Oregon State came into Maples on Thursday night and as they have all year, turned back the clock on offensive basketball, and not in a good way. The plodding Beavs ground Stanford to a halt in the first half, but Stanford was able to remain close at the half with a critical close to the half punctuated by a clutch Marcus Allen three pointer from the baseline. After intermission, Stanford came out and took Oregon State apart, absolutely brutalizing the beleaguered Beavs on the boards and at the foul line. Stanford was +11 from the free throw line and shot 17-21 overall on the night. They were also +7 on second chance points and +20 on points in the paint. The runaway nature of the second half masked one flaw in Stanford's offensive performance: the team shot 5-16 (31.3%) from the three point line, below its conference percentage of 38%. Little did Stanford fans know that what had been a cornerstone of Stanford's offensive success would become their season's undoing on Sunday.
Stanford knew it was facing an entirely different animal with the Ducks coming to town on Sunday. With Oregon bringing no real contributors over 6'7" it was clear where Stanford's advantage (and disadvantage) would be. That the Cardinal applied the same formula in attacking the Duck defense as it did the Beaver defense was totally appropriate. The Four Factors show that while Stanford was successful in the same ways on Sunday (crashing the offensive boards and winning the FT battle), ultimately the game comes down to making shots, and usually making the most valuable shots. That's what happened on Sunday, and it's what decided the game and possibly the season for Stanford.
It's important to note that the Four Factors are weighted, and none gets more weight than effective field goal percentage. Again, it's about making shots. The value of effective field goal percentage is simply that it honors the fact that three point baskets are more valuable than two-point baskets. A guy who goes 2 for 5 from the 3 point line gets his team six points, while a guy that goes 2 for 5 shooting only twos gets his team four points. Stanford's three-point shooting betrayed it, and that undid a strong night on the offensive boards (+4 2nd chance points) and at the free throw line (+11).
There is, of course, the issue of the end game, and with the importance of this game and the ramifications on both the season and the legacy of the departing seniors, it certainly merits discussion. Oregon closed by making its final three field goal attempts and three of its final four free throws. Stanford missed four of its final five field goals and six of its final eight. Sadly, this scene has played out far too often this season, and there is not a single source of accountability. Oregon's final five offensive possessions went thusly: Cook Turnover, Cook layup, Cook Turnover, 1-2 Benjamin FT, 2-2 Young FT. I bring this up just to emphasize that Oregon was no masterpiece in the endgame either. That's why it's sometimes unfair to focus on the end, even though that's always the part most remember. That being said, Stanford went missed Randle jumper, 2-2 Nastic FT, Randle turnover, missed Randle jumper, and Travis turnover to close out the game.
If there's a lesson here it's what fans have been seeing all season. Asking one player to beat five is no way to succeed, at least not for Stanford. That tactic has failed in Provo, Pullman, Westwood, and on the very same Maples floor against UCLA, so it wasn't exactly clairvoyance that had Stanford fans pessimistically watching Randle close the game out and come up short. For its part, Oregon did what Stanford did not. They kept playing the game the way they'd done all game and season long. It didn't work perfectly, but Cook's layup came because Stanford defenders had to honor the other players on the court, and that meant hesitation and reluctance to help. Stanford on the other hand, abandons all the spacing, player and ball movement, and post anchoring that has made it a formidable offense all year long, and had done so all half long against the Ducks. Coach Dawkins expressed no remoarse in putting the game's outcome in Chasson's hands, but it's the way in which Stanford does it that deserves scrutiny. He is the team's best player, but simply putting the ball in his hands and asking him to beat five guys hasn't worked a single time this season in the endgame. Oregon's players, unlike the Cardinal defenders, knew to a man who was going to decide the game. With that certainty came the confidence to close lanes and converge on a single player, and with that came futile final stretch for Stanford's offense.
What To Like:
Brown and Randle, the Platinum Backcourt: The Fatigue Theory gained some more evidence yesterday, and certainly the versions of Anthony and Chasson who played yesterday are not enough to power Stanford by Tounament-level teams. The two combined to shoot 3-14 from the three point line, playing starring roles in Cardinal's struggle from that distance. Chasson played another 40 minutes and Brown logged another 37 minutes in their final regular season Maples appearances. Unfortunately it seems that we have all seen too much from this dynamic duo this year. Anthony posted an offensive efficiency rating of 95, well below his stellar 115.5 average in Pac-12 play. Chasson's 105 was propped up by his six assists, but that number was also below the standard he's set for the season.
Tracking their Jan-Feb. splits offers further evidence that Sunday was part of a larger downturn and that fatigue has to be a determining factor. One of the things I've argued is an indicator of a tired player is a reluctance to drive and work for free throws. Anthony, after shooting 5.7 FT/game in January, has dropped to 4.2 in February. Chasson's have dropped from 7.1 to 6.5. 50% of Chasson's shots in February were three pointers, up from 44%. Anthony's rate has gone up one percent to 49%, which in a way is even more troubling. He's getting to the line less and he's not substituting three pointers for drives, which means he's taking (and missing) long two-point shots, which are the worst shots in the game. The results seem to back this up as well: Anthony's two-point shooting has dipped from 44% in January to 29% in February.
