This column reflects the opinion of the writer and does not in any way reflect the views of The Stanford Daily.
The ink has now been dry on Jerod Haase’s first season as head coach of the Stanford Cardinal for almost two months, and it was certainly a bit of a mixed bag. While the team played extremely well in stretches and nearly landed a win over an eventual Final Four competitor, much of this was overshadowed by its failure to make a postseason tournament for the second straight year.
Let’s take a more detailed look of how everything went for Haase and the Cardinal this year:
It’s no secret that Stanford didn’t exactly set the world on fire when it came to win percentage this season. It’s not fair to put all of the responsibility for that on Haase — he was working with a young team that wasn’t all that used to winning, after all — but there were certainly times in which the Cardinal seemed slow to adjust to the strategies the competition was throwing at them.
Take the run in December and January, for instance, when it seemed that every player facing Stanford could knock down threes like Steph Curry. In some of these games, the Cardinal’s opponents were practically running the same play each possession to get their shooters open looks, and it still worked most of the time. Or take the team’s difficulty in finding ways to beat the extra-effort defenses that its competitors would employ at the end of the games. These trends became features of Stanford games this season, yet it seemed at times like the team lacked a strategy to combat them.
Of course, Stanford did seem to play quite a bit better than its record might suggest this season and, while earning wins is the point of the sport, some of the team’s near-upsets do deserve some acknowledgement. Which brings us to…
The Jerod Haase era at Stanford started on a pretty solid note, with the team winning six of its first seven games and only losing narrowly to a talented Miami team. Then, things took a dive. The Cardinal lost seven of their next nine games against admittedly tough competition, and for a time, it looked like the 2016-17 season might be a disaster for the team.
Quietly, however, Stanford managed to recover a bit of composure down the stretch. While the win-loss record only marginally improved from the beginning of conference play, the Cardinal went from losing games by wide margins to at least being competitive deep into the final minutes of the game. Stanford took ranked conference opponents Arizona and Oregon down to the wire, nearly upsetting the Wildcats in Tucson for the first time in years.
The Cardinal’s inability to close out down the stretch was troubling, but with (almost) every major player returning next season, there’s room to hope that experience could improve the team’s finishing. If Stanford could add a useful piece or two, it seems possible that a lot of narrow losses might flip to the wins column.
Fortunately, Stanford does have a few interesting players coming in the door next year who might be able to make an immediate difference. Haase made an early recruiting splash by landing Kezie Okpala, the 38th-ranked recruit in the country according to 247, and, according to a coach quoted by ESPN, international recruit Oscar Da Silva is even better. A stroke of luck then landed Daejon Davis, another top-50 recruit who had originally chosen Washington over Stanford before Lorenzo Romar was fired.
The verdict on Da Silva won’t be in until we can actually witness him playing college basketball, and Davis’ highlight reel doesn’t suggest he’s a terrific shooter, which might mean it takes him a while to adjust to college ball. Okpala’s high school pedigree suggests he’s a real winner, however, as he led his team to its first ever California Division II state basketball championship and made some truly big shots in the process. Hopefully, these players can contribute some necessary depth to Stanford’s rotation that might help the team take the next step during some of its tougher stretches.
While Haase’s first true class doesn’t have anyone that simply outclasses recruits, it favorably compares to all but the best of Dawkins’ classes. If the new players can learn Haase’s system quickly, Stanford fans might finally be in for a measurably better season next year.
Contact Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’ stanford.edu.