Widgets Magazine

Shi: A tale of sound and fury, ending with a whimper

Loudness: the attribute of a sound that determines the magnitude of the auditory sensation produced and that primarily depends on the amplitude of the sound wave involved

Sadness: a state or spell of low spirits

There are a lot of words we could use to describe Stanford men’s basketball and its 73-70 loss to Oregon on Sunday, but loudness and sadness are the two that immediately come to mind. Loudness – loud because Maples was party to a full crowd, and unlike the UCLA game, it was a roundly pro-Stanford one. Loud because it was Senior Night. Loud because Stanford’s NCAA tournament hopes may well have been riding on this one game – at tipoff, USA Today was projecting Stanford to miss the tourney; ESPN had Stanford barely sneaking into March; SBNation didn’t even put Stanford in the first four out.

And then there was sadness. Sad – because now that Stanford’s picked up its seventh conference loss of the season in a weak Pac-12, the Cardinal are decidedly on the outside looking in. Sad because the team lost an eminently winnable game in a season full of eminently winnable games. (The Cardinal played 10 close games and won three of them.) Sad because even though counterfactuals in basketball are incredibly silly, it’s hard to not look at the schedule and think, “If Stanford had closed out games properly it could have been 25-3 instead of 18-10.” Sad because unless Stanford works some magic next week in Arizona or during the Pac-12 Tournament, the Cardinal will miss the NCAA tourney for the sixth time in seven years. Sad because we won’t see the seniors donning Stanford uniforms ever again, and as frustrating as the last few years have been for us, it has been all the more frustrating for them.

The simple fact is: If we care, they care a lot more. The players are out on the court 30-40 hours a week; we’re not filling Maples Pavilion. I myself do not have a perfect home attendance record. Sometimes I have pressing conflicts. Sometimes I look at the opponent, shrug, and say, “Maybe not this time.” I understand why people don’t go. But the fact remains, there are times I could have gone to games and didn’t. It happens. I don’t go to most Stanford teams’ games, just as I don’t go to most musical performances and most student plays. I do go to every football game, but covering football is my job.

And to a large extent, my failure to go to games and cheer, to restore the fabled Maples Pavilion roar, to give the Stanford Cardinal a real home-court advantage – in short, to be loud – limits how much I deserve to be sad.

If I didn’t invest that much time into thinking about the team, I don’t have much justification to feel sad about it – and to be fair, if I’m not the sort of guy who’s going to schedule his life around basketball, I probably wouldn’t. To paraphrase Colin Powell, fans who do not watch the games lack a certain credibility. But if you are there and you see players that you cheer for and in some cases even get to know, it’s hard not to feel some kind of empathy for their loss.

This season is not over just yet, to be clear – this team was a tourney lock for much of the year, and it can recapture that magic again. But even if Stanford makes the tourney, losing a winnable game on Senior Night has got to suck. I can’t imagine how much it hurts – there are few, if any, analogues for Senior Night in the non-athlete college experience – but when you spend that much time on any one activity, a poor result inevitably leaves you mad.

And even for the most diehard fans, maybe there’s not really that much reason to be sad either. Stanford probably came into this season with expectations that were a bit too high. If we’ll be honest, the Sweet Sixteen last year was a lucky break; but for Joel Embiid’s injured back, Stanford likely doesn’t upset Kansas in the Round of 32. But basketball is full of lucky breaks. Players get injured all the time. It’s pointless to criticize teams for being lucky – Connecticut laughs as it kowtows to its statues of Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier – and the fact remains that in Stanford’s last two non-tourney seasons, the Cardinal came oh-so-close to making the Big Dance but barely missed the cut. You could argue that the NIT-winning squad of 2011-12 was a clearly deserving tournament team. You could even make a case for 2012-13, when the most popular advanced metric placed the Cardinal above six-seed (and first-round flop) UCLA. Stanford has not gotten much in the way of hardware or tourney berths, but this team has achieved some kind of success.

And if this is any consolation: Maples was hardly a madhouse this season, but more people were coming to games than in years past. Stanford’s most recent teams have rebuilt a good deal of the support that had trickled away over the last seven or eight years, and the seniors have played the biggest role in that turnaround.

It’s too soon to tell whether this resurgence is simply a case of bandwagoning or a long-term change in how Stanford basketball operates. The glow from last year’s tourney run still exists, although after this season, most of its key figures will have departed for a new beginning. But we will remember these players. And if students and alumni and townies begin packing Maples like they did last night, maybe the next generation of players will remember us.

Winston Shi would like you to note that that time he said he was busy, he actually was. Check out his schedule at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Winston Shi

Winston Shi was the Managing Editor of Opinions for Volume 245 (February-June 2014). He also served as an opinions and sports columnist, a senior staff writer, and a member of the Editorial Board. A native of Thousand Oaks, California (the one place on the planet with better weather than Stanford), he graduated from Stanford in June 2016 with bachelor's and master's degrees in history. He is currently attending law school, where he preaches the greatness of Stanford football to anybody who will listen, and other people who won't.
  • Candid One

    Nice cross-fade, WS. This team has had less depth than last season. Yet, last season’s starting lineup was essentially constant throughout. This season, the frosh were the main resource so they got to play more, as the starting lineup has rarely been the same from game to game.

    Last season, Andy Brown and Aaron Bright and Rosco Allen were lost to injuries but the team still had Lemons and Saunders and Marcus Allen and Verhoeven for bench help. Despite that injury losses, the Cardinal still had the size and versatility to adapt to matchup problems.

    This season has been so thin that one injury at a time has been critical. It didn’t help that Malcolm Allen was lost early but the temporary loss of Reid Travis seemed to knock the team off-track, and then they lost Grant Verhoeven permanently, and then they temporarily lost Rosco Allen, and now they’ve temporarily lost Humphrey. This team lacks athletic girth in the front court. Stefan Nastic is a savvy but athletically-limited senior who has lacked consistent support in the front court. When good opponents tighten perimeter defenses, Nastic isn’t enough. Humphrey had started to blossom until he got hurt against ASU. Humphrey and Verhoeven are sorely missed in the front court.

    Last year, Powell and Huestis were key cogs; they weren’t replaced in consistent fashion. Their experience and talent weren’t immediately replaceable.

    After the NIT title team, Owens and Zimmerman graduated without ready replacements during the following year. It took Powell, Huestis, and Nastic a season to develop prior to their Sweet Sixteen run last season.

    This year has been a rebuilding year. Maybe next season’s crop of promising frosh will blossom early…and maybe the returning veterans will have improved enough to get back to the Big Dance. Although Randle has inexplicably lowered his own bar, his general savvy and experience won’t be fully replaced; he’s a better all-around point guard than any of his possible successors–so far. Maybe Malcolm Allen will surprise, although he’s behind by a season of experience after this medical redshirt. The Allen twins are the most athletic guards that Stanford has ever had; while they’re not as quick as Brevin Knight, they’re faster and elevate better than any previous Stanford player of their size.