Jeffrey Swinger/USA Today

Stanford Basketball Struggled Mightily against both the Colorado Buffaloes and the Utah Utes

The Cardinal's offense and defense betrayed them in the Rockies, and left both the team and its numbers in a downward spiral.

The Week: Lost to Colorado, 91-75, Lost to Utah 96-74

Record:  11-9 (4-5 Pac-12) 7th Place (Tied with 3 others)

Pac-12 ORtg: 99.5 (11th)

Pac-12 DRtg: 107.5 (9th)

School

Pace

eFG%

TOV%

ORB%

FT/FGA

ORtg

Stanford

72.8

.415

7.9

31.3

.225

102.7

Colorado

72.8

.609

16.9

40.0

.436

124.7

 

School

Pace

eFG%

TOV%

ORB%

FT/FGA

ORtg

Stanford

74.4

.423

13.8

35.9

.292

100.0

Utah

74.4

.681

18.6

31.8

.681

129.7

 

John Platz was right.

Stanford’s esteemed and longtime color analyst warned that this was going to be a very tough week for the Cardinal and his prophecy was realized on a snowy Saturday in Salt Lake City.  Stanford’s defense completed what has been a staggering drop over the last three weeks.  Coming into its home game against Arizona, Stanford had the number rated defense in the conference.  Five games later, Stanford’s DRtg is at 107.5, 9th in the Pac-12 and well above the Division 1 average of 103.2.

The Four Factors paint a painfully accurate and grisly picture of what happened the past week, but to point only at the defensive numbers is not necessarily to have a complete perspective on what’s happening in these games.   Yes, the Cardinal’s defense has struggled, but that struggle has more to do with its season-long issues of scoring the basketball.

The numbers show us that Stanford posted offensive efficiency ratings below the D-1 average, but again these are of course game totals. Stanford accumulated a lot of points after the game’s outcome had been all but decided.  Rosco Allen’s game against Colorado is a great microcosm.  Allen was 1-7 with 5 points during the first half against the Buffaloes, then cashed in for 20 points on 6-10 shooting in garbage time.

In Utah, Stanford’s defense was horrendous, a fact made worse by the poorest officiating I’ve seen in the Pac-12 all year (which is saying something).  Utah’s absurd 68% free throw rate pretty much guaranteed Stanford couldn’t win, but again the Cardinal offense was a problem.  Stanford had a solid 121.9 ORtg in the first half against Utah, but that number fell to 83.3 in the second half as Stanford bludgeoned the unsuspecting Utah basket with bricks.

Offense sparks defensive effort in a way that does not happen inversely.  Stretches of good defense don’t necessarily translate to good offense, as we saw in the first half in Boulder.  Stanford raced off with five steals in the first half but converted none of them into points.  Long stretches of offensive ineptitude suck the life out of a team, and that’s what happens to Stanford over and over.  The team is willing and able defensively, but gradually its resolve is broken by an inability to make baskets.

Compounding all of this is Stanford’s struggle to board in the absence of Reid Travis.  Both Colorado and Utah pounded Stanford on the glass.  Michael Humphrey continues to struggle, and he managed only eight rebounds total on the weekend before an injury ended his trip prematurely in Salt Lake.

Nevertheless, it still comes back to offense.  Stanford shot a miserable 10-48 from behind the three point line in the Rockies.  That’s a recipe for routs, and that’s what happened.  There is a lot to the fact that defenses have little control over opponent’s three point FG%, but Stanford can control the threes it takes.  Outside shooting is a clear area for improvement here, but that’s not likely to change inside the scope of the season.

As it stands, Stanford takes 31.4% of its shots from behind the line, seventh most in the Pac-12.  However, the Cardinal is the worst shooting team (27%) gets the lowest percentage of points (21%) from behind the line.  Of course, it’s the worst shooting team from two-point distance as well, which kind of limits its options.  

Stanford gets a full week off now before a game against Cal that now stands as even more pivotal than before this three-game road swing started.  The Cardinal has now lost consecutive Pac-12 games for the first time all season, and the Golden Bears fared no better in the Rockies.  Cal will be at home, and both teams will be desperate for a win.  If the Cardinal can find a way to pull out  a victory, a bye in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament is still a reasonable goal.  A loss could very well put the team in freefall.

Not surprisingly, both coaches and players emphasized defense after the Utah game.  And while it’s true that Stanford was exceptionally porous in the Rockies, it’s the avalanche of missed shots that far too often has been Stanford’s undoing, and it’s threatening to wipe away the Cardinal’s season.  


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