A good weekend for the Cardinal

Stanford beats Cal and then takes down the defending champs!

Results:  Won At California, 69-59, won vs. Connecticut, 72-59

    Stanford returned from Los Angeles with  its game a bit disheveled, having become too three-point dependent on offense and having lost its first conference game.  They faced a quick turnaround with a Wednesday night game in Berkeley against the quantifiably awful Golden Bears.  A middling first half left the Cardinal down five points, and the game was still tight deep into the second half.  At 53-51, Anthony Brown, who continues to enjoy a very effective season, buried a three point jumper.  After a Cal free throw, Chasson Randle got into the act, hitting a jumper.  Rosco Allen hit a pair of free throws, and then Stefan Nastic followed with a jumper, and then Anthony followed it up with another three, and Stanford had abruptly, if tardily, put the Golden Bears away.  We highlight this sequence because it stands as one of the two big takeaways from the week past.  Stanford needed its seniors, and twice this week, the seniors showed up and proved themselves up to the challenge.

    A look at the box score from the game leads us to two very inescapable conclusions:  The first is that this Stanford team can shoot.  The Cardinal shot .558 for an eFG%, buoyed by 47% shooting from two point territory and 50% shooting from three point territory.  On the season, Stanford is now shooting 40.2% from Downtown, a figure that got it into a bit of trouble in Los Angeles but not in Berkeley.  The second conclusion marks perhaps the most promising development since conference play started.  California shot only .403 on eFG, thanks in large part to the Cardinal holding the Bears to 32% shooting in the second half. Admittedly, Cal is a putrid offensive team, but Stanford did a great job all night holding the Bears down, and and it sent them into a Saturday night matchup with the defending national champion UConn Huskies. 

    A quick look at the box score shows that the Cardinal wasn't able to hold the Huskies off in terms of shooting, due in large part to 70% UConn shooting from three in the first half.  However, Stanford did a number of things exceptionally well in this game, and while the Huskies at this point do not resemble a future national champion, they entered the game ranked only one notch below the Cardinal by Ken Pomeroy.  This was a legit, talented opponent that the Cardinal held to 59 points, an offensive rating of 90.8  (season avg:  104.2)  They did it in two primary was:  They played a superb game on defense and they played clean, defending with minimal fouling, holding the Huskies to a miniscule .055 points on free throws per field goal attempt. 
    The rebounding was almost assuredly the most impressive part of the Cardinal's performance.  Connecticut entered the game securing 29.7% of the available offensive rebounds, and Stanford, missing both Grant Verhoeven and Reid Travis, cleaned the glass until you could eat off it.  Rosco Allen stepped up and grabbed 13 rebounds, and Nastic and Anthony Brown pitched in to combine for nine of their own.  The Nasty Man was also the leader of the Cardinal's assault on its own offensive boards.  Stanford devoured UConn, an outstanding defensive rebounding team, to the tune of a 51.4% rate.  They secured over half of their missed shots, an absurd number. That number only netted Stanford a +7 on 2nd chance points, but it clearly separated Stanford from the Huskies on the night.  The good board work and the clean play made for the second game of the week where the Cardinal held a team to an offensive efficiency rating in the low 90's.  That's an elite defensive performance.  As we've tracked the Cardinal's performance, we have been careful to note the gap between the offense and the defense, but this week that gap appears to have closed.

    Of course these results come with the caveat that Stanford played two teams that are not offensive juggernauts.  However, that notwithstanding, the Cardinal's defensive effort in both games should not be dismissed.  This team continues to improve and make believers out of everybody who watches them. 

What To Like:


Brown and Randle, the Platinum Backcourt:  Anthony had another solid game against Cal, playing 39 of the game's 40 minutes with 18 points that included 4-5 on three pointers to go with 9 rebounds.  His game against UConn was a bit choppier, but he still managed to grab the same 9 rebounds to go with the same 18 points.  Two important points on Anthony's games.  First, he was emblematic of the team's attitude in the wake of missing key personnel.  No Reid Travis?  So far, no problem, at least not on the boards.  While at times playing power forward during the UConn game, Brown stepped up and answered the call to board that Coach Dawkins made to the squad before the game.  His dribbling struggles popped up again, and he did have four turnovers, but that in a weird way is the good part.  His performance epitomized the entire team.  He didn't play his best game Saturday night, but he did more than enough to win.  So did Stanford.  Neither Anthony nor the squad have played their best game yet, and that makes it a very exciting time to be cheering for this team.
    We are running out of ways to describe the excellence of Chasson Randle.  In Berkeley all he did was score 25 points on 50% shooting from 2 and 4-6 from the three point line, grab 3 rebounds and make 3 steals.  He followed that up on Saturday night with 23 points, 5 assists and 4 steals.  He did concede that the rise of Cartwright and Marcus Allen may mean more rest for him and Anthony, but at this point the workload is showing no signs of slowing down this duo.


