The coach has been sick. The players look tired. The fans seem sick and tired.
Such is the state of Stanford men’s basketball as the season moves past President’s Day. After knocking off defending champ UConn at Maples a month ago, the Cardinal appeared to be making a case to be a dark horse to win the race in the Pac-12. But – and sometimes this reminder can come in a cruel fashion – the season is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.
Stanford’s reminder has come via four losses in its last five games. The Card’s defense took a vacation in Pullman, UCLA led by 22 before almost succumbing to Stanford at the buzzer, Utah blew the doors off the Cardinal in the second half, and Colorado found a way to win despite shooting worse than a pack of Imperial storm troopers.
And so now, Stanford has Johnny Dawkins, who spent much of Stanford’s Mountain swing sick with the flu. It has a roster that is not healthy, and the players who are well enough to take the court seem to be running on fumes. It also has a fanbase that seems ready to show up to Maples Pavilion on Saturday with torches and pitchforks in hand. That is, if it’s bothering to show up to Maples at all.
Johnny Dawkins is trying to find the answers. Problem is, his calculator is running out of batteries and buttons to push. The backcourt’s struggles have become more pronounced over the past few games. Injuries to Rosco Allen, Grant Verhoeven, and Reid Travis have limited his options down low.
After spending much of the season racking up the minutes, Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown appear to have little left in the tank of late. Aside from his brilliant performance against the Huskies in Seattle, Stefan Nastic has had trouble finishing around the basket all season. Those are the Card’s big three, and each are struggling in their own ways.
Meanwhile, Marcus Allen and Michael Humphrey have given the starting lineup plenty of energy, which is great. But Allen is foul-prone, and Humphrey is foul-prone and raw. Those things are problematic. And from an offensive standpoint, Stanford’s bench has virtually disappeared.
Of course, some Stanford fans seem to be taking the Card’s swoon with all the decorum you would expect in this instant-outrage, message-board-tough-guy age we live in. Stanford’s season has hit a wall. There’s no doubt about that. But some think the entire program has hit a wall, too. That has not helped the mood.
So it seems that everyone surrounding Stanford men’s basketball is a little irritable right now. That’s no surprise, especially this time of year. After all, these are the dog days.
The new year and the start of conference play are in the rear view mirror. The tournaments in exotic locations have completely disappeared from the mind’s eye. The conference tournaments and the big dance are still weeks away.
Ask any college hoops fan when their favorite part of the season is, and I seriously doubt any are going to give “late February” as their answer. You want to peg any part of the season as the doldrums? This is it. This is that time.
Are Stanford’s struggles just simply a matter of the players getting some much-needed rest? Is this happening because the heavy minutes are taking a toll on some players, while the irregular scheduling (I miss the days when games were always on Thursdays and Saturdays) takes a toll on everybody else? Will six days between games be just what the doctor ordered for the Card? Will Stanford use this meeting with Cal as an onramp to a great finish to the season?
I know what I hope those answers are. But I don’t have those answers to those questions right now. Nor do I think we’ll truly have the entire answer to that once the final buzzer sounds against cal on Saturday. I do know this: this is the time when a team can truly learn what it’s made of, and whether it has the stuff to achieve its goals, keep coaches from feeling ill, and remove all doubt from the fans. How a team responds when it hits the wall and what it does to recover can be the difference between a season to remember and a finish to forget.********** ********** **********
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