Some of you know that I've not been the biggest fan of this coaching staff, especially last year when there was untapped talent that was going haywire on the court. I would say that this year has seen substantial improvement over last year's debacles.
But is that enough?
Jon Wilner has ridiculed Stanford Basketball for much of the past three years, and with good reason. The league has been terrible -- TERRIBLE -- the past few years. Yet Stanford has finished with a winning record only two times since Trent Johnson left for LSU. Last year was supposed to be different. With one of the highest rated freshmen classes coming in to Stanford, Cardinal basketball was supposed to get better.
It didn't. Unless you count going from 14-18 to 15-16 as unqualified success. When you lose to an 11-win Oregon State team in the play-in game for your conference tournament, though, one year after making it to the semi-finals, that suggests there are serious issues with the team.
Sure, Landry Fields, arguably the best player in the league in 2010, moved on to notoriety with the Knicks in the Big Apple. Was his absence, though, enough to warrant little improvement in the offense for Stanford?
The past is the past, though, and we're now a little less than a month away from the end of the 2011-2012 regular season. In November, it seemed things had turned around for the team. A blowout win over Oklahoma State, a close loss to Syracuse in New York, and continued success at home seemed to imply that Stanford had finally turned a corner. Save for a bad home loss against a bad Butler team, Stanford did all that it was asked to in non-conference games and more.
When the calendar changed, though, and after Stanford had eeked a win against the Bruins followed by USC, you could tell the wheels were beginning to come loose. A loss to Oregon, while not totally unexpected, was not supposed to happen, especially considering Stanford's elevation of its offensive game (and making free throws at a greater than 50% rate). The multiple overtime game against OSU seemed somewhat baffling, but hey, a win's a win, right? That sentiment seemed to be backed up by the fact that Stanford crushed unexpected conference contender Colorado at home.
But then came the Washington schools. How in the world did Stanford shoot so horribly in Pullman? And let a team with a sub-.500 record come back from double digits in the second half to win? Why did Stanford look like lost high schoolers in Seattle? Why couldn't Stanford play a 40 minute game in Cal, especially when it managed to keep itself in the game for the first half? Did Stanford win against ASU because they shot well or the Sun Devils were just bad? Where did the offense go against Arizona that the team shot a combined sub-.300 from the field?
This wasn't supposed to happen, given the nature of the conference this year. Yet, at this point in the season, Stanford has gone from a 10-2 non-conference record to losing five of their past six to drop them down to 16-8 (6-6 in the conference after starting tied for first for the first three weeks). After last night's loss to UCLA, Stanford has not won a non-Staples Center game against the Bruins or Trojans since 2003-2004. That's 13-consecutive losses. While Trent Johnson didn't do anything to stop that skid, Johnny Dawkins hasn't done anything either.
And so we now come back to our head coach. Many people were baffled by the contract extension that was given to Dawkins last off-season. While we will likely never know what the various stipulations of the contract entailed, it is surely folly to think that AD Bob Bowlsby didn't have past history on his mind when he came to terms with Dawkins. That said, the natives are getting restless. I've made note in the past how the Stanford women have routinely outpaced their male counterparts in fan attendance and general enthusiasm, and the same holds true today. Last night, the Stanford women took on USC at home in a game that saw the lower bowl filled, but the upper bowl sparsely filled. I wouldn't be surprised to see even fewer when the men show up against Oregon State next week, and I fully expect Maples to be half Blue and Gold the final game of the season.
Are these things enough to warrant the end of Johnny Dawkins at Stanford? The man has done an excellent job with the defense, and most certainly can recruit, but he has yet to produce in the win department. While Stanford will likely have its best season (in terms of wins) since Trent Johnson took the Lopez twins to the Sweet Sixteen, is that enough? Or will the elevated expectations after the non-conference season doom Dawkins with a sub-par conference record?
These are the types of questions to begin to ask, if they haven't been asked already. We all know that Stanford basketball isn't what it once was. The question now, though, is how long Stanford and its fans will be willing to give Johnny Dawkins the opportunity to turn it around?