Neville E. Guard USA Today

Stanford Basketball Needs to Speed Things Up as Pac-12 Play Continues

Stanford clearly missed Reid Travis during the opening weekend of Pac-12 play. To succeed on its Oregon road trip, Stanford needs to speed things up on offense.

                Great teams don’t win close games.  Great teams avoid close games.   One theme repeats over and over, season after season, regardless of whether I’m watching football, basketball, or baseball.  The margin matters, and not just to Brent Musberger’s “friends in the desert.”  Close games tend to be toss-ups over a large enough sample size, a lesson Stanford Basketball painfully learned on Sunday night.

                Christian Sanders mentioned before the game that they’d been “lucky” to pull out the win over Utah.  That luck ran out against a Colorado team desperate to avoid a Lost Weekend in the Bay Area.  Once more, the Cardinal fell behind thanks to a slow start, and once more they mounted a valiant effort to overcome it.  Unfortunately, as with Texas , the Cardinal ran out of time and fell to the Buffs 56-55.

                Let’s take a look at the the Four Factors Box Scores from Stanford’s first two games in Pac-12 play:

School

Pace

eFG%

TOV%

ORB%

FT/FGA

ORtg

Utah

66.3

.500

20.1

29.4

.193

90.7

Stanford

66.3

.424

8.3

28.9

.212

93.3

 

School

Pace

eFG%

TOV%

ORB%

FT/FGA

ORtg

Colorado

65.3

.471

23.1

27.6

.157

86.2

Stanford

65.3

.343

8.5

19.4

.333

84.6

 

So, what do we see?  First of all, Stanford’s overall profile remains unchanged from non-conference play.  Since re-focusing on defense following the loss against St. Mary’s Stanford’s defense has been stout.  Twice more, Stanford opponents were unable to even come close to an ORtg of 100, and the Buffaloes couldn’t even get to 90.

                Unfortunately, Stanford is having an even harder time generating points.  Overall, Stanford’s offensive efficiency is 102.6, which is essentially the D-1 Average.  That slipped badly at Maples against the Buffaloes.  Stanford’s combined ORtg on the weekend was 90.3, lowest in the Pac-12.  There are a couple reasons reflected in the Five Factors.

                First, Stanford’s struggling to make shots.  The Cardinal shot just 36.4% in the first half against Colorado, and was crippled by a 1-11 performance on three pointers.  You can see this in Stanford’s effective field goal percentage in the box scores.  We’ve been charting three-point shooting as a key stat for Stanford, and they struggled mightily on the weekend, shooting a conference-worst 22% and getting only 17% of its points from that shot.

                Stanford clearly missed Reid Travis, as two of his biggest strengths (drawing fouls and hitting the offensive boards) were lacking this weekend.  Stanford was unable to create a significant enough margin at the foul line in either game to offset it’s shooting struggles.  Yes, Reid is not a great free throw shooter, but he brings his teammates into the bonus along with him. 

Also, teams that don’t shoot it particularly well need extra opportunities.  Stanford’s Offensive rebounding rate fell significantly from its season-long rate of 34.3%.  The Cardinal was a -11 in second chance points against Colorado, and the inability to secure rebounds hurt on both ends of the court, an area where Travis clearly helps Stanford.

Coach Dawkins lamented the inconsistent shot selection against Colorado, and that brings us to assist rate.  We knew this would be an issue early with the loss of Robert Cartwright and the implementation of a new offensive system, to say nothing of the relative inexperience of the players now comprising the rotation.  Stanford assisted on only 27% of its buckets vs. Utah and 41% vs. Colorado.

That low assist rate is a sign of a team relying too much on contested rise and fires for their threes as opposed to drives and kicks for clean looks.  It’s a team not getting enough out of screens and cuts and not putting defenses in enough compromised positions.  That becomes an exacerbated flaw when you don’t play at a high pace and generate more shots, which is our first, best elixir for the Cardinal.

After the game, both Michael Humphrey and Coach Dawkins agreed that the Cardinal would be better served by pushing the ball up the court, given both the athleticism, conditioning, and struggles in the half court offense. That’s not a panacea for the offensive woes, but it’s a great way to alleviate some of the ill effects Stanford’s suffered to this point.  Humphrey, all three Allen Brothers, Pickens, Sheffield, and Walker, are gazelles who need to be out in the open court as much as possible.   Stanford’s currently playing at a 65 possession per game pace in its first two conference, which is actually slower than it played in the non-conference, when its pace ranked 322nd in the country.

The Cardinal is doing some things right, and one of them points to more motivation for increasing the pace.  Unlike teams in the past, Stanford is doing a great job of protecting the ball while also forcing turnovers.   That’s been an issue throughout the Coach Dawkins’ tenure, and it looks like this roster finally has what it takes to pressure teams.  Stanford was +17 in points off turnovers against Colorado, and the coaches have been more aggressive in featuring three quarter and halfcourt pressure defenses.  If you’re gonna pressure on D, why not push it on O?

Stanford sits at 8-5, 1-1 in conference play.  I still maintain that even without Reid Travis for the immediate future (no timetable on his return btw) this team has a large upside within the scope of this season.  They certainly have no shortage of fight, as they have battled back repeatedly.  It’d be nice if they rewarded themselves for those floor burns and bruises by playing to their strengths and speeding it up.  As they start their first Pac-12 road trip tonight against Oregon State, let’s see of the Cardinal’s hustle can spark a bit more flow. 


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