By Jose Saldana
Stanford men’s basketball certainly did not have the season it wanted to when head coach Jerod Haase first stepped on the Farm last year. The Cardinal ended up 10th in the Pac-12 with a 14-17 overall record and a 6-12 conference record.
It was the second consecutive season that Stanford failed to earn a berth in a postseason tournament, and the Cardinal were ousted quickly in the Pac-12 Tournament when Arizona State defeated them for the third time that season.
Coach Haase replaced now-UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins after a 15-15 season in 2015-16. Haase was previously the head coach at UAB, where he led the Blazers to the 2015 NCAA National Tournament in his third year with the team.
Haase-coached teams take on the personality of their head coach: tough, physical and a whole lot of floor burns.
Although the grit and physicality came with coach Haase entering the season, the wins didn’t.
Many players underperformed or didn’t improve upon their the previous years’ stats and Rosco Allen, who led Stanford in points per game (15.6) in 2015-16, forewent his final year of eligibility to enter the 2016 NBA Draft.
Now-departed guard Marcus Allen especially got off to a slow start. Allen averaged 4.5 points per game in his first 15 games after setting a career-high scoring average the season before with 11.1 points per game. He was able to settle and averaged 12.9 points in his final 14 games, but at that point the Cardinal season was on the downward trend.
It wasn’t just the players’ performances that led to Stanford losses but a brutal schedule. Stanford had the 24th hardest strength of schedule and the third hardest non-conference schedule in the nation.
Even with the gloom hovering over Stanford last year, there were many positives.
Seniors forward Reid Travis dominated from start to finish last season. He averaged 17.4 points per game (fourth in Pac-12) and 8.9 rebounds per game (fifth) on 57.9 percent shooting.
His performance against Kansas was a sight to behold. He dropped a career-high 29 points and nine rebounds, and he had a ridiculous 19 free throws made on 22 attempts from the charity stripe. He was the biggest star on that December night, which included NBA talent in the form of former five-star recruit Josh Jackson and 2017 Naismith Player of the Year Frank Mason III.
“I felt like my teammates did a great job of establishing me early, getting me in the post,” Travis said of his performance. “I knew I had to draw a lot of fouls, get us to the line early and get a rhythm going.”
Even Kansas head coach Bill Self had to talk about Travis’ ability to get contact and force whistles.
“He drew basically 17 fouls on four guys, so that just goes to tell you we didn’t play the scouting report,” Self said. “Our guys just played butt-behind and let him go wherever he wanted to go.”
Travis also had other standout performances against Harvard (24 points and 17 rebounds), Arizona (26 and 11) and in the final home game of season against Oregon (27 and 14).
He wasn’t the only Cardinal putting up big numbers as senior Dorian Pickens showed off his shooting stroke. He was the the Cardinal’s best three-point shooter last season with a 39.6 three-point percentage with decent volume (5.45 three-point attempts per game).
The only other Cardinal with at least three three-point attempts per game was senior guard Robert Cartwright.
He was named to the Advocare Invitational All-Tournament Team where he averaged 18.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.3 steals in three games over the Thanksgiving break.
Guard Marcus Sheffield also had an amazing performance against Arizona State. He scored 35 points on 11-15 shooting and 4-6 from the three-point line in the first conference game for the Cardinal. Although Sheffield had a nice showing, he wasn’t consistent the rest of the year as he averaged 6.7 points per game.
Even with good performances from Travis and Pickens, there was a major theme infecting the Cardinal: they only played well for one half.
Against Miami, then-No. 12 St. Mary’s, Washington, Cal, No. 4 UCLA, Oregon twice, Arizona State and Utah, Stanford outscored its competition in one half but lost the other half on average by 13 points.
The Cardinal couldn’t complete whole games against some of the better teams on their schedule. Usually the cause was related to defense. Stanford was terrible defending the three-point shot as it ranked 328 out of 347 teams in three-point percentage allowed (38.2 percent).
St. Mary’s Calvin Hermanson was 7-of-9 from three and a perfect 5-5 in the second half in a game where Stanford led 30-26 at the end of the first period.
SMU used the three-point shot to blitz the Cardinal from opening tip. Stanford gave up eight made threes on 19 attempts in the first half as the Mustangs went into the first half leading by 29 points.
Not only was defending the three-point shot a problem for Stanford, but so was making the long range shots on offense.
Travis was the focal point of the offense but was not allowed much spacing due to the poor three-point shooting of the team.
Stanford was ranked 296 in made three-point percentage (32 percent) and last in the Pac-12, which isn’t great when the offense is predicated on feeding the ball to the post. Pickens, Sheffield and now-departed center Grant Verhoeven were the only players above 32 percent on threes while Cartwright was streaky at times from deep (27 percent).
However, when they were able to shoot the three, the Cardinal were able to compete with the better teams in the conference.
Against then-No. 6 Oregon on senior night, the Cardinal kept up with a Ducks team that reached the Final Four on the strengths of Pickens’ three-point prowess (18 points on 6-of-8 from three-point land) and Travis (10-of-13 on field goals).
Stanford had a chance to send the game into overtime with 14 seconds remaining in the game. Down 75-73, Travis received the ball in the post and was immediately swarmed by Ducks defenders. He made a spin move but lost the ball as the time expired.
It was a demoralizing loss for the Cardinal on a night dedicated to the seniors, but the game showed a bit of the potential of the team under coach Haase.
The 2016-17 Stanford men’s basketball didn’t exceed expectations and suffered under a tough schedule and underperforming players, but the groundwork for a better team, and a better season, was laid down last year.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.