Casey Sapio/USA Today

Stanford Basketball Season Review & Pac-12 Tournament Preview

A look back at Stanford's 2015-16 and a look at what's up for the Cardinal this week and beyond.

The Week: Lost at Arizona State 74-64, Lost at Arizona 94-62

Record:  15-14 (8-10 Pac-12) 9th Place

Pac-12 ORtg: 100.8 (10th)

Pac-12 DRtg: 107.2 (9th)

School

Pace

eFG%

TOV%

ORB%

FT/FGA

ORtg

Stanford

66.7

.569

21.2

12.0

.118

95.5

Arizona State

66.7

.500

14.1

38.9

.370

110.4

 

School

Pace

eFG%

TOV%

ORB%

FT/FGA

ORtg

Stanford

67.9

.404

14.7

25.0

.385

91.2

Arizona

67.9

.644

11.4

40.6

.305

138.2

 

                Stanford’s 2015-16 regular season ended in a dumpster fire that stretched from Tempe to Tucson.  At virtually no point during the Cardinal’s 80 minutes of game play in the Grand Canyon State did they resemble an NCAA Tournament team, a competitive Pac-12 team, or even a defending NIT champion.  The less said about the particulars the better, so we’re going to let the Four Factors from each game do most of the talking (crying? Wailing? Lamenting?).

                Among the onslaught of Waltonisms we got during the conference season, the one that rings most true when evaluating Stanford’s season is this:  “Offense wins championships.”  Indeed, the story of Stanford’s season is one of a team whose nearly wire to wire putridity sucked the spirit and determination out of a defense that started as a very good one and by season’s end was a sad, devastated shell of its earlier self.

                We tracked three major factors on offense for Stanford, and they hold up as the culprits for Stanford’s offensive undoing.  Stanford finished with the second-slowest pace in the Pac-12 at 66.9 possessions per game.  Slow pace means more halfcourt offense.  Half-court offense necessitates crisp passing, on and off-ball player movement, and solid screen setting.  Stanford does none of those things well, so playing at a slow pace meant playing to its offensive weaknesses.

                That struggle in the half-court manifested itself in the Pac-12’s lowest assist rate.  Again, assist rate is not necessarily the end all be all of an offense.  If you have ballers like Chasson Randle on your squad, your offense may not rack up a ton of assists but you can still be potent.  However, with a roster that lacks a truly transcendent one-on-one player, you better be able to generate system buckets, and Stanford just couldn’t.

                Finally, it comes down to making shots, and in today’s game at both the college and NBA level, that means making three-pointers.   Stanford couldn’t, and that basically left them with very little shot of keeping up on the scoreboard.  Stanford shot 30.7% from the three point line in Pac-12 play, the worst in the league.  They got the second-lowest percentage of their points from behind the arc.  Interestingly, they ended up taking the fourth most threes in the league as a proportion to their overall field goal attempts.  That’s a function of being down big, especially as they were in Arizona.  This was not a team built to come back from big deficits, but it certainly was built to create them.

                One of the most tragic aspects of the bad offense is that it undermined something the team did very well:  force turnovers.  Stanford’s defense forced the second-most turnovers in league play.  Unfortunately, they were not able to consistently score points off those turnovers, rendering what was a very athletic, hard-working, and willing group effort useless overall.

                And with all that, Stanford finished 8-10 in league play.  They weren’t Washington State bad, and they didn’t underachieve to the degree that UCLA did with arguably a more talented roster.   It’s also important to factor in all the “noise” Stanford had to deal with this season.  The Cardinal lost Robert Cartwright for the entire season, and Reid Travis for the final 21 games.   There’s no team in the Pac-12 that could absorb the loss of its starting point guard and power forward and be a top team in the league.

                Furthermore, Stanford integrated new offensive and defensive systems this year, and with a relatively inexperienced group it took time to identify five man units that could perform on both ends of the court consistently.   I know that most of the above will be dismissed by many as “excuses,” but they must be considered when evaluating this season.

                The season’s not totally over, of course.  Stanford takes on Washington in a rematch from three weeks ago.  The Huskies won that game largely because they were able to convert Cardinal turnovers into points whereas Stanford couldn’t do the same with the Husky turnovers they forced.   The Huskies are inexperienced, very long and very athletic, and they are led by an outstanding lead guard in Andrew Andrews.

                It breaks down like this for Stanford.  Teams that are physical and guard are nightmare matchups for this team.  Think Utah and Colorado.  Teams that do either are teams that Stanford can hang with (think Oregon at Maples).  Teams that do neither are teams Stanford can handle (L.A. schools).  So as we look at Stanford’s bracket, we get a bad matchup to start and then possibly a better match-up but one that involves the best regular season team in the league.

                So how to feel about this season?  It wasn’t without auspicious debuts.  Messrs. Walker, Sheffield, and Sharma all look like future cornerstone players.  Rosco has evolved into a next-level prospect who may yet return next year, along with Michael Humphrey and essentially the rest of the team.  There were wins over Tournament teams, and truthfully if Stanford closes out Texas and Colorado at Maples instead of dropping two heartbreakers this could very well be a tournament team as well.

                And yet, barring a stunning Vegas hot streak, this is going to be the seventh year in eight that Stanford will be on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament.  Maples is still a shell of its former shelf, and the students are as disengaged with the program  as at any of the pre-Montgomery low points in the program’s history.   There are signs that better times are ahead, but the question the Cardinal has left us with is thus:

                How much further up the road are those better days?

 

 


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