the level of\r\nathlete, or talent,\r\nor whatever that the Cardinal  can recruit. Teams\r\nwith lesser athletes and less heralded recruits\r\nmade hay all Tournament and season long. Look at\r\nWisconsin. Those boys can shoot, yes, but that\r\noffense is maximizing everything they do well and\r\nminimizing what they\r\ndon't. Dayton killed Stanford\r\nwith the simplest,\r\nmost fundamental, Day 1/Drill 1 of basketball camp: The\r\nTriple Threat. When was\r\nthe last time a Stanford player caught a pass in triple\r\nthreat position? When was the last time one even\r\nthrew a pass from the triple threat?\r\nYes, there is an extent to which I see the game through\r\nthe eyes of\r\nNorman Dale, but the truth is simple: Many schools are\r\ntalented enough to eschew the fundamentals,\r\nbut the ones with talent who embrace the fundamentals\r\nare the ones who are good year after year.

\r\n

\r\nYes, Michigan State and Florida get great players, but\r\nwatch the Spartans run sets and set screens. They\r\nare being coached\r\nand they move in\r\nsync more often than not. Watching Florida live in\r\nMemphis I\r\ncouldn't get over\r\nhow well it ran pick and roll. Unlike Stanford and most\r\nteams, it had the cutter sprint\r\nto the pick, so the\r\ndefense had to react quickly to the play. Stanford time\r\nand again trots out from the\r\nblock to the wing and by the time the screener is set,\r\nthe entire defense is able to react, and there is\r\nactivity and no achievement.
\r\n

\r\n

This is the subjective review,\r\nbut I dare somebody to prove me wrong: No\r\nteam gets less out of its on-ball screens than Stanford. And\r\ndon't even get me started on off-ball\r\nscreens, which hardly ever occur (despite running the\r\nTriangle) and yield even less than their on-ball\r\ncounterparts.
\r\n

\r\n

Then there is the Cardinal's\r\ndribbling. Again, this was the worst dribbling team, man\r\nfor\r\nman, that I saw all\r\nyear in college basketball. Anthony Brown, a player who\r\ndisplayed tremendous talent\r\nand was a phenomenally efficient player, still dribbles\r\nfar too high, upright, and weakly to be the\r\nabsolute monster he could be. This flaw had a terrible\r\nripple effect. On a team without a true point\r\nguard, it meant that Randle had to be on the floor more\r\nthan was optimal, and that of course\r\ncompromised Stanford's\r\nbest player in the Dayton game. So when Dawkins praised\r\nDayton's\r\ndepth, there was some veracity to that sentiment, but\r\npart of me also wanted to say, \"Yes, but if we taught\r\nour players to dribble properly, it might not have\r\nbeen so devastating.\"\r\n
\r\n

\r\n

Virtually every frustrating and\r\nfruitless Dwight Powell foray into the lane can be\r\ntraced back to his weak dribble, a weakness he had\r\nwhen he arrived on campus and which should have been\r\ncorrected before he played his second season.\r\nThese are talented\r\nplayers who have very high ceilings. The fundamentals\r\nheld them back.\r\nThe jump stop is a maneuver that would have served every\r\nCardinal player well this year, but I don't\r\nremember the last\r\ntime I saw a Stanford player execute it either as a\r\nballhandler or a screener.
\r\n

\r\n
    \r\n
  •  Passing is no better, as\r\nevidenced by the fact that Stanford had the worst\r\nassist percentage of\r\nany team in the conference this season.\r\n
  • \r\n
\r\n
    \r\n
  • Shooting? Stanford was right\r\nin the middle of the conference from the free throw\r\nline and the\r\nthree point line. Mediocrity, defined.\r\n
  • \r\n
\r\n
    \r\n
  • Dribbling/Passing? Stanford\r\nwas 8th (or 5th Worst) in the conference in\r\nassist to turnover\r\npercentage.\r\n
  • \r\n
\r\n

The Whole\r\nEnchilada
\r\nJump Stops.\r\nTriple Threat. Dribbling. Screen Setting. Free Throws.\r\n

\r\n \r\n

These are the building blocks\r\nof the game, from the lowest level to the highest level.\r\nWhatever\r\nyour perception of\r\nStanford's talent is from year to year is irrelevant.\r\nThere is nothing stopping the\r\nCardinal players\r\nfrom proficiency in these areas of the game. NOTHING.\r\nYou instill these fundamentals\r\ninto your program so that in seasons when the talent is\r\nlower, your fans and your program can take\r\nsolace in the fact that the team maximized its\r\npotential. In seasons like the one concluded when you\r\nhave a good amount of talent, you instill these\r\nfundamentals so that great tournament runs can become\r\nmagical runs, and an entire season can be spent\r\nlegitimately chasing championships (League, League\r\nTourney, National, not National Invitational.)
\r\n

