Stanford Crops the Aggies, Batters the Rams

Stanford rolls through week one of the NIT Tournament

    There's nothing like being the guy who walks into the sports bar and asks the manager to put on an NIT game as NCAA Tournament games are playing out on the plethora of flatscreens elevated above the bar.  On Sunday, Stanford Basketball made me that guy.  I'll wear it as a Badge of Loyalty, and I'll brandish it should anybody question my level of devotion to a team now one game away from the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. As far as the basketball goes, let's dive right into our Four Factors line score.


    The Cardinal took down the very game but outclassed UC Davis Aggies last Tuesday night.  Davis was undersized and also struggled with the Cardinal's athleticism and ball movement defensively.  Marcus Allen was the primary beneficiary, as he often set up on the weak side wing and waited for a skip pass that reversed the ball and sent an Aggie scurrying out to defend his jumper.   Allen took repeated advantage by bursting to the hoop and finishing, as Davis had nothing really resembling a legit rim protector to offer resistance.  Stanford ended up +16 in the paint, which is how you get an eFG that high.  However, the three point shooting also showed up on the home floor.  Stanford shot 8-17 from the three point line, a 47% percentage that was a step up from its already stellar 38% season average. Despite its proficiency from long range, the Cardinal did not over-indulge itself from distance.  31% of its shots were threes, the exact same percentage as its season average.

    Davis was a one-man show on offense, with guard Corey Hawkins looking every bit the son of Hersey.  His 34 points were very impressive but Davis was unable to get any more than seven points from any of its other players, and that wasn't going to be enough on a night when Marcus Allen erupted for 22 and a 131 ORtg, Chasson Randle re-emerged with 18 (3/6 3 PT) and Old Anthony Brown chipping in with 11 points and 5 rebounds.  The Marcus Allen performance provided a glimpse at what the Cardinal's game will look like next year.  The Nasty Man sacrificed a chunk of his usage (26% on the season vs. 19% in this game) to make room for Marcus, and the sophomore delivered. That all sent the Cardinal into a Sunday Night Showdown with a nostalgia-inspiring opponent.


    Rams Coach Dan Hurley was upset after the game at the officiating, which essentially took this game's flow hostage, despite the fact that it was played at a lightning-fast tempo, especially by the Cardinal's standards. Typically in a game where you are struggling to shoot it the way Stanford was, you have very little shot at winning.  However, that obscene .679 FT Rate, as Hurley noted, made it virtually impossible for the Rams to win and ultimately was the difference in the game. The Cardinal ended up +24 at the line, and their defense deserves credit for playing a cleaner brand of defense themselves.  On the season, fouling has hindered Stanford constantly, as they sent their opponents to the line at a ridiculous 43.4% rate in Pac-12 play.  That that number was by far the highest in the conference should contextualize the absurdity of the Cardinal's own 68% FT Rate against Rhode Island.
   
    For the second straight game, Stefan Nastic's usage was down, this time in favor of Anthony Brown, whose 27% usage rate was well above the 22% mark he posted for the season. Stanford also reverted back to taking care of the ball.  Their 10.8% TO Rate helped them to a +12 in points off turnovers, and the second half free throw parade basically took care of the rest, with the Cardinal taking 35 (?!?!) free throws and making 24.

What To Like:

Brown and Randle, the Platinum Backcourt
:  Overall, it wasn't a total return to form, but certainly the versions of Randle and Brown we saw this week were far better than the February imposters who wore #'s 5 and 21 prior to March. Chasson posted ORtg's of 126 and 143, easily his best performances since posting a 147 Jan. 31 against Washington State. Chasson also added five assists against the Aggies, and regained his three point stroke.  For the two games he shot 42%, way up from the 19% he posted in February. He also attacked the basket and made a living at the foul line, especially against Rhode Island. He stands now in third place on the all-time leading scoring list, and with a big game Tuesday against Vanderbilt (28 or more points) or a win Tuesday, will finish his career as Stanford's all-time leading scorer.
   