In contrast, Chasson's numbers have decreased dramatically overall thanks largely to a massive drop-off in three-point accuracy. The Rock Island Native went from the Gold Coast to Joliet when the calendar flipped months. From distance, Chasson dropped from a robust 44% to 19% in February. His two point accuracy dipped as well (45>>>37%), but not that dramatically. Paradoxically, the types of three pointers (rise and fire) that are most difficult to make when tired seem to be the kind both are choosing to take, as opposed to receiving passes from the interior or the other side of the court. Given the uptick in three-point attempts, we can see that this is the formula for some ineffective results. The bottom line is that the February Fugazi version of The Platinum Backcourt wasn't nearly good enough to keep the Cardinal's Tournament resume intact. I just can't accept that teams employed anything revolutionary in defending these two from one month to the next. The seed of concern that was planted after the very first exhibition game has grown into the weed that strangled the march to March.
The Triangle Offense: Like the offense/defense split this week, the Cardinal basically was good for one exceptional half per game. That was good enough for exactly half of the two wins Stanford had to have. We've already identified the three-point shooting struggles in the Oregon game. Unfortunately, The Nasty Man fell in line with his fellow struggling Seniors. Stefan went 3-8 from the field and while he did make 10-13 free throws on his way to 16 points, it wasn't enough to make the Ducks pay for going so small all afternoon. This offense is geared to exploit post advantages, especially bigs that can pass. The fact that neither Stefan, Humphrey, or Reid Travis recorded an assist suggests not that the offensive scheme was in error, but that it was misapplied in the form of too many one-on-one sequences and befuddled by the mixed looks the Ducks gave.
Reid Travis: Reid played only 20 minutes despite having only two fouls. It seems Coach Altman won the battle of wills with his counterpart on the Stanford sideline. Coach Dawkins may have been better served to utilize more of his athleticism to combat the spry and agile Duck players. Travis gave the Cardinal a very efficient five points (1-1 FG 3-4 FT) and added five rebounds. He just wasn't utilized the way he should have been, and that's a segue for when we get to this piece's final bolded topic.
There's nothing really new to report here. Stanford has
done a great job developing Humphrey and Marcus Allen into
contributors, except that in a way they've done too good a
job. Allen and Humphrey are now fixtures in the starting
lineup, and the bottom line is that Travis' and Rosco Allen's
injuries have allowed for Humphrey to come along to the point that
Stanford has a very good four-man big rotation when all are
healthy. The problem is that out on the wings, Allen's ascent
has left the coaches with three players it clearly doesn't
consistently trust: Cartwright, Pickens, and Sanders.
Sanders got the call on Sunday, and in four minutes with him on the
floor Stanford was a -7. As I've said before, you have to be
careful with +/- stats for one player, but Sanders played
while Cartwright and Pickents sat. All three have spent time
in and out of the coaches' favor, and it this point in the year,
it's clear the coaches are going to ride Brown and Randle until the
wheels come off the wagon. With nothing but desperation games
left for Stanford, it's clear the team has little choice at this
Defense: With all the talk about the endgame, it would be inaccurate not to point out that what really killed Stanford on Sunday was its season-long inability to stop teams from scoring. Yes, the Stanford offense played one bad half on Sunday, but the defense played two. All the bad habits came to the fore against the quicker and disciplined Ducks. Stanford couldn't rotate effectively to defend the corner three, a flaw that's been evident ever since the loss in Pullman. Cardinal defenders couldn't handle players off the bounce, and they couldn't negotiate ball and off-ball screens consistently. And finally, transition defense brutalized Stanford. Oregon's game winning point came when Stanford couldn't get back in time to stop a runaway Duck after Nastic was rejected. In other words, the ball went 94 feet before a single Cardinal could get back to stop it. Both UCLA and Arizona took advantage of this deficiency, and Oregon is built to take advantage of teams that don't get back and don't match up properly. The Ducks offensive rating of 105.8 was below its Pac-12 average of 109.8, but really Stanford had very little answers for Joseph Young and especially Elgin Cook, who went 5-6 in the second half on his way to 21 points. All season long, Stanford was able to stay in the top third of the conference despite being a bottom half defensive team, and that borrowed time appears to have run out with a week to go.
So Stanford's reality technically remains the same as it did a week ago. 20 regular season wins will get them in all likelihood. In fact, that's even more likely than ever given that now 20 wins would mean a road win at Arizona. Of course, the presumption there is a road sweep in the Desert, where nobody has won two all year long. The Arizona State game is no gimme either. The Sun Devils have beaten both UCLA and Arizona at Wells Fargo Arena, and will be playing for seeding in the Pac-12 tournament starting Thursday night. It's not over yet, but the lights are getting awfully dim. Stanford has a lot of soul searching and work to do in the next few days.
Wilson Pickett taught us that 99 and 1/2 won't do. If that's true, than half isn't even going to come close. Stanford learned that lesson this week. Playing only one half the court has hurt them all year. Playing only one half the game at your best works against lesser teams, but not against quality talent and coaching. Stanford now has four halves to go before heading to Las Vegas. All that remains is what happens between deserts, and the vultures are circling.