The Triangle Offense: The technically named Triple-Post Offense suffered a mis-apportioning of emphasis in Los Angeles.  Stanford was way more obsessed with the "triple" and not focused enough on the "post."  Chasson admitted that the coaches "got on them" a bit upon their return to the Peninsula.  So did the Cardinal get back to balance?  Well, against UCLA the three pointer accounted for 56% of Stanford's points, an absurd total.  In conference play overall, 33.5% of Stanford's points come from the Land of Three.  Against Cal, that number was 35%.  Against UConn, the number was 42%, so the Cardinal did start to indulge the perimeter again, but nowhere near as much as in Los Angeles.  Chasson said that he wasn't sure what percentage was ideal, but that it "can't be 50/50," so based on that, the Cardinal did take steps back to normalcy this week.  Again, when you shoot it as well as Stanford does, the three-ball has to be integrated, but it can't be the only way the team can score.
    How did Stanford do sharing the basketball?  In conference play, only 42.3% of the team's buckets have been assisted, which is the lowest value in the Pac-12.  Against Cal, the Cardinal assisted on 24% of its baskets.  Against the Huskies, that number rose to a stellar 58.3%.  The eyeball test certainly backed that up for anybody who watched the team play last Saturday night.  Cartwright and Allen both had nice pocket bounce passes into the lane off the two-man game, and overall the team certainly appeared willing to make the extra pass, to feed the post, and to play off one another.  Certainly moving forward, the way they played against Connecticut is the far preferred tactic.  Assists aren't the only way to judge an offense, and certainly Stanford's offense is producing in spite of its low overall assist numbers.  However, against better defenses, teams that move the ball and get "system" buckets have the best chance, so while it may be nitpicking at this point, it's still something worth monitoring.


Reid Travis:  Missed his sixth consecutive game, and with the likelihood that Verhoeven is gone for the year, the pressure for him to return grows.  That's offset by the fact that the team is 5-1 in his absence, a stat that tells us way more about the team and the coaches than Reid's value to the team. Coach Dawkins intimated that he'd know something more definitive about Reid Travis this week, so keep your fingers crossed, Nerd Nation.




Depth:  The rise of Cartwright and Marcus Allen has had no effect on the minutes of The Platinum Backcourt.  They combined for 35  minutes against UConn, and Chasson confirmed that their ascent may mean increaded rest time as we move down the road.  Coach Dawkins said he wasn't concerned at this point with the minutes were playing, saying that as long as they had the energy to defend he wasn't concerned with the minutes they were logging.  Scott Reiss pointed out that the Cardinal does have a number of games against lesser competition coming up post-Arizona, so there is still a chance that the Cardinal may have opportunities to rest the duo as we get closer to March.
    As far as the bigs go, Rosco's rise couldn't be coming at a better time.  It seems that Coach Dawkins is going to address the scarcity of size on the team by going small.  That means more Christian Sanders, Marcus, and Cartwright on the floor with The Platinum Backcourt.  At one point, Anthony was actually the team's power forward.  As long as the team produces, going small is a strategy I endorse, but it's not going to be an option that resolves the issue against all teams.  Against Washington next week, for example, Stanford isn't going to get away with a 6'6"power forward, but for now, that's next week's problem.  Here's hoping that Reid gets healthy and that Michael Humphrey continues to develop.  He did go sans fouls in six minutes last Saturday night, so....

Defense  So how much stock can we put into Stanford's defense this week?  Yes, they played a terrible offense on Wednesday.  The bottom line at this point is that we should probably still keep the jury out, but that there were encouraging signs in both games that this aspect of the team's game is on the ascent.  There certainly seems to be no shortage of willingness on the part of the players to defend, and it's clearly emphasized based on what we hear from the coaches.

    So the Cardinal await the arrival of the Arizona Wildcats, who showed extremely well themselves in dismantling Utah at McKale Center on Saturday.  I said coming into the week that Stanford absolutely had to win three of the four games in the Bay Area over these two weeks, and because they took care of business last week, they do have some wiggle room this week.  Chasson stated that nothing short of the Pac-12 championship is his team's goal, and that expectation plus Stanford's 4-1 conference start makes this Thursday a very big game indeed.  However, with Stanford sitting on 13 wins with 13 to play, this game is in the category as one that will impact seeding but won't impact inclusion given the team's resume and the amount of games left.  House money or no, it's the biggest regular season game in Coach Dawkins' tenure, as well as the biggest home game since....the last home game.  I for one am really excited and can only hope the players get to experience some legit on-campus buzz and buildup this week. 

They've certainly earned it.

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