    Anthony wasn't as spectacular as Chasson in the two games, but still enjoyed a return to far more recognizable form.  He posted a solid 117 ORtg with a modest but efficient game vs. Davis. Against Rhode Island, he struggled from the field, but compensated by going 10-10 from the foul line. His struggle in February,  by contrast with Chasson, was from inside the two point line.  In his first two NIT games he is shooting 54%, a significant upgrade over the 37% he shot on two-pointers during February.

The Triangle Offense:  It was a mixed bag for Stanford this week.  The 122.2 rating was a strong showing, although it's hard to place too much faith in that considering the physical and talent advantages it enjoyed over the Aggies. Rhode Island was a very physical team, and it succeeded in disrupting much of what Stanford wanted to do.  Unfortunately for the Rams, they paid a massive tariff for their physicality.  The massive free throw discrepancy, like the talent discrepancy vs. Davis, makes it hard to evaluate the Cardinal's offense, but that 97.4 is awfully low for a team that spent as much time at the foul line as Stanford did.  Put another way:  The D-1 Average for points per possession is just above one (1.02).  Stanford scored 74 points in 76 possessions.  Had the Cardinal operated at its normal efficiency, it should have had far more points than it did. 
   
    One final note:  The Nasty Man's decreased usage this week is an interesting foreshadow for the upcoming season. Stanford isn't going to have a post anchor like Nastic next year, so the coaches are going to have to make some tweaks to the Cardinal's attack.

Reid Travis:  The Freshman put up a strong double-double against the Aggies, coming up with 10 points on 5-9 shooting and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes.  He wasn't quite as proficient against Rhode Island, scoring only five points and securing seven rebounds.  He did have three blocks and a steal, and it's good to see that even as a young player he doesn't let one end of the court impact the other. That being said, it wasn't a good week at the foul line for Reid, who went 3-14 in the two games and currently sits at 46% on the season.  Looking ahead, his game is going to be one that produces a lot of fouls, which is good because it's going to mean free throws for his teammates via the bonus, but it can be great if he becomes proficient from the line himself.  Stanford's offense and endgame becomes far more potent next year if he can shoot his charity shots with confidence.

Concerns

Depth:  We've reached the end of the season, so there may not seem to be much value in harping on this issue. However, Stanford does have a quick turnaround this Tuesday against Vanderbilt, so the fact that Coach Dawkins went at Rhode Island with basically six players, as he did against Davis, could be relevant.  We know that Chasson and Anthony are out there until they collapse, but Marcus Allen has now joined the heavy minutes club.  #15 played 31 against the Rams and 38 against Davis.  If anybody has the motor to handle it, it's Marcus Allen.  However, if Stanford can beat Vanderbilt, winning in New York is going to mean winning twice in two days (strangely, the NIT is not playing both semi-finals on the same day, per this bracket. It would be painful, if altogether fitting, if depth cost the Cardinal the Golden Apple in their final game.

Defense:
  The Cardinal was impressive against Rhode Island, holding the Rams to a low 85.5 rating bolstered by two uncharacteristic attributes.  The Cardinal was able to turn the Rams over (18.5% vs. a season forced TO rate of 17.4), and a second consecutive clean game.  Stanford kept its opponents off the foul line, and if it can keep up that trend, they should be a very tough out moving forward.

    Nobody wants to be writing about NIT games at this time of year, and it was hard to watch our boys playing at Maples while its Pac-12 brethren fared so well during a breathtaking first week of NCAA Tournament hoops. Nevertheless, as the season winds to a close, it's hard not to root for the classy Chasson Randle to get that scoring record, or for these seniors to go out as winners of their final games. Effort was not one of the shortcomings that cost this team a second consecutive appearance on the big stage, and it'd be hard to argue these three didn't max out as players.  All leave with flaws, but consider the players they were when they set foot on campus and it's hard not to respect the players they've become. New York City has become a home away from home for Stanford over the years, and if you can't be in Indianapolis, the Big Apple isn't the worst place to say farewell.

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