\r\n

Stanford was never going to reel off six straight\r\nvictories in\r\nthe Tournament. How do we know? Aside from the fact that\r\nit never had a winning streak of six or\r\nmore than four at any point in the season, the real\r\nreason was that it never established a foundation of\r\nstrength built on sound fundamentals. It never excelled at any aspect of the game for\r\nany sustained\r\nperiod of time. This is how you win championships and\r\ngames when you have bad shooting nights,\r\nwhen the other team is having a great shooting night, or\r\nbeat teams that are more athletic, or more\r\nexperienced.\r\n

\r\n \r\n

And yes, sometimes you do\r\neverything right and you still come up short. But the\r\ngreatest coach\r\nof all time defined success as the knowledge that you\r\ndid everything you could do to be as successful as\r\nyou could. Can Stanford really say that about its\r\nbasketball program? Maybe my favorite game of all\r\ntime is a loss: The\r\n'98 National Semifinal against Kentucky. I felt no shame\r\nin losing that game, and I\r\nactually felt as\r\nproud of my team as I ever had, because it played sound\r\nbasketball, and took a more\r\ntalented, athletic, tournament tested team to the wire.\r\nThe Cardinal forced Kentucky to make a few\r\nmore great plays\r\nthan they could match, and that's how the game was\r\ndecided. Now that\r\nwas a team\r\nthat knew how to use triple threat, set screens,\r\noff-ball movement, dribbling, and play together. It all\r\ncrystallized towards the end, when from the floor, I\r\nwatched Arthur Lee trigger a baseline to baseline\r\nsprint from Ryan\r\nMendez with a simply mouthed \"Go!\", make a move on his defender with a strong\r\ndribble, then swing the ball on time and right in place\r\nto a Mendez emerging from a crisp, solid\r\ndownscreen which\r\nbought him just enough time to catch in triple threat,\r\nrise and fire. The play didn't\r\nbring Stanford a\r\nvictory, but it was perfect basketball synchronicity\r\nexecuted under pressure on the\r\ngame's biggest\r\nstage.\r\n

\r\n \r\n

No Stanford fan expects\r\noutcomes like the Final Four to be the norm, or even\r\nplay at the level I\r\ndescribed in the last paragraph. However, they can be well-coached. And ultimately this is where\r\nwe're\r\nat with regards to\r\nour basketball program. I have always said that for\r\nStanford to be successful in\r\nfootball or men's\r\nbasketball, the coaching must be elite. There is no argument to be\r\nmade that\r\nStanford's head coach or its staff is\r\nelite. None. So any argument in their favor is\r\nultimately one that\r\neither says that they are about to become elite, or they\r\ncan be elite. Can anybody say with any veracity\r\nat all that either is the case? If the answer is no, then it's clear that it is time\r\nfor a change. Here some final questions to ponder:
\r\n

\r\n
    \r\n
  • With his\r\nsecond top 15 recruiting class matriculating this\r\nfall, do we judge Dawkins on\r\nwhat he did with his last cycle with a top 15 class\r\n(the current seniors)? Yes, and I don't see how it engenders any\r\noptimism about the incoming group. Put it this way, if\r\nhe duplicates his\r\nperformance in the next six years with what he did in\r\nthe first six, nobody\r\ncan advocate\r\nretaining\r\nhim. So the expectation that he is going to improve is\r\na leap of faith, pure and simple.
    \r\n
  • \r\n
\r\n
\r\n
    \r\n
  • Is there anything to\r\nsuggest the next six years will be better than the\r\nfirst six? There is the\r\ninstitution of the\r\nTriangle offense, the collaboration with the women's\r\nstaff, the hiring\r\nof an\r\nassistant staff that led to the implementation of the\r\nhyped zone defense, and two wins in St.\r\nLouis, plus the fact that Coach Dawkins has the\r\nprevious six seasons under his belt.\r\n
  • \r\n
\r\n
\r\n
    \r\n
  • What role did Coach\r\nDawkins' program play in the rash of injuries? This is a very delicate and\r\ncrucial aspect of\r\nthe program that got buried under the praise during\r\nStanford's run to the\r\nSweet Sixteen. The\r\nrumors of the 4 hour practices after losses need to be\r\naddressed explicitly,\r\nbecause this was a 12-loss team heading into the Dayton game. That's\r\n48 hours of grueling\r\npractice time over the course of a season. You can't\r\nbemoan the loss of key players as the\r\ncause for a lack of depth if you aren't managing your\r\nteam properly before and during the season. If the only answer\r\nthe coaches continue to have in season is to just work\r\nthe players\r\nphysically harder,\r\nthen frankly I'm done with this conversation right\r\nnow.
    \r\n
  • \r\n
\r\n
\r\n
    \r\n
  • What about Rotation\r\nRoulette? And\r\nlest we forget, I actually considered the injuries a\r\nblessing\r\nof sorts (taking no pleasure in injury to players,\r\nneedless to say) because it safeguarded Dawkins from\r\nhis constantly displayed struggles to establish a\r\nconsistent rotation of\r\nplayers within the context of both a single game and a\r\nseason.\r\n
  • \r\n
\r\n
\r\n
    \r\n
  • Where are the in-game\r\nadjustments? So far, the technical foul is the only tool\r\nI've seen in the\r\ntoolbox. There\r\nwere the vacillations from zone to man which did help\r\nagainst Kansas, but\r\nfrankly -- throughout the course of the larger season\r\n-- this most usually was just swapping one poor\r\ndefense for another, in my opinion.\r\n
  • \r\n
\r\n
\r\n
    \r\n
  • What is happening in the\r\nCardinal's in-game huddles? Stanford coming out of a\r\ntime-out....Good\r\nGrief.\r\nSee this year's home games against Cal\r\nand Colorado,\r\nfor extreme examples.\r\n
  • \r\n
\r\n
\r\n
    \r\n
  • What is the identity of\r\nthis program? Defense has been the buzzword, but aside from\r\ntwo\r\nseasons ago,\r\nit's been lip service. Identity is TBD at this point.\r\n
  • \r\n
\r\n
\r\n
    \r\n
  • Why can't Stanford set\r\nscreens or\r\nexecute consistently? See above.\r\n
  • \r\n
\r\n
\r\n
    \r\n
  • Has the systematic\r\ninconsistency this team exhibits been addressed?\r\nBy me, in multiple thousand-word posts, but on\r\nthe court, no.
    \r\n
  • \r\n
\r\n
\r\n
    \r\n
  • How do we reconcile the\r\nstunning drop off in attendance, both from regular\r\nfans and students?\r\nAnd this is the\r\nreal killer. If everybody is so jazzed up about a\r\nturnaround, where is the\r\nannouncement of the spike in season ticket orders?\r\nThere is no way Stanford would sit on\r\nnews like that.\r\nMy conclusion can only be that there is no spike. Keep\r\nin mind that Stanford's\r\ninability to fill\r\nits 750 seat student section and its 7,500 seat arena\r\nwith the same folks filling\r\nits sold out Red Zone and 50,000-seat football stadium\r\nis a reality that cannot be spun.\r\n
  • \r\n
\r\n

Bottom Line: Stanford's\r\ncoaching is not elite. Stanford can do better. Whether\r\nyou think better\r\nis\r\nworking at VCU, Dayton, Portland, or on staff as an\r\nassistant somewhere else, I believe there are better,\r\navailable choices out there.\r\n

\r\n \r\n

Despite all this, I am at peace\r\nwith the fact that\r\nDawkins will be\r\nreturning for his\r\nseventh season. I'm OK with it for a couple reasons.\r\nFirst, I like him as a person, as it seems that most others do.\r\nHe is a man of integrity, class, and sincerity, and you\r\ndon't dismiss traits like that.\r\n
\r\n

\r\n

More importantly, however, I\r\nbelieve that athletic director Bernard Muir's silence\r\nhas established an ultimatum just\r\nas definite as last year's verbal one. Dawkins has two years left on\r\nhis deal, and has not\r\nbeen\r\nextended. If he\r\ndoes not establish this program with a well-coached regular season, I think\r\nhe's gone,\r\nbecause you don't let a coach move into his walk season\r\nif you don't plan to\r\nkeep him. So if\r\nDawkins is not\r\nextended\r\nthis year, he will\r\nnot be extended without success on the court in 2014-15. If Muir believes with\r\nconviction that he's\r\ngot his man, there is no reason to avoid extending him\r\nnow, especially at the height of\r\nthe program's state going into Memphis.
\r\n

\r\n

I'm fine with this situation.\r\nThis recruiting class cannot be ruined with\r\none year of\r\ncoaching, and there would be a \"full cupboard\"\r\nopportunity going into 2015-16 if it comes to\r\ndangling that carrot to a potential candidate.\r\n

\r\n
\r\n
\r\n
\r\n

So, in finality, should\r\nDawkins stay or should he go? He should go, but he's going to stay\r\nfor another year, and I hope with\r\nevery fiber of\r\nmy being he proves me utterly wrong.\r\n

\r\n
\r\n
\r\n
\r\n
\r\n
\r\n
\r\n\r\n\r\n
\r\n\r\nR.J. Abeytia ('99) lives in Los Angeles and has been rooting for the\r\nCardinal his whole life.  Home football Saturdays he can be\r\nfound in Chuck Taylor Grove.  During the week he writes and\r\nteaches.  He recently published his first novel, Me vs. Life.
\r\n\r\n\r\n
\r\n

Are you fully subscribed to The\r\nBootleg? If not, then you are missing out on\r\nall the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our\r\naward-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in\r\nStanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com\r\n(sign-up)!

\r\n","mobileBody":"

R.J. Abeytia ('99) lives in Los Angeles and has been rooting for the Cardinal his whole life.  Home football Saturdays he can be found in Chuck Taylor Grove.  During the week he writes and teaches.  He recently published his first novel, Me vs. Life.

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