Widgets Magazine

Men’s basketball roundtable: PK80 and trouble with the Big Sky

The Cardinal had a disappointing showing in Portland at the PK80 Invitational to say the least, taking last place in the Motion Bracket of the tournament. How do you assess Stanford’s all-around performance, and where does the team go from here?

Jose Saldana (JS): It’s hard to really judge the team with the injuries they have suffered in Dorian Pickens and Marcus Sheffield. Even the highest-ranked player of the freshmen, Kezie Okpala, is out due to academic ineligibility. The lack of depth at guard has forced Coach Haase to play walk-on Blake Pagon to get some rest for the backcourt. However, Stanford had opportunities for victories, and it blew it. Against Ohio State, the offense, particularly on three-point shots, fell apart after going into halftime tied. The Cardinal were up on Portland State for a majority of the game, but turnovers (28 in the game!) flipped the game in favor of the VIkings. I think knocking down outside shots and cleaning up turnovers is possible with this current team, which makes the losses against the Buckeyes and the Vikings — frankly, no one was beating Florida on that night — so frustrating. They had their chance to win, but they don’t do what’s necessary to actually pull out the win. Good teams figure out ways to win, and bad teams figure out ways to lose. Right now the team is the latter.

King Jemison (KJ): Stanford is not in a good place right now. They’ve dropped four straight and five of the last six, giving the Cardinal the most losses in the Pac-12. Two of those losses have come to mid-major teams in Eastern Washington and Portland State, neither of which is supposed to be particularly good this year. The losses to UNC and Florida are understandable since both are Top-10 teams (for now), but Stanford got boat raced in both those contests. They have real issues in the backcourt, particularly at the wing position. Obviously, injuries are killer there because the team is missing probably their three best wings. Without those guys out there, Stanford’s two starting wings are a six-foot-one freshman shooting guard who struggles to defend (Isaac White) and a six-foot-nine freshman who would probably be more comfortable as a stretch four (Oscar da Silva). Both have shown flashes of being really good and should develop into solid players, but they need to be put in roles better suited for their skill set. For now, injuries are making that impossible. The result is that opposing guards are having a field day getting to the basket and hitting three-pointers. Stanford let Florida shoot 68 percent from three in that game. Some of that had to do with the Gators being absolutely on fire, but they had way too many wide open looks. Their guards would penetrate into the heart of Stanford’s zone defense and then kick it out to open shooters for rhythm jump shots. Those are going to fall more often than not. Offensively, Stanford just looks completely uncomfortable. A lot of that has to do with the issue addressed in the next question.

 

Turnovers seem to have been the story of Stanford’s ugly start to the season, as the Cardinal are turning the ball over 16 times a game on average and have a -30 turnover margin on the season. Is there an easy fix, or will the Cardinal have to suffer through some growing pains with a somewhat inexperienced squad on the court right now?

JS: They need to figure out how to break a press or zone defense. This has been the Achilles’ heel (well among other things) for the Cardinal. Against Cal Poly, Pacific and Eastern Washington, the other team busted out a zone defense, which gave the Cardinal offense fits. Eastern Washington, in particular, used it to win its first game against a Pac-12 opponent in 15 years. These schemes have forced the Cardinal to commit the heavy turnovers that they had. Freshman Daejon Davis has averaged over five turnovers per game and had 11 against Portland State. That doesn’t cut it, and he needs to be better at taking care of the ball. Davis has started, so maybe a switch to Robert Cartwright at point guard will help Davis clean up his turnovers.

KJ: Jose is exactly right. Stanford just falls apart when they are faced with a press or a trapping zone. Starting three freshmen in the backcourt doesn’t help Stanford’s chances in this case. Freshmen just haven’t faced the types of defenses that college teams will throw at you. Those guys look like the game is moving a little too fast for them, and so they panic. This leads to turnovers. Lots of them. The only easy fix is to put Robert Cartwright back in the starting lineup. Daejon Davis is extremely talented and should become one of the best point guards in the Pac-12 given time, but for now Stanford needs a steady hand running the show in the starting backcourt. Cartwright does a great job taking care of the basketball; he’s shooting the ball pretty well this season (38 percent from three), and he creates opportunities for his teammates. Davis has fantastic ability to get to the basket and either score or dish to teammates, but for now turnovers are holding him back.  Plus, the freshman could provide a spark for the struggling Cardinal bench. Otherwise, Coach Haase just needs to get his guys to work on their press break and zone offense as much as possible. Eventually, his young players will start to feel more comfortable when facing aggressive defenses.

 

Conference play is right around the corner, but the Cardinal do have a somewhat easy slate of games for the next few weeks, excluding the Kansas Jayhawks. Besides reducing turnovers, what must the Cardinal do in their next few games in order to be ready to compete in the Pac-12?

JS: Like I said in my previous answer, the turnovers have largely come about due to opponents pressing or using a zone defense. The Cardinal can’t break a zone because they aren’t penetrating. Stanford is doing better penetrating and getting good looks for Travis and Isaac White, but the turnovers have killed them. Defensively, the Cardinal need to do a better job at defending the three-point shot. They allow opponents to shoot 40.7 percent from long distance, which ranks 329th in the nation! Even disregarding the game against Florida (15-of-22 on threes), the team has trouble defending on the perimeter. They need to do a better job at not allowing the other guards from getting into the middle of the defense. Haase has used a zone defense to some levels of success, but it doesn’t work forever. Maybe getting Pickens and Sheffield back will shore up the weaknesses on offense and defense.

KJ: Stanford’s got four straight games against mid-major opponents coming up, and they need to win every one of those games. The team needs some positive momentum heading into conference play. The 18-game conference schedule is a grind. If you come into that stretch with a losing record, it’s going to be tough to recover when you’re playing two games a week against good opposition. Plus, if Stanford wants to have any chance to make the NCAA Tournament, they absolutely must improve their nonconference resume in the coming weeks. To make this happen, Stanford needs to get back to what they do best: feeding the rock into Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey in the post and letting them work. Travis has been spending too much time out on the perimeter to really allow him to take over the interior. He is literally unstoppable thanks to his size and strength when he gets the ball in deep post position, but his game is much less threatening when he catches it 20 feet from the basket. Meanwhile, Humphrey hasn’t been getting enough post touches either. He has turned into a good three-point shooter (54 percent on the season), but his greatest skill still lies in his post moves. Those guys both need to get more touches on the low block because they will either score or attract enough of the defense to allow open shots for their teammates.

 

Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu and King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu.