This is where the evaluations get challenging due to injury. Nevertheless, it was an interesting year for Stanford's 2015-16 Seniors to-be. Rather than a farewell, we're going to look back at these three players and then offer a summer prescription to maximize the final year on the Farm for an unheralded class that could still play a big role for next year's Cagers.
Rosco was forced to live the frustration of a bifurcated season that started off by showcasing his vast offensive skill set and rewarding those who had been hyping him for years with his play. Through Feb. 8, he amassed an eFG% of 54%, higher than the season totals for all three of Stanford's Senior Trio of Randle, Brown, and Nastic. Most importantly, he was shooting 42% from behind the three-point arc, creating spacing and driving lanes for his teammates and driving opportunities against defenders now sprinting out to defend his jumper.
Unfortunately, an injury shelved Rosco for a crucial four plus two-game stretch during which one might argue the Cardinal's postseason fate was sealed. After a solid all-around game against USC at Maples where he had 11 points, 6 rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal, Rosco had to sit the next four games, during which the Cardinal went 2-2. One of those losses was to Utah, in a game that was so one-sided it's unlikely he could have changed the outcome. However, the other was a narrow loss to CBI-bound Colorado during which the Cardinal offense struggled mightily. Rosco returned on March 1 but was limited in losses to Oregon and Arizona State. The Cardinal lost its third straight game at Tucson to end the season, and just as in Salt Lake, it's unlikely he'd have been able to do much about the outcome of that game had he been playing all along. However, the losses to the Ducks, Sun Devils and Buffaloes were all close and if Rosco could have helped Stanford win any two of those three games if not all three, they'd have qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
The margin was that thin for the Cardinal, and Allen's loss and subsequent post-injury decline was probably the biggest of the frontcourt injuries that derailed Stanford's season. He was a shell of himself upon his return. Rosco was able to make only six of his final 28 three point attempts to close out the year. He shot 11-55 overall from the field and aside from a nice showing against UC Davis, could never establish himself as a regular and consistent contributor.
Summer Homework: Rosco is a serious candidate to be Stanford's leading scorer next season, and as his usage increases he needs to sharpen his free throw shooting. He was unable to crack 70% from the line, and he's got way too nice a stroke to be anything less than 75%. Tangentially, he also needs to do the bulk of his work on defense. He had a propensity for fouling that is going to exacerbate any struggles for offense the team may encounter next year. Simply put, he has to stay on the floor consistently, which means the reaching and over the back fouls need to be drastically reduced. His smarts, versatility, and length suggest he has the potential to be an effective, if not elite defender. I fully expect his shooting to return to his pre-injury form, so it's really about the other end of the court for Rosco. He's got All-Conference potential, but he's going to need to be a two-way player to realize it.
It's hard to give a true evaluation for Christian Sanders because it seems clear that in his first full year after missing 2014 due to a hip injury, he just never felt right enough to find his game. Statistically, his performance cratered, and he fell into the cycle of needing consistent playing time to develop and find the feel, but not playing well enough and consistently enough to earn that playing time. He struggled so much this year that I was stunned when I looked back at his freshman campaign and was reminded of the potential he showed. Here are some key numbers from his two years of playing at Stanford.
||True Shooting %
Those are some grisly numbers. No, that's not a typo, that's an integer in front of his PER for this season. And yes, that's an offensive efficiency rating of 66.1. For context, nobody else who played at least 100 minutes for the Cardinal was lower than 95.5. Granted, his frosh numbers are not extraordinary, but they are certainly serviceable and they are fine for a first-year player. His free throw rate revealed his aggressiveness and considering he shot 82% from the line that year, strongly suggest a player with rising value. The turnover rate isn't great, but it's a far cry from the almost impossible to conceive 33% rate he had this year. That, combined with the massive decline in his free throw rate strongly suggests a player who has lost his feel and his confidence, and no factor impacts that more than the psychological hurdle of not feeling 100% physically. The fact that he shot 29% from the line this season strongly suggests that it was the mental hurdle of dealing with the physical recovery that hurt most of all.
The other factor of course is playing time. After six games where he failed to play double digit minutes (including a DNP vs. South Dakota), Christian played 16 minutes vs. Denver. He only got four minutes in the following game against lowly LMU, but the coaches trusted him enough to run him out on the court for 10 minutes against BYU, and he performed well. He had five points on 2/3 shooting and two assists. He played a season-high 21 minutes in the next game against Texas, and then against Arkansas Pine-Bluff he delivered his best game of the year, scoring five points on 2/4 shooting with four rebounds, three assists, and four steals.
After that, he played only 23 minutes total in the Cardinal's next three games. Then, like coins in the sofa, the coaches rediscovered him at the start of Pac-12 play. He played 46 minutes over three games that culminated with the win over Connecticut. After that, he'd never play double digits in consecutive games again and in fact would only play double digits in two more games all season. It's pretty hard to resurrect your game when the coaches leave you under a rock for prolonged periods of time. Even more perplexingly, the coaches never seemed to run out of praise for him when asked. I'm not dismissive of the value of "glue guys," but entry passes only have so much value when the overall production is this low. Plus, if his intangibles were really that great, the loudest praise would come in the form of playing time. It was a tough spot for a player to negotiate, as we mentioned before.
Summer Homework: First and foremost, he needs to stay healthy. He'll develop confidence with some summer run and hopefully his game will follow. Tactically, the best thing he can do is find some proficiency at the three point shot, because despite his aggression as a Freshman, he is going to spend time anchored behind the arc and if he's a legit threat, there's no reason he can't play 15-20 minutes a night.
Yet another player with awful injury luck. A hip injury sustained last year cost him the first seven games, and then the injury jumped up to sideline him for the final contests. Considering Stanford's long-documented frontline injury woes, Verhoeven's loss far exceeded what his statistics showed. It's especially ruinous because Grant had established himself as a legit rotation player in the games he did play. In his final four games he averaged just under 18 minutes and four rebounds a game. Not Wilt Chamberlain granted, but solid. Like all high character guys, Grant took the injury hard because he rightly felt he could have helped stop the Cardinal slide out of NCAA Tournament qualification.
Summer Homework: Grant showed proficiency as a mid-range shooter in the NCAA Tournament, and if he could bring that to the court this year, it should make a big difference in creating space for Reid Travis to operate. Plus his presence could provide invaluable depth to the front line.
This group promises to be much less heralded than the departing Seniors, but that doesn't mean they won't be playing vital roles next year. Experience on this roster is at a premium, so if these three can all become viable rotation players, Stanford should have a better time negotiating the growing pains of a roster that on the whole will be talented but very raw